Sunday, June 3, 2007

Vietnamese Christians and the Law

While I was in seminary, I read two books by John Naisbitt called Megatrends and Megatrends 2000. The books offer predictions of future changes based on trend analysis. One of the points of his book that resonate even years later was his comment on the advantage of specialized knowledge in an ever increasing world of information. Naisbitt reiterated that knowledge continues to be a source of power—increasingly so in an information age. While there are many different types of knowledge that have changed our world and affect our daily lives, the complexities of the law and its application are undoubtedly among some of the top areas that impact us on a secular level, if not also religious.

Vietnamese Americans tend to shy away from the legal arena for a number of reasons, perhaps due to a fear of confrontation and perhaps equally important, due to the potential economic costs. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, the law affects our lives one way or another. Every day, society’s laws engage and impact our lives, determining how we live with our neighbors (i.e., criminal and injury laws), do business (i.e., contract and tax laws) and even how we live out our faith (i.e., constitutional law).

We as Vietnamese Christians should utilize the law for our protection and advantage. Fear of confrontation or economic costs may in the long run cause us even more loss (without even realizing it), be it financial setbacks to a loss of religious liberty.

Consider legal costs to protect oneself like any other business cost. A successful business person often realizes that it costs money to produce or preserve money. He or she will spend money (often times called “overhead”) to produce more money, or in the case of buying insurance, to preserve money or potential loss. Though no one feels good in spending resources to make or preserve money, it is the reality of doing business and living in most societies.

Beyond the economic impact of the law, the legal system also affects our rights, freedoms and liberties. These intangible factors can be just as important or even more than the economic factors. Consider the value of spending time with loved ones, the right not to be discriminated against, the right to worship God freely or to proclaim the gospel of Christ. The practical application of the law can either allow or hinder, greatly affecting our lives.

Laws passed by congress, state government or local municipalities potentially affect millions of lives on a daily basis. The true effects of those laws are often seen when the court system renders its legal decision. In a practical sense, the gatekeeper to our economic system—affecting science, medicine, technology and business is the legal system. Whether we like it or not, we need to learn to understand and utilize the system, to not only protect ourselves and our families but to also advance God’s kingdom.

With the increase in secular humanism within the United States, Christian values appear to be attacked from all sides by way of systemic discrimination to strategic lawsuits from organizations like the ACLU meant to intimidate and silence faithful Christians from exercising their God given and constitutional rights. While such battles are far from the physical sufferings experienced by our brethren in much more oppressive countries, it nevertheless is a battle that we must wage—particularly against the powers and principalities that seek to destroy our rights and liberties. Once those rights and liberties are suppressed, it is not inconceivable to see physical persecution, as is commonly witnessed in many countries where its citizens do not enjoy equal protection of law. A German pastor living during the Nazi regime by the name of Martin Niemoller once said, “When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent for I was not a communist. When they locked up the Jews, I remained silent for I was not a Jew. When they came for the trade unionists, I remained silent for I was not a trade unionists. When they came for the Catholics, I did not speak out for I was a Protestant. When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.”

In the coming months, I would like to share how Christian attorneys through organizations like the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) are going face to face and battling Christian discrimination and secular humanist organizations like the ACLU all over the United States in order to preserve religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and traditional family values. In Matthew 5:45, Jesus said that the rain falls on both the righteous and unrighteous. As Vietnamese Christians, we are not immune from the impact of discrimination or the law. The laws of our society have granted us certain inalienable rights and freedom. The tricky part is knowing how to utilize those rights and having the resources to enforce those rights. In the coming months, I hope to share with you further information that could be a resource if you or anyone you know ever find yourselves being discriminated against or persecuted because of your faith in Christ.


Anonymous said...

Dr. Lu:

Your article is appreciated. Just I am wondering if you could quote and apply some principles in the Bible to how Christians cope with law, as I have seen any from the Bible in yours.

Best and always,

Tri L. Lam

Father Lu said...

Tri L. Lam...thank you for your comments, however, I am not completely certain what you mean.

Let me take a guess at a brief response regarding Christians and the law. I believe that our Lord wants us to follow the law of the land, especially if it is consistent with God's law. When asked whether one should pay taxes to Ceasar or not in Matthew 22:17, Jesus answered in Matthew 22:21 that people should to render unto Ceasar what is due him and God what is due Him. I do believe that we are to work within the confines of societies' laws as long as it doesn't lead one to deny one's faith or oppress others.

Even the apostle Paul obeyed and appealed to the laws of his days as he was about to be scourged by the Romans in Acts 22:25. Paul said, "...Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?" Paul clearly utilized and appealed to the laws of his day in his defense.

There are many other passages that support the utilization of the law within the Bible and perhaps I will go into more details in upcoming articles.

Just as Paul appealed to the laws of his day in defending against abuses by the soldiers or the misapplication of the law at lower tribunals, I believe that the U.S. Constitution does protect citizens against religious discrimination and provides a whole host of other rights. Like Paul, we should consider utilizing the law to protect ourselves.

Sometimes we don't know the law or don't have the legal representation and thereby are deprived of certain legal protections. If we choose to not take advantage of those protections then fine, but more often than not, we just don't know it.

Even the the apostle Paul didn't know all of the Roman rights that were available to him. Yes, though he was an expert in the Jewish law, I believe that he had to learn Roman law the hard way. Recall that Paul was born a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28). Why did he utilize his legal rights not to get scourged at this time but had been beaten three times in the past (2 Cor. 11:25)? I believe that he learned of his rights as a Roman citizen not to get beaten before being tried in a court of law under the jailer that converted (Acts 16:19-40) under his ministry.

The jailor in Acts 16 was like a prison warden--having the responsibility over the prison system of Philippi, Macedonia. Recall the incident when Paul casted out the demon from the girl who told fortunes. The master of the girl became enraged because his ability to make money from her fortune telling had been lost. The people beat him without a trial and locked him up in prison. All the while, Paul did not assert his rights as a Roman citizen up to that time. It was when the jailor was about to commit suicide for he thought the prisoners had escaped that he became a Christian and took Paul and Silas into his house, where his whole family also became Christians. All of a sudden after making friends with the warden of the prison, he asserts his rights as a Roman citizen. I believe that the warden, after his conversion, helped Paul to further know his rights as a Roman citizen. From that point on, Paul utilized and appealed to the Roman law that prevented Roman citizens from being beaten before trial and conviction. It is an interesting story and the details I won't be able to go into within this short response.

Just as Paul utilized and appealed to his rights under the laws at that time, I believe that Vietnamese Christians in the U.S. can also utilize and appeal to the laws of the land for our defense and protection.

Ella said...

Thanks for writing this.