What does it take to silence you?
Four years after the fall of the Soviet Union, I found myself at a Baptist church in Siberia preparing to lead a two-week concentrated course on evangelism and discipleship. On December 25, 1991, the red flag of the USSR, with its hammer and sickle, was lowered at the Kremlin and the shroud of fear from nearly 70 years of communist rule began to be lifted along with the new Russian Federation flag. The "Evil Empire" had collapsed and real reforms (perestroika) along with a breathtaking openness (glasnost) had begun.1
With the fear of being arrested now lessened, pastors and church planters from across the area had gathered to begin studies they had long been forbidden to receive. Thanks to the initiative of Troy Bush and his team at International Church Planters and the endorsement of the Russian Baptist Theological Seminary, I was to be the first of many teachers who would bring theological education and training to those who had been silenced by nearly 70 years of fear.
From the moment my flight from New York's JFK had landed at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow, the feeling of having stepped back in time was coupled with the realization I was in a place where few Americans had been permitted. The USSR had been a land without freedom where citizens marched in lock-step with the Communist edicts and guarded their words lest they be taken away in the middle of the night, tortured, sent away to the gulags,* and perhaps never to be seen again. All of this was done at the whim of a quota-filling communist party official.
I saw the pastor who hosted our classes instinctively react with palpable fear
Even in 1995, when a stranger called his apartment asking for me, I saw the pastor who hosted our classes instinctively react with a palpable fear of arrest from his years of oppression. A life of fear under communism was ingrained in the population that could be traced back many years. In 1931, there were 31 members taken away never to be seen again. This is a high percentage of their small membership at that time but infinitesimal in comparison to the 18 million estimated to have been sent away between 1920 to 1953.2
The horrors suffered by millions of people under communism, who were more often than not innocent of wrongdoing, but arbitrarily sentenced to years of suffering in the gulags, were revealed by Nobel Prize-winning author, Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The nightmare experienced by prisoners in the gulags is virtually incomprehensible to those who are fortunate enough to have never known it. The price of those who dared speak of the injustice was death or a living death in these cruel work camps.
Until Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The Gulag Archipelago, few who were outside of the USSR were aware of the magnitude or brutality of Communism's evil perpetrated on its people under Lenin and Stalin. Those pitiful souls who managed to survive their years in the gulags did not dare to speak of it. Solzhenitsyn writes:
"Those who returned kept silent. They had signed pledges not to speak out. They were mute with terror. And there were very few who knew even a little about the secrets of the Archipelago."3
American's who lived during the cold war are familiar with the propaganda and misinformation spread by the Soviet Union's official newspaper, Pravda. Even now, there are those in older generations who lived in the former Soviet Union who are still laboring under old prevarications from the Central Committee, such as the myth of Stalin being good. Some would like to rewrite the tragic history of Soviet repression.4
The similarities between the so-called journalism of Pravda and much of the American media today are plain. Now, Americans who wish to question or criticize the mantra of the Left may well be sentenced to the cancel culture's gulags.
Are you afraid to speak freely about today's issues?
A recent Cato Institute survey found:
"62% of Americans Say They Have Political Views They’re Afraid to Share."5
Their fear is warranted. The freedom of speech that is one of the hallmarks of our republic has warped to such a degree one may be "canceled" - ostracized, silenced, publically shamed, and banned from social media with ramifications that affect social standing, career advancement, and even employment, if certain members of the public find it offensive.
As a Christ-follower, I choose to limit my comments on certain flash-point issues. There are more urgent matters needing attention; particularly the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I will reserve my discussion until another time on the balance needed between being a good citizen of our great country with being an ambassador for Christ. Suffice it to say, nothing must distract from the gospel's life-changing message for the salvation of man.
Are you afraid to speak freely?
Are we afraid to speak freely of Christ?
There have always been those who tried to silence, "cancel," or even kill God's people to stop them from speaking, and this is still true today. The freedom of speech and religion Russians enjoyed following the fall of the Soviet Union has been restricted. Now, there are "laws against sharing faith in homes, online, or anywhere but recognized church buildings."6
Throughout His ministry, we find the Lord and His Apostles commanding His followers to tell others about Him and commending those who did (Mt. 10:32-33; Mt. 28:18-20; Mk. 8:38; Ro. 10:9-10; 1 Pt. 2:9, 3:15; 1 Jn. 2:23; 1 Jn. 4:15; et. al.).6
How is it that some are unable to contain their excitement at what Christ has done and others have no difficulty remaining silent?
So, we are forced to ask ourselves how it is that we can remain silent after what Christ has done in our lives? How can the lips of those who were “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1) receive life--eternal life--and remain sealed?
We once suffered the pain of guilt, failed and broken relationships, and hopelessness. But when we surrendered, turning to Christ, He gave us His life and changed us (2 Cor. 5:17).
Once the grave symptoms of sin no longer controlled our lives and destiny, we showed signs of life--eternal life; humility, grace, joy, forgiveness, loyalty, holiness, and love (c.f. Gal. 5:19-23).
Because He has given Himself and His purpose to us, our dull existence has given way to new energy and zest for life
Instead of living with free-floating values on a search for satisfaction, we have a new “North Star” and a Compass to guide us. No longer do we spend our energies focused on a search for fleeting glory and riches. We are seeking the smile of Heaven and lasting rewards in the presence of the Living Lord. Because He has given us Himself and His purpose to us, our dull existence has given way to new energy and zest for life
Again, the mystery is how can we remain quiet?
It is a strange silence.
*One documentary on the gulags: https://youtu.be/62BQ4Ruu1tk
(Life Worth Living is not able to attest to the complete accuracy of this video, but recommends additional research beginning with Solzhenitsyn's writings)
"Evil Empire" reference, c.f. https://voicesofdemocracy.umd.edu/reagan-evil-empire-speech-text/
"Solzhenitsyn claimed that between 1928 and 1953 “some forty to fifty million people served long sentences in the Archipelago.” Figures supposedly compiled by the Gulag administration itself (and released by Soviet historians in 1989) show that a total of 10 million people were sent to the camps in the period from 1934 to 1947. The true figures remain unknown." Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Gulag." Encyclopedia Britannica, March 2, 2021. https://www.britannica.com/place/Gulag.
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr I.. The Gulag Archipelago (p. 55). Harper Perennial. Kindle Edition.
Kate Shellnut. Christianity Today. July 8, 2016, https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2016/june/no-evangelizing-outside-of-church-russia-proposes.html
While on earth, the Lord was pleased to receive the praise of others. He even encouraged it (Mk. 14:3-9; Lk. 19:39-40), and expected it (Lk. 17:11-18). Praise is not only meant to be done in our private worship but also before the world (Ps. 105:1; 2 Tim. 1:8).