The concept of persecution is defined several different ways, depending on the context in which the situation arises. In casual conversation, even social shunning may be viewed as persecution, but in a court of law, there are specific criteria that must be met for the word persecution to apply.
When the culture opposes Christianity so strongly that Christians are afraid to appear in public, it certainly feels like persecution to individual Christians. In places like Pakistan and Syria, for example, even if someone is neither arrested nor beaten in public, pockets of the population are so strongly opposed to the very existence of Christians that they run a terrifying gauntlet in order to go to work or buy food.
Disinformation adds to the pressure when the media or public figures accuse Christians of expecting privilege when they ask for religious liberty. Secular voices declare that religious liberty is freedom of worship, not the freedom to act according to conscience when culture or government set conflicting expectations.
The third level of development along the path to persecution is injustice. In many countries Christians suffer injustice when culture and government work hand in glove. For example, many countries require that personal ID include a person’s religion. There is no religion entry on a driver’s license or a passport for the USA, but in many countries it is required. In those countries where religious ID is required and simultaneously, Christians are reviled, when a Christian presents ID, it triggers obstruction in legal processes or may even trigger abuse.
Because a Christian is identified in public records, both citizens and officials can easily target Christians. In Vietnam, local officials have been known to forcibly remove Christians from their homes and then confiscate their property. In Kazakhstan officials have broken into the homes of known Christians to look for religious literature that might not have been printed by the government-authorized publishing house. In Pakistan, Muslim men abduct Christian women and force them into marriage, succeeding even after their families file charges in court, because the courts rule that the women went voluntarily, converted to Islam voluntarily and married their abductors voluntarily, all without any supporting evidence.
The rise of injustice in any country will almost certainly lead to persecution.
In the USA, Christians are being subjected to opposition and maligned by disinformation almost daily. A growing number of legal cases surround situations in which Christians have been not only pressured by the culture but also constrained by government to act against conscience. The constantly changing landscape surrounding the impetus to make it legal everywhere for a homosexual union to be called a marriage threatens Christian business owners who simply want the freedom not to participate in same-gender weddings and the associated festivities. For them it is a matter of conscience not to appear to condone or to act in support of same-gender marriage because of biblical proscriptions against homosexuality under any circumstances. States which have passed laws prohibiting a long list of discriminatory practices are issuing citations and assessing fines against Christians judged to be guilty of discrimination simply because they consider homosexuality to be sin. To Christians who expect the freedom protected by the First Amendment, such judgments are injustices, and legal action is working its way through the various courts of both the state and federal systems.
The US has a long history of religious liberty. More than one colony of the original thirteen was founded by refugees from religious persecution. The USA has been a safe haven for refugees from religious persecution since its founding. Christians must pray that this history is not turned on its head in the name of political correctness and newly-created moral laws based on the rule that if it makes someone happy, it must be right and good. God has revealed himself in the Bible, and Christians recognize that the Bible is their guide, given by God, for faith and life. It is time to pray earnestly that new versions of secular morality will not impose injustice on Christians who, like the apostles in Jerusalem, say, “We must obey God rather than men.”(Acts 5:29)