One of my favorite quotes is from humorist/writer PJ O’Rourke who noted this sad truth.
“Making fun of born-again Christians is like hunting dairy cows with a high powered rifle and scope.”
It really can be that easy. Before I proceed I must issue a disclaimer. I am a born-again Christian. So it is with considerable interest and predictable angst that I note daily how Christians are portrayed in the news. Second disclaimer. I realize that media coverage of evangelical Christians is not always on a level playing field. It is quite okay to criticize Christians while tip-toeing around other faiths. But having disclaimed all of that I still get frustrated when we (Christians) shoot ourselves in the foot and blame the gun.
A recent story from my adopted home state is a good example. A ministry in Denton has been distributing million-dollar bills with a gospel message printed on the back. Recently the Feds decided to “raid“ the headquarters to seize the cache of million-dollar tracts. According to the U.S.Secret Service the bills too closely resemble real money.
This is from the story reported by Donna Fielder of the Dallas Morning News. My comments are italicized.
Three agents visited The Great News Network Friday and seized 83 100-count packets of what appear to be $1 million bills totaling $8.3 billion. There is no real $1 million bill, and Great News Network founder Darrel Rundus said he doesn’t understand how he could be accused of counterfeiting something that doesn’t exist.
“We’re a group that equips Christians with materials on how to share their faith,” Rundus said Monday from his Great News Network’s world headquarters in Denton. “One way we do it is gospel tracts. That’s what these are — gospel tracts. You’d think the Secret Service would have more to do than raid a Christian ministry.”
I must confess that I have issues with how Mr. Rundus responded to this situation. I am sure he was frustrated. Perhaps the Secret Service overreacted in this case. But his response does not demonstrate a biblical respect for authority. Scripture makes it pretty clear that we are to honor and respect governmental authority . It is not his place to question or mock the priorities of the Secret Service publicly. That comment would be better made privately and to the proper authorities. Paul wrote about the authority that God granted to government in Romans.
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. Romans 13 NIV
In a written “official statement,” Mr. Rundus said the Secret Service was overzealous.
“They violated our constitutional rights by depriving us of property without due process. Without a court order, warrant or any legal precedent, they barged into our office, disrupted our daily activities and illegally seized our property. Is it possible that there is more to this than meets the eye? Is it possible that GNN has been targeted by them and are the object of their harassment not because the bills look real but in fact because of the gospel message on the back?”
Is it also possible that GNN was “targeted“ because these guys were just trying to do their job? To publicly question the motives of civil servants is unfair. We make a big deal about not judging others within our faith. Can we not extend the same grace to these men until the facts are known? How does this insinuation make these agents who are merely following orders feel about the church, and by extension, about Jesus?
The statement solicits prayers and funds from the public to help fight a legal battle over the bills.
The statement is complete with bank card logo icons to click on to donate for the cause.
The fake bills are the same size as U.S. currency. They have the distinctive peach and green coloring of new $20 bills and appear to carry both the Department of Treasury and U.S. Federal Reserve seals. A close look at the Treasury seal, however, reveals the words “Thou shalt not steal.” The back of the bill is similarly authentic. But around the edges of the bill are written admonitions against looking at a woman with lust and other sins and urging repentance.
Rundus said he will continue getting supplies of the tract from Living Waters and keep distributing them.
Why is a representative of the gospel so combative in this situation? Evangelicals are always trumpeting that we must be a nation of laws. Rundel’s organization may well be inadvertently violating federal statutes. A little research found this statement of policy from the Treasury Department.
The Department will henceforth permit the use of photographic or other likenesses of United States and foreign currencies for any purposes, provided the items are reproduced in black and white and are less than three-quarters or greater than one-and-one-half times the size, in linear dimension, of each part of the original item. Furthermore, negatives and plates used in making the likenesses must be destroyed after their use.
The ministry argues that since the million-dollar bill does not exist they are not in violation. But there are enough similarities to real currency for these bills to be in potential violation. Were these bills intended to fool people into thinking it was real money? Of course not. Common sense indicates that no one would try to cash a million-dollar bill. But the rules are clear. You must make the bills look different from real currency either by size or colorization.
To use another line of reasoning. I happen to think that the 30 mile per hour speed limit on an open road near my house is ridiculous. But that is the law. I can choose to go 50 miles per hour as often as I want but I will be ticketed every time a police man spots me. Would that be harassment if I had a fish sticker on the bumper? Nope. That would just be getting caught for breaking the law and a DWS (driving while stupid). No matter how much I believe the limit should be higher I will still be guilty.
At the Good News Network Website Mr.Rundel gave this defense.
Since there is no such thing as a Million Dollar bill in circulation, it is obviously not illegal to create, print and or distribute one. In other words, how do you counterfeit something that doesn’t exist? In fact, you can purchase all the million dollar bills you want from various novelty retailers throughout the US and most of them look far more authentic than the ones, the USSS seized from our Christian ministry. In fact, if you Google the term, “Million Dollar Bill” you we get over 43-million results!
Defending a wrong action because others are doing it more “wrong“ is an embarrassing argument for an organization that is trying to do a good work. I have no doubt that this group is sincere in trying to communicate the gospel message. Back to the speed limit example, if 5,000 people a day speed and don’t get caught on that road it doesn’t make me any less culpable for speeding. The law is clear.
Mark Lowery, special agent in charge of the Dallas district of the U.S. Secret Service, said the Secret Service doesn’t want the public to think that it harasses anyone unnecessarily. “We didn’t seek out this case; it came to us,” Lowery said. “We can’t determine which laws we enforce and which ones we don’t enforce. We’re a very busy agency with a lot of responsibility, and we take what we do very seriously.”
I would like to ask Mr. Lowery’s and the other agent’s forgiveness for getting thrown under the bus of questionable righteous indignation. I believe you were doing your job. I am sure you don’t like every rule and regulation that you have to enforce but you have no choice but to be obedient. As Christians we have to be obedient as well. And I would suggest this is a clear case of honoring authority and demonstrating the grace and gentleness of our Saviour. If the government says you can’t proclaim the gospel I will join you in the fight. If the government says to just make the tract a little bigger or smaller then you are on your own. That is not persecution. That is merely enforcement of a law that may or may not make much sense. But it is still the law.
Peter reinforced the need for Christians to be respectful of all authority.
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. I Peter 2 NIV
May I humbly submit to my brothers and sisters at the Good News Network that this is not a chance to glorify God through a victory in court. This is a chance to glorify God by demonstrating His grace and love.