Many first-century Jews hoped Jesus would drive out the Romans and establish an earthly kingdom. They were misguided then and that is not how Christians should respond now, says Jon Dunwell, an Iowa state lawmaker and ordained church pastor.
The Iowa statehouse made national news earlier this month when it allowed a controversial Satanic display. The local Satanic Temple applied for the permit in August with the intent of offering a counter-presence to a Christmas tree which is also being displayed in the statehouse.
“We’re going to relish the opportunity to be represented in a public forum,” Lucien Greaves, co-founder of the Satanic Temple, said in an interview with Des Moine television station KCCI.
Much like their after-school Satan clubs, Greaves and his fellow Satanists likely relished the controversy their publicity stunt generated in the news and on social media during the Christmas season.
In a Dec. 8 post on X, formerly Twitter, Dunwell came out as a reluctant defender of the Satanic display in a lengthy post. The post first explained the legal background, meaning how the Satanic Temple was allowed to do what it did, and then Dunwell gave his own observations as a Christian pastor and an elected lawmaker.
"My observation as an Iowan and a State Representative, I don’t want the state evaluating and making determinations about religions. I am guided by the First Amendment of the US Constitution," he wrote.
Though Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds drew a lot of criticism for allowing the display to remain, the capital grounds are actually run by the state’s Department of Administrative Services which takes its cues from the legislature.
For his stance, Dunwell was called a "Satanic Temple apologist," among other criticisms, on social media in the days that followed.
One person who opposed Dunwell’s stance was Joel Berry, managing editor of The Babylon Bee. He wrote tongue-in-cheek on X, “Your passionate and principled defense of the Satanic goat head is truly inspiring.”
And then came Michael Cassidy, a Mississippian and former U.S. Navy pilot, who entered the Iowa capital December 14 and destroyed the display.
"It was extremely anti-Christian,” Cassidy told Fox News when asked why he tore the statue down.
Government 'not a good arbitrator' of freedoms
For taking down the Satanic statue, knowing he would face criminal charges, Cassidy has been called a hero by many but has been criticized by others, including Dunwell.
“This whole idea of the First Amendment that basically talks about freedom of religion, freedom of expression, this idea that government really should not be the arbitrator of what is an appropriate expression, religious or not...Government's not a good arbitrator of such things," Dunwell told American Family Radio in a Wednesday interview. "I wouldn't want the House telling me, ‘That’s a good religion, and that's a bad religion. I think it actually does damage, not only to the faith, but I think also it's giving up freedom that our Constitution affords us.”
The U.S. Constitution is a document of process that empowers state legislatures to make decisions and pass laws, but there are limits to those powers, and the limits are expressed in the Bill of Rights, Dunwell said.
“The display may have been put up for blasphemous reasons, but I do support their right to say whatever they want to say, and to express whatever they want to express. I don't want to give up that freedom to government in terms of that,” Dunwell told show host Jenna Ellis.
Many wanted to see a more forceful response from Dunwell, he said, and called him too effeminate in his defense of his Christian faith. Those critics argued that prayer is not enough but requires physical action, too.
Critics quoted from Romans 13 to Dunwell, telling him government officials were bound by God to administer justice and righteousness. Romans 13:4 says, “The one in authority is God’s servant for your good…”
“That passage of scripture was written so that Christians would know how to behave in the world in which they found themselves. So, we're talking about the Roman government, not exactly, probably a government that we would say is moral or good. It was pagan, and here Paul is saying, ‘Hey, as a follower of Christ, that government that doesn't look Godly to you, believe it or not, I have established to kind of, I would say, keep evil in check,’” Dunwell said.
Jesus actually “stood against the building of a physical kingdom that his disciples were so desirous to create as well as many of the people that were part of his community wanted him to lead. He rejected that thought and wanted a kingdom that was far more expansive and far more powerful."
What Satanists meant for bad...
The Christian response to the Satanic display should be love for enemies, and service and prayer against spiritual warfare, Dunwell told Ellis who has herself criticized destruction of the display.
In the radio interview, the state rep recalled how the Iowa statehouse was scheduled to display a Nativity scene just days after the Satanic display went up. More than 200 Christians turned out for that event, he said, to celebrate Christ's birth.
"In a free society, the best response to objectionable speech is more speech," Gov. Reynolds said before that gathering. "I encourage all those of faith to join me today in praying over the Capitol and recognizing the Nativity scene that will be on display ― the true reason for the season.”
“The Capitol dome was filled with praise and worship for an hour and a half in celebration and partly because it was in response to this other display going up,” Dunwell recalled.