By Mat Staver
September 9, 2020
Pastor Cristian Ionescu grew up in Communist Romania where Christians were financially destroyed, their property seized, their bodies beaten and jailed, or worse for even sharing a Bible, let alone preaching the Gospel.
He never dreamed he would face similar persecution in America.
Pastor Cristian Ionescu is the head pastor of Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church of Chicago, IL. Like many of Elim’s parishioners, he emigrated to America after escaping Romania’s brutal Communist regime. And Pastor Ionescu says the playbook the Romanian Communist regime used against him and his people, is the same playbook now being used by radical governors and mayors in America.
Communists, wherever they are, always go after the church first…and the steps they take next will determine the country’s future.
First, they scare you into compliance.
When the COVID crisis began, Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church willingly closed, out of an abundance of caution for its parishioners, as well as respecting the “two weeks to flatten the curve” mantra.
But when IL Gov. J.B. Pritzker began allowing big box retailers, abortion clinics and recreational marijuana stores to open while churches were still heavily restricted to just 10 people no matter the sanctuary size; the largely Romanian immigrant population of Elim Pentecostal grew uneasy. When Pritzker later announced that churches could be allowed to increase attendance to 50 people at some time in the distant future, but only after a mandatory vaccine was released in 12-18 months, Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church said NO MORE!
The church was sanitized top to bottom by a professional cleaning company. Masks, face shields, gloves and sanitizer were bought in bulk. Sanctuary seats were taped off so that no one could sit closer than six feet apart. In fact, the church went above and beyond the safety measures used by the “essential services” Pritzker had allowed open. But instead of adopting Elim’s safe and sanitary model, Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot decided to attack the church.
Then they try to incite hate against you.
In the early hours of the morning before Elim Pentecostal Church was to re-open, Mayor Lightfoot had every single neighbor’s car towed for nine blocks around the church. Those whose car had been towed received an impoundment letter informing the owner their car had been towed because the church refused to close. But instead of generating hate against the church, neighbors stopped by with encouragement and even donations to keep the church going.
The church does not use street parking. So, before the evening service, Mayor Lightfoot sent three marked police cars to block every entrance to Elim’s private parking lot. No matter, the parishioners simply parked farther away and walked to the church.
Then they threaten your freedom.
When it became clear the people of Elim would not be frightened away, stymied again, Mayor Lightfoot then charged Pastor Ionescu with two Disorderly Conduct charges, as if this humble pastor were some thug in a bar brawl. But Pastor Cristian’s only “crime” was opening his church with more than 10 people. The church refused to close.
Then they try to talk you into joining their side.
After threatening Pastor Ionescu’s freedom, Mayor Lightfoot demanded a “meeting” with the pastor. Pastor Ionescu told the mayor’s office he would attend ONLY if his Liberty Counsel attorney were present on the call. The Mayor promptly cancelled the meeting. She intended to convince him to close. She was not interested in a dialogue.
Then they take your property.
Foiled again in her attempts to enforce Gov. Pritzker’s illegal and unconstitutional church restrictions, Mayor Lightfoot doubled down. The church received an official notice from the Chicago Health Department declaring Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church to be a “nuisance,” and as such the city threatened “Summary Abatement” – a process where the city could immediately and without notice SEIZE AND DESTROY ALL CHURCH PROPERTY.
Think about that a moment – a group of peaceful Christians worshipping the Lord within the confines of their own perfectly sanitized and structurally sound building were deemed a nuisance — for which the city was threatening to bulldoze their church.
In all my years as an attorney, I have never, ever heard of a city trying to destroy a church, for ANY reason, let alone simply for opening.
Pastor Ionescu says growing up in Romania was like growing up inside a tightening noose. The restrictions of freedom became worse and worse over time. And this Pastor, who has witnessed the worst of communist persecution, sees the same noose tightening here in America.
In Romania, the Communists put the whole society in a mode of fear to encourage compliance. People will accept nearly any tyranny just to survive.
Those who refuse to comply are deemed a nuisance and targeted for “pressure.”
If the pressure did not work, they would try to recruit you to their side, offering special meetings with high ranking government officials saying, “just work with us and it will all be fine.”
And if the “nuisance” still refused to cooperate, their livelihoods were ruined, and their property taken by the state.
And if all that didn’t do the trick, the Communists would simply eliminate you. Permanently.
In Romania, Pastor Ionescu and many of his parishioners didn’t just see this kind of oppression of the church, they LIVED it. And now, all these years later and here in what is supposed to be a free land, with free people, and a government constitutionally barred from impinging on people’s religious rights – Pastor Ionescu was facing the communists once again.
Our case representing Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church against Gov. Pritzker is this month pending before the Supreme Court. It may likely be the first church closure case to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. And we still have our cases for churches in Maine, Virginia, Kentucky, and California ongoing. This will be a long fight, but we are absolutely committed to fighting it to ensure America’s religious freedom remains FREE.
This article was posted with permission from the author, Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel.