Matters of Faith: As Bad as It Gets

By Rev. J. Loren Russell

At that time, the church in Jerusalem began to be subjected to vicious harassment. Everyone except the apostles was scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. Some pious men buried Stephen and deeply grieved over him. Saul began to wreak havoc against the church. Entering one house after another, he would drag off both men and women and throw them into prison.

Acts 8:1-3

Meanwhile, Saul was still spewing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest, 2 seeking letters to the synagogues in Damascus. If he found persons who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, these letters would authorize him to take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.

Acts 9:1-2

Yesterday we celebrated Independence Day. Every year, this day arrives with controversy and the sobering reality in the African American community that it was not Independence Day for most of our ancestors who were enslaved. We are also reminded, and quite clearly, I might add, that the liberty promised in the Declaration of Independence, signed 244 years ago, has yet to be realized for the African American population.  

In the book of Acts, we find the newly birthed church suffering from persecution. Those who were followers of “the way” were being targeted and persecuted by a system that threatened to destroy every one of them. They were harassed viciously and forced to scatter throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. A disciple known as Stephen had been stoned to death, which made the young church grieve deeply.

We are introduced to a man named Saul who stood by while Stephen was killed, then went on to wreak destruction amongst the church. He was so determined to persecute them that he successfully petitioned the court to issue arrest warrants and deputize him to gather everyone who called themselves followers of Christ. From the perspective of the disciples, this was as bad as it could get.

Saul’s emotional hatred for those of the way caused him to forget what Moses taught in Leviticus 19:18, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord (NKJV). Although this was written to the Hebrew nation, the requirement to love included all mankind. Saul was taught to love his neighbor as he loved himself, yet he made it as bad as it could get for those who followed the way.

The actions taken against the church caused them to flee from a certain death. But it was the extreme persecution that made them scatter into Samaria and Judea. It was in those places that they shared the Gospel and people responded which grew the fellowship.  

The liberty established on July 4, 1776 for white America became reality because of their resistance to oppression, i.e.., taxation without representation. The document that fueled their fight for America’s independence contained these words; “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Systemic racism has once again brought the consequences of enslavement to the consciousness of humanity. The fight for an end to systemic racism is, in part, born out of that same narrative found in the Declaration of Independence. The document was not written inclusive of Black people; however, its language makes it clear that it is the right of oppressed people anywhere to fight for their safety and happiness.  

The mandate Christ gave to church was to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20 KJV). Through persecution, the church grew.

The premise of the Declaration of Independence is that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights that among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Through a struggle, the United States was born.

Now, the mission to abolish systemic racism and the creation of a truly United States is the responsibility of every follower of the way and of every American, no matter how bad it gets.  

Be Blessed.

Rev. J. Loren Russell is President/CEO of The JLR Company for Church Financial Strategy & Consulting; an associate minister at both Goodwill and The Greater Universal Baptist Churches in the Bronx; creator & host of “Matters of Faith – The Radio Show” Mondays 8:00 – 10:00 PM on Facebook LIVE and author of Matters of Faith: The Book. an eBook available at SmashBooks.

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