If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:26 NIV
These verses from Sunday’s gospel are just a little bit off-putting if taken seriously. The word hate has special political meaning these days. There is a cultural momentum to punish hate speech and hate crimes as if it were appropriate to apply more severe punishments for those who are insulted or murdered due to hate while other people murdered or insulted without legally-definable hate do not deserve the same level of justice. To read that Jesus actually demands that his followers hate the people in their closest relationships sounds quite outrageous to contemporary ears.
Of course, Jesus was not advocating a life of hatred. Jesus taught us to love everyone, even our enemies. His message in these verses does not contradict his teachings about love. This message is about priorities.
Contemporary readers should certainly recognize the importance of priorities, but contemporary Christians often do not apply this teaching, even if they acknowledge its real teaching. Jesus is stating his expectation that people will put their relationship with him above everything to such a fervent degree that, by comparison, all other relationships would be like hate. Is it even possible to live this way?
Muslim background believers would say with conviction, “Yes. It is not only possible, but it is quite necessary.” In countries around the world where Islam is dominant, people who choose to leave Islam to follow Christ know exactly what Jesus meant. When Muslims hear the good news of Jesus Christ and receive him into their hearts, their family and friends, and often their government, declares that they are traitors to Islam and to their country. What happens?
Here are a few examples:
In Iran, an American citizen visiting the country to work with a team building an orphanage was arrested. His crime: being a threat to national security. He was born in Iran and reared Muslim, but he converted to Christianity, moved to the US, and became an American citizen. Iran, an Islamic republic, does not recognize his American citizenship and considers adherence to Islam to be necessary for the well-being of the country. This man has been sentenced to eight years in prison, and is tortured daily for his faith. His appearance is so thoroughly altered by the torture that his own mother did not recognize him on one of the rare occasions when family was permitted to visit him.
In Indonesia, another Islamic republic, a pastor and three members of his church were arrested for baptizing two Muslim converts. The police alleged that they had “rescued” the pastor, since the families of the converts were planning to ambush the pastor when he went home. However, the pastor and his fellow church members remain in custody. There is no record that they have been tried; they are simply in prison.
In Somalia, a Christian woman was kidnapped by Islamic militants. Her captors threatened her husband and her two children, demanding that the family return to Islam. Her husband is in hiding with the children, and neither family nor friends have received any word from the kidnap victim. The government of Somalia is either unable or unwilling to take any action against this or other similar crimes.
In Egypt, most Coptic Christians are not Muslim background believers, but to militant Muslims, they are a blot on a culture that should be 100% Muslim. The very existence of Christians is viewed with the same outrage as an infestation of roaches. News reports occasionally notice it, and the turmoil following the removal of Morsi from office in Egypt has called attention to the plight of Christians whose presence in Egypt dates from the time of Christ. It is being reported that “Syrian rebels went into a Christian man’s shop and gave him three options: become Muslim; pay $70,000 as a tax levied on non-Muslims, known as jizya; or be killed along with his family.” It is also reported that when Copts or Coptic church buildings are attacked “police have never come to protect the churches or to respond after the attacks.” A caller who reported the torching of a church in a suburb of Cairo said that the police informed him they simply could not be expected to protect every little church with a problem.
13 For I hear the slander of many;
there is terror on every side;
they conspire against me
and plot to take my life.
14 But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
15 My times are in your hands;
deliver me from my enemies
and from those who pursue me.
Psalm 31:13 NIV
This psalm prayer could well be the prayer of persecuted Christians around the world. American citizens who feel safe from persecution should take this prayer to heart. It is true that to date, slander against Christians in the USA has not turned into mob violence, torture or beheadings. Secularists, who dominate the US culture, are more subtle in their attacks than Islamic militants.
Secularists in the US have been largely behind the campaign to make hate a politically-defined crime. They slander Christians by accusing them of hate when they classify homosexual behavior as sin. Secularists reject the Christian teaching that demands Christians refuse to participate in sin while continuing to love those who do participate in sin. Christians know that all humans are sinners, but secularists regard this as an insulting slur. Secularists become verbally aggressive when they read or hear things such as “all are sinners” or “hate brothers and sisters,” because they refuse to allow the words to mean what Christians understand them to mean. Christians confronted by militant secularism may not be at risk of physical beheading, but they are constantly pressed by culture and by an increasingly secular government to betray their faith and to stop living for Christ when it conflicts with secular views.
Anyone who believes, however, that secularists only attack verbally should look at countries such as Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Kazakhstan where secular governments routinely imprison and torture Christians. In those countries it is a crime to invite an unbeliever to an authorized prayer meeting. In fact, it is a crime to hold an unauthorized prayer meeting with only Christians present. Simply possessing a Bible in an illegal translation can result in beatings, arrest and imprisonment. In a secular nation, Christians are viewed with distaste by the culture and treated with disdainful cruelty by their governments. Christians in the US must learn all they can about existing secular governments in order to be prepared to stand firm in the US when similar tactics are tried.
The world at large seems unconcerned about the Christians in any of the countries where they are persecuted. The world at large frets over political agendas and balance of power and whose prestige suffered on public. Religious liberty is supposedly protected by people like Eboo Patel who advocates we all stop focusing on our individual beliefs and only talk about the spiritual realities that makes us all alike. The world at large does not like to encounter a Christian who refuses to “go along to get along.” Christians who do not go along will find themselves fined or perhaps even jailed for their “hate” speech and their “hate-filled” unwillingness to participate in behavior that the Bible calls sinful. Christians really do risk losing everything, but Jesus had an answer for that problem.
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.”
Luke 18:29-30 NIV