In front of his crying children and wife, Julian Raven was sentenced to nine days in jail for praying. Was this in communist China? A story from the old Soviet Union? Was he trying to pray in a Muslim country where Christianity is outlawed? Not even close.
Julian Raven was sentenced to jail in Elmira, New York. Here. In the United States of America. How can it be that in a country that was built on religious freedom, we get to the point where a man was handcuffed and led by armed police to a locked cell for merely praying?
But wait. Surely there was something else going on. You just don’t hear something this outrageous without thinking that there is another side to the story. If the person on the other end of the phone is offering a free vacation, then you just know there is a high-pressure time-share sales talk somewhere down the line. With respects to Paul Harvey, what is the rest of the story?
While there is a rest of the story, it is not found in the facts. No, the facts surrounding his arrest and conviction will not alleviate your shock of seeing a preacher being jailed for his prayer. In 2007, Julian and 6 others went to a public event in a public park in Elmira. This event was a city wide celebration of homosexual behavior. Hot dogs were gulped down. Bands were rocking. Politicians were kissing babies. There was even a drag show going on to boot! Make no mistake about it – there was a party going on in Elmira that day, and everyone was invited.
Everyone, that is, but the Christians.
But surely Julian and his friends went into this event and were shouting hateful, spiteful speech, right? No, in fact, Julian and his friends walked into the park silently, without saying a word, and with heads bowed. They came in quietly, laid on the ground and prayed. If Julian was trying to pick a fight from this fetal position, then he was sure to get whupped. At trial, even the city’s own witnesses stated that Julian and his group were acting very peacefully. Julian and his group were so peaceful that some people enjoyed a nice picnic lunch right next to his group, as this picture demonstrates.
So why was Julian arrested? The technical reason for the arrest was disorderly conduct. That’s right. Go ahead and laugh. In the middle of a loud festival with all kinds of commotion, including a drag show, the people silently praying were the ones acting disorderly. What’s next, arresting Mother Teresa for hate speech? This is like my son complaining to me that his brother’s face hit his hand. Surely we live in a wacky, backward world when the people who are silently praying are the ones acting disorderly.
Julian was arrested because the Christian message he was trying to deliver by his actions was not welcomed at the event. Through his silent actions, he was communicating that there is hope in Jesus. In fact, on his shirt were the words, Liberated by the blood of Jesus. Julian wanted to communicate that while we are all sinners, Christ died for us and liberated us from sin through his death and resurrection.
But there is a rest of the story and it’s this – if a preacher can be arrested for praying in a public park, how many generations away are we from pastors being arrested in their own pulpit? How safe is the pulpit from government censorship when people can be arrested in a public park, not because their actions were in any way violent, but because others did not like the message? How much longer will churches be allowed to freely address immorality in our world, call sin sin, and call this nation to righteousness? And that, my friends, could be the rest of the story.
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