When the song “Give us Courage” was released at the 2018 Be Courageous Regional Conventions, an accompanying video depicted soldiers in full military gear closing in on entirely ordinary and manifestly harmless Jehovah’s Witnesses, who were doing no more than minding their own business. “How cult-like!” said the ridiculers. “What is it with these people and their “persecution complex?”
In fact, the video prefigures events that have come to pass, as absurdly unlikely as they might seem. After all, arresting entirely harmless people is crazy in itself. But what multiplies the craziness 100-fold is to arrest them in full military gear including assault rifles. Yet this is exactly what was done in the Voronezh Region of Russia on July 13, 2020, as 110 homes of Jehovah’s Witnesses were raided—a new record. Congregation members were forced to the ground with their faces pressed into the floor. At least two were beaten.
Many of these persons are elderly. They include women and children. There is no possibility of them offering resistance and everybody knows it. They are almost the only group whose entire history demonstrates that under no circumstances will they resort to violence. Yet they are arrested as you would terrorists.
Assuming that arrests are called for (a ridiculous assumption that we will let pass so as to pursue a greater point), why would arrests be made in such a brutal manner? Two reasons present themselves,
1) Outright hate.
2) Saving face.
If you declare people “extremists” and then arrest them as you would a jaywalker, you are only making yourself look a liar. You are only proving that they are not extremists at all, and that you well know it. Better to arrest them in military style. You may look unhinged in that event, but at least you appear to be acting in accord with your convictions, plus you are creating maximum terror against gentle people. It’s a little like beating up on girls—in a rapidly escalating game of hardball.
This calls to mind how Abraham Lincoln would say that he was not smart enough to lie—for if he did, he knew he would have to adjust every subsequent statement and action to accord with that first lie if he was to retain an ounce of credibility. Having swallowed the lie that Witnesses are extremists, Russian police forces now have to act as though they are.
The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses foresaw this. It is the most unlikely scenario in the world, and yet they foresaw it. Does this “prove” that Jehovah is with the Witness Governing Body—to transfer Brother Glock’s remarks to more readily adaptable content? Sometimes all you need do with a statement like that from Glock is to show a little flexibility. Like the boy that was spanked by his Dad and protested that he hadn’t committed the offense for which he was being punished. “Well—in that case, it’s for something that you did do for which you should have been punished but weren’t,” dear old dad said.
The world of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia is turned upside down. Even raids that do not result in their arrest result in the confiscation of belongings—typically including tablets and phones. Still, they take some satisfaction in knowing that their staying faithful under trial calls worldwide attention to the Christian course they pursue. Theirs is somewhat the response of Christians in the first century, who upon being released from punishment, “rejoiced that they had been counted worthy to be dishonored for the sake of his name.” (Acts 5:41) It is not the type of witness that most would choose, but it is a witness; it does bring to life how “you will be hated by all the nations on account of my name.” (Matthew 24:9)
I do not look forward to the experience, and living in the West as I do, it may not come. Human rights people carry much more popular sway in the West than they do in Russia, where the very concept is suspiciously regarded as a Western intrusion—so says Chivchalov. Even in Russia—“Look, the Devil will throw some of you into prison,” the apostle John warns—not all of you. Even Bart Ehrman apparently speaks for the academic community when he states that Christian martyrs of the first century probably numbered in the hundreds—they did not include everyone.
But so often in life we cannot choose our “assignment.” The trick is to be like Paul, who knew how to live regardless of his circumstances. (Phil 4:12) All reports are that the Russian brothers are facing their persecutors with enormous resolve, courage, and integrity. I pray that should it ever become my turn, I will just as readily follow their example.