Are you a Christian? If you are, have you ever been the object of attack – social shunning, or actual persecution? If not, why not? If yes, what exactly happened?
I ask these questions, because I recently listened to a sermon by Francis Chan. He read material from every book in the New Testament, and he convinced me to stop thinking something has gone wrong in the USA when I see evidence of religious persecution. He did it by showing me that from the moment Christ began to preach, he warned us that persecution would be our lot. Maybe as mild as not being invited to the cool parties in school. Maybe as harsh as being sawed limb from limb while still alive. Maybe simply being crucified as Jesus was crucified. Maybe being verbally crucified and rhetorically sawn to bits by an aggressive individual with what he calls a humanist agenda.
Francis Chan convinced me that the Bible says we should expect to be persecuted if we follow Christ. It isn’t anything odd. It isn’t some colossal mistake. It is our own fault for believing that Jesus meant what he said. We follow him, and we might as well paint a big red target on our faces. This is what the Bible says.
There’s more, however.
The Bible says that we should be really glad about it when we are persecuted. If we are being persecuted, then, according to the Bible, we are doing it right. We are actually giving our testimonies, showing everybody that we put Christ ahead of anything and everything else. If we were to stop doing that, then nobody would care.
This is the current agenda of our secular culture. They want us to lock our faith up in elegant buildings and go inside those buildings to visit our faith practices. The culture wants us to shut up about our commitment to God and our conviction that since God is the one who gives life to each human embryo, then only he should take it away. The culture wants us to say that it was just an accident that the first couple happened to be heterosexual and have children. The culture wants us to accept all sorts of deviations on both heterosexual and homosexual themes that are an abomination to the God-given design for a family that starts with one man and one woman. The culture wants us to have all our conversations about what God wants from us inside the houses of worship that are listed in some government database for the exemption from the healthcare mandate, and the culture wants us to leave all our convictions and commitments and concerns about our relationship with God inside those buildings when we exit at the end of a worship service.
Secular culture has great admiration for the idea of religion. Secular students of the arts discover that much of the truly great art was produced by artists inspired by their religious experience. They love our big Gothic cathedrals as high examples of both aesthetics and engineering. They do not want to be annoyed by any suggestion that the cathedrals grow out of relationships that permeated the society of the day. Rather they would like to think that the engineering and artistic challenges shaped the culture. Secular thinkers do not want to hear that Christianity is a way of life. To them, Buddhism is a way of life, and they love the enigmatic nuances of its words and ways. Buddhism is mysterious. Christian teaching is hard-headed, and they don’t want it let loose in the real world.
When we live our faith in the midst of the secular culture, we invite persecution. Most people don’t want to hear that word in this context. Someone sues a church because he doesn’t like the sound of the bells on Sunday morning when he wants to sleep in. Someone complains that a valedictorian thanked God in the text of a graduation speech. Someone takes offense at a bank teller wearing a necklace with a cross-shaped pendant. These acts, according to the secular agenda, are not persecution; they are cultural cleansing. We really must excise all these references to religion in the public forum. People who don’t believe in God ought not to be expected to put up with such intrusions into their daily lives.
You may go along with some of these little jabs. To accept them without resistance, to acknowledge them without calling them what they are, is to pretend that the culture can slice away our testimony without infringing on our practice of our faith. If faith in Christ shapes your life, then you will always be a testimony to him, and that will always inspire resistance and rejection from those who reject Christ himself. If you think it ought to be easier, read your Bible again. Persecution, in large and small bites, is the destiny of every Christian. It is time to stop being surprised about it and start giving thanks for it. It isn’t an accident. It is exactly what every Christian ought to expect.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:11-12 NRSV