If you watch international headlines, you know that vigilante killings are happening with some level of regularity in the Philippines. Names of drug suspects are put on a list made by the government, reportedly of over one million suspects. And it’s raising important questions about whether Christians in the country are complicit. The question comes from a podcast listener named Hannah. “Dear Pastor John, I am a listener to the podcast in the Philippines. I’m not sure what global news sources reveal about our current political situation, but there’s plenty of local news about extrajudicial killings happening in our country and a number of stories about young people being killed by policemen because they have supposedly been identified as drug dealers (though many witnesses reject those accusations). These events have occurred and have become highly publicized since the president declared a ‘war against drugs.’ My intent is not to ask for a political commentary. As a Christian, my concern is that many Christians here in the Philippines are supporters of our president and his agenda. They are thus perceived as supporters of this violent war against drugs and, by extension, implicit ‘supporters’ of the killings. Though it would not be fair to say that they approve of the killings outright, it does appear to us and other people who are against these political agendas, that there seems to be willful ignorance or lack of discernment among these Christians who willingly declare support for this leader without any qualification, and some who think that he has authority to do as he pleases so long as his methods solve the drug problem. As a result, Christians here are starting to get a bad rap for being blind followers and supporters of the killings. How can we respond in wisdom to these circumstances?”
It’s dangerous of course for me to speak to confidently about a situation so far from my own. But I do want to say something because I heard such an amazing analogy at least between the situation in the Philippines and what we face in America. It’s really fresh on my front burner. It’s what I saw in the paper this morning.
There is a huge outcry here (throughout the nation really) about the number of people who should not be killed but who are being killed by state officials. Just a few miles from my house, Justine Damond was killed a while back by police. There was no apparent reason whatsoever. As far as I know, we’ve not been given any explanation that comes close to warranting what happened there.
“Woe to us if we think the church has to have a good reputation in order to do what it’s called to do.”
Just yesterday, there was a meeting with the Hennepin County attorney and the neighborhood people. One of the neighborhood people said, “Why is there this double standard between police and citizens? This police officer is walking around free. But if any citizen did that, they’d be sitting in jail right now waiting for trial.” Do you know what the Hennepin County attorney said? He said, “I don’t have an answer for that because I haven’t thought in those terms.”
That’s our issue. The analogy of our two countries, while not exact, is enough to make me want to say something anyway. It sounds like your government is acting with a high hand in killing drug suspects without what we would call “due process of law.” It seems that some of the church is either supportive or silent (because we’re supposed to be submissive to the government), but they are under criticism for what appears to be complicity in such unjust practices. “What can the church do?” we are asked in this question. “What can we do to avoid that kind of tarnishing of Christ’s reputation?” Let me just say just four quick things.
Pray for God to Act
First, God is more passionate for his glory and his reputation than we are. He will not suffer it indefinitely, allowing it be scorned. Here’s Isaiah 48:10–11: “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.”
Take heart: the vindication of God’s name lies not mainly in our hands but in God’s, and he’s more jealous for it than we are. So pray that he will take action.
Second, 1 Peter 2:13–15 is extremely important in this regard because it gives us a warrant for prophetically confronting government with its acts of injustice. Here’s what it says: “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him” — now notice these next two clauses — “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.”
“We should publicly confront governments who don’t punish evil or praise good.”
Yes, the disposition of a Christian should be to support and be submissive to governments — local government and national governments. This is part of God’s will. On the other hand, we should — in writing, in speaking, and in conversation (I would include preaching in all of this) — publicly confront governors and presidents who do not punish evil and do not praise good, especially when we reverse the pattern and notice they start participating in the very evil they are supposed to punish.
The church has a warrant for prophetically denouncing such injustice. If we believe our president is acting in ways that do not confront evil but practice or participate in evil — and do not support good but hinder good — we have a biblical warrant for publicly and prophetically denouncing those behaviors and policies.
Third, I think the reputation of a local church in the neighborhood and the reputation of an individual Christian as a neighbor is more effective in evangelism than the public reputation of this amorphous thing called the Christian church.
If your local church is known for doing good, like 1 Peter 2:15 says, and you in particular are known by your colleagues at work, your fellow students, and your neighbors for being a gracious, kind, helpful, loving, sacrificial person, that is going to go much farther for the name of Christ among those with whom you live than anything they read in the press by a way of criticism of the Christian church.
Don’t Lose Heart
Fourth, the last thing I would say is that we must never think that public misrepresentations of the gospel — criticisms of the gospel — will necessarily stop the growth of the church. A bad rap given to the church by the world won’t stop God’s purposes.
“God is more passionate for his glory than we are. He will not allow it be scorned indefinitely.”
The reason I say that is not only because of what I just said in the third point — namely, that personal reputations are more effective in evangelism than public perceptions — but also what Acts 28:22 says about the early church. The situation is that Paul is addressing some Jewish people while he’s in prison at the end of his life. Here’s what they said to him: “We desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.”
That’s incredible. “We know that this Christianity that you came here promoting is a sect that is spoken against everywhere.” We know another fact: the church grew like wildfire for the first three hundred years while it was being spoken against everywhere.
Woe to us if we get all crazy about thinking the church has to have a good reputation in order to do what it’s called to do. We should care about the church’s reputation. But if some nominal believers are acting in unbiblical ways and the press is making much of it, well welcome to the first century, folks.
Don’t lose heart. Speak for the cause of truth and justice. Speak. But mainly live. Live among real, flesh-and-blood people the way Christ would live, and you will do a great service for the reputation of Jesus.