On a day in the Valley when temperatures reached 112 degrees, a group of Christians were handing out cold water for free and offering to engage in religious conversation when they were approached by a “Neighborhood Preservation Inspector” who told them they could not give out water without a permit.
While many will consider this an attack on their religious expression, and it was, I think the issue is broader than that. A short segue:
Before I really looked into it, I was under the impression that the Chinese Communist Party persecuted Christians because they hated Christianity. Since the CCP is officially atheist, I figured that was a good enough explanation. They also persecuted other religions in China. But once I started looking into it, I realized that there are official Christian churches in China authorized by the Chinese government with church leaders on the government payroll (e.g., China Christian Council, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, etc.). It’s not so much that the CCP wants to eliminate Christianity. They want to eliminate any religion or even social group (like the barely religious fitness club Falun Gong) which refuses to integrate itself under the already established government hierarchy. They don’t care if you worship other gods, as long as you worship the State first and foremost.
It doesn’t seem to connect, but the situation here in America is similar and becoming more so. As trivial as the situation in Phoenix seems, other similar reports are popping up around the country. A voluntary group in San Francisco (Food Not Bombs) has been harassed multiple times by police for feeding the homeless without a permit. Some of its members have been arrested for doing no more than an “underground” act of charity.
As the civil government becomes more socialistic, voluntary charity may very well become entirely illegal. After all, a top-down system doesn’t work unless everybody is fully committed—not “distracted” by their own ideas of what’s good for their neighbor or themselves. We are seeing this transition already, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Today, most churches are applying for 501(c)3 status (effectively becoming a creature within the government hierarchy). Tomorrow, perhaps, we’ll have our own version of the Three-Self “Patriotic” Church.