As a person intimately familiar with the issue of religious persecution, Door of Hope International President Paul H. Popov—referring to recent incidents in Houston and Idaho—said, “It is scary for me. I am, for the first time in the United States, being a little scared about where things are going.”
A Bulgarian native, Popov was in Oklahoma City recently working with local blogger/producer Chris Forbes in the initial stages of creating a full-length movie about the life of Popov’s father, Haralan, who spent more than 13 years in a Bulgarian prison as a result of his Christian faith, and wrote the book, Tortured for His Faith.
“Eight months of brainwashing made my father confess in 1949 that he was a spy for the United States and England,” Popov said. “He was faithful to his Lord and Savior although he endured torture at the hands of evil men for 13 years. God let him live so he could tell his story and expose the largest evil of our time. His story is just one representing more than 60 million tortured and killed by Communist regimes around the world.”
But, Popov said Christians must be careful in how they push back against those who persecute them.
“How do we tell such people they are on the wrong road and point them to the right road?” he asked. “This is what we, as Christians, I think, have a tremendous responsibility to do.
“Christians can also fall into the same trap. This is where Christians must always ask ourselves, ‘What would Jesus have done?’ because Jesus had something that we are a little lacking in, and that is love—love for enemies and love for different people. So, we have to be very careful when we are sitting up in the self-righteous chair and shouting our slogans, too, and be humble about it and do it in a loving manner.”
Second, he urged believers to stay informed.
“I have been around people who say ‘I don’t want to hear about it. I don’t want to listen to the news, it’s only negative news.’ Well, you have to stay informed, even if it is uncomfortable for you, to be able to pray intelligently,” he asserted.
“Stay informed, get acquainted with the situation, and form groups of people who pray specifically together. We call them Prayer in Action Committees, in which we don’t pray for our aches and pains, but where we actually care for other people through our devoted prayer.”
So, can same-sex marriage and religious liberties coexist? Can a society that has accepted same-sex marriage still recognize the religious liberty of people who stand for time-honored marriage?
Yes, said Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES) President Richard Land, but there must be a social and legal climate that vigorously defends religious freedom and respects freedom of conscience—free from attempts by the homosexual agenda and the gay-thought police to weaponize the government against individual religious and moral convictions.
“With the federal courts now ramming same-sex marriage down the throats of the American people, we predicted that there would be systematic attempts to force Americans to violate their consciences and their religious convictions,” Land said in one of his recent “Bringing Every Thought Captive” radio programs.
He pointed specifically to the recent subpoenas of five pastors in Houston, as well as to the case of Idaho wedding chapel owners Donald and Evelyn Knapp, who are facing fines and possible jail time for declining to perform a same-sex ceremony.
“This issue is different from the civil rights struggles of the 1960s,” Land explained, “because no one is claiming homosexuals can’t find a wedding photographer or a church that will perform their wedding. The question isn’t whether they will be denied services, but whether they will coerce people under penalty of law to do things that go against their morals and deeply held faith convictions.”
Land, a Houston native, added that recent events in his home town demonstrate the results when government is used as a tool against individual conscience, and that the situation is indicative of a problem that extends well beyond one city.
“Houston Mayor Annise Parker may have withdrawn her subpoenas of five pastors,” Land said, “but this in no way solves the problem, as she continues to disallow the legitimate expression of grievances and the freedom to petition the government, as demonstrated by her refusal to recognize a petition signed by more than 50,000 people opposing her pro-transgender ordinance. This is simply the tip of the iceberg, and the issue will persist in Houston and in cities around the country until the gay thought police and their allies are stopped in their agenda to coerce Americans to violate their beliefs or else face government backlash.”
Also in his “Bringing Every Thought Captive” radio feature, Land quoted Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, who said, “Americans are witnesses to the reality that redefining marriage is less about the marriage altar and more about fundamentally altering the freedoms of the other 98 percent of Americans.”
A Houston pastor subpoenaed by the City of Houston for opposing the city’s equal rights ordinance, Khanh Huynh, nearly lost his life fleeing Vietnam in search of religious liberty. After being subpoenaed by the city of Houston for opposing the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), he wonders whether he will have to flee again to maintain that liberty.
“The freedom of speech and freedom of religion is beginning to be invaded and violated,” Huynh, pastor of Houston’s Vietnamese Baptist Church, told Baptist Press. “I feel like this is a recurrence of what I knew and experienced in Vietnam . . . Some days I wake up and I feel like, ‘Do I have to take my family, my children to another country?’ because this is what we fled Vietnam for.”
Huynh—who immigrated to the U.S. from communist Vietnam in 1979—is one of five Houston pastors who were subpoenaed for sermons and other private correspondence regarding their opposition to HERO among its supporters. The subpoenas were part of the city’s effort to defend itself against a lawsuit challenging its disqualification of a petition drive to vote on the ordinance, which has added “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to Houston’s list of protected classifications such as race, religion, sex and disability.
As pastors embroiled in a lawsuit against the city of Houston rallied thousands Nov. 2 for the cause of religious liberty and with chants of “Let the people vote,” their cohorts in the battle also were crying out for the church to repent for its retreat from the public square and its role as the public conscience.
Part revival meeting, part civics lesson, the “I Stand Sunday” rally Nov. 2 in Houston drew more than 6,000 people to Grace Community Church. An additional 300 churches and 765 homes logged into the live stream webcast.
“We are in this place in America today not because of the mayor of Houston. It is not because of what she did. It is because of what so many people in our churches have failed to do,” Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas and a former Baptist pastor, told the audience.
“It’s not about the issue of transgender rights. It’s about the fundamental issue: Do all citizens have equal rights? And those rights include the right to vote,” Huckabee said in a news conference prior to the rally.
The issue is all the more profound for three of the five subpoenaed pastors. As immigrants or the child of immigrants to America, they spoke passionately about fleeing the abuses of communism and enjoying religious and civil liberties as Americans.