I’ve noticed an increase in the number of times I hear this term used both among my peers and in social media. This week I Googled it, just to see what would come up. People who Google ‘persecuted church’ also ask, ‘what is the persecuted church?’, ‘when were Christians persecuted?’, and ‘how many Christians are killed every year?’. Interesting follow-ups with interesting answers.
What is the persecuted church? …this inquiry is followed by a definition of Christian persecution, which is ‘any hostility experienced from the world as a result of one's identification as a Christian’. Ok, fair enough, but you didn’t exactly answer my question.
When were Christians persecuted? …this one I found interesting because lately I’ve heard ‘persecuted church’ referred to as a current issue, while this Google search seems to address it as a strictly past-tense problem. The answer says that the persecution of Christians began under the Roman emperor Nero in 64 AD and that it ended with the passage of the Edict of Milan, which ended all Roman government-led anti-Christian policies in 313 AD. Interesting. We have both a start and an end date.
How many Christians are killed every year? …Wow. Ok. 100,000 killed every year. That’s 273 per day or eleven every hour, according to Irish Bishop McAreavey. I was really curious where this was happening, so I searched that too. Most of the answers I found were in the Middle East. Very few referenced China. Which is interesting because when I hear this term used, it’s usually followed by a reference to Asia. ‘The persecuted church in China’ or ‘the persecuted church in Asia’. I haven’t heard much about the persecuted church in Syria.
Admittedly, I didn’t do a ton of research on this, but my point is that not once did I find any mention of the persecuted church in America, even though I have heard ‘persecuted church’ used by some of my Christian acquaintances to describe the state of the church in the U.S.
Let me just take this blog post to be very clear: this is not the case. The church in America is not being persecuted. If you thought you were getting a blog post about the situation with ISIS and Christians dying in the Middle East, I apologize. That is a very important issue that will be discussed soon, no doubt. But what I’m talking about now is this deep, deep misconception that Christians in America are persecuted…and where I think that misconception comes from.
Here’s my theory. It is just a theory, mind, because this is a place for discussion and engagement. So feel free to agree, disagree, or throw rocks at it. My theory is that not only have many Christians in America redefined what it means to be ‘persecuted’, they have also redefined what it means to live a life worthy of persecution. Let me explain.
Many Christians who have found themselves in a ‘tight spot’ or uncomfortable situation have referenced Matthew 5:10, which says, ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (New International Version). In fact, if you Google ‘blessed are’, most of the Beatitudes will show up as popular searches. And wouldn’t you know it, ‘blessed are the persecuted’ is the most popular these days. Go figure. Interestingly tho, in the New Living Translation, ‘persecuted because of righteousness’ is rephrased as ‘persecuted for doing right’. Now, if you’re like me, you look at these two phrases and you notice that the former is a pretty established concept while the later can be a little more open ended. Both Jesus and Paul give us examples and lists of what righteousness looks like in the New Testament. We see love for one’s neighbor, kindness and prayer for one’s enemies, and a strong inclination against violence in both of their ministries. I can already see some of you cringing and thinking of ways to define and discuss what ‘righteousness’ really means, and I think we should because that’s a good discussion for Christians to have. But I think we can all agree that the idea that Biblical righteousness includes such characteristics as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control is not up for debate. These are fruits of the Spirit and they come from being made righteous through sanctification. Done and done. Biblical righteousness that comes from knowing and living like Jesus is a good thing and it can, in fact, change the world…if we stick to that definition of it.
Unfortunately, when it comes to merely ‘doing right’, I think we often take more liberties with what qualifies as ‘right’. In my experience, Christians in America who believe they are being persecuted by their boss or their government firmly believe they are doing right – but according to whose standards? Praying in a public place, playing Christian music at work, or wearing a Christian tshirt to a public school are all generally good things, but they are not necessarily righteous things, especially if they are done just to make a point. If we actually acted out the Biblical definition of righteousness (i.e. the fruits of the spirit listed above) in our schools and work places, I don’t think we would be ‘persecuted’. Which we’re not.
My point is, many Christians in America have redefined ‘persecution’ to mean ‘discomfort’ or ‘offended’ and I think it is due in large part to the fact that they have also redefined ‘righteousness’ to mean ‘blatantly Christian deeds’ or their own definition of ‘doing right’. Kim Davis, in my opinion, was not acting out Biblical righteousness when she refused to do a job she was paid to do. She refused to do her job and she was arrested. We can call her a persecuted Christian all we want, but 1) she is still alive and 2) I have yet to find a Biblical precedent or Scriptural instruction that tells Christians it is ok to demand your workplace, your government, or your nation be a comfortable place to act out your faith. In fact, it says just the opposite. Scripture tells us we will be aliens. But you know how saved aliens are expected to behave? With love, joy, and peace.
If Christians would actually practice Biblical righteousness, I don’t think the world would respond by hurting, ‘oppressing’, or ‘persecuting us’. I think they’d be surprised. I think they’d be impressed. And maybe, just maybe, they would want what we have. And Christians from the ultra-Conservative to the progressive would no longer be persecuted by Democrats, gays, and Atheists. Which we’re not. So chill.
The persecuted church in the Middle East needs us. They need our help, our advocacy, and our prayers. THAT is not up for debate either. They are dying for righteousness. They are dying for merely believing Jesus is who He said He was. We, on the other hand, are merely getting offended because someone isn’t granting our insistence that our faith be comfortable.
So suck it up, church in America. Pray for your brothers and sisters who really are being persecuted for righteousness. And then actually be righteous. Because you aren’t. And maybe then you won’t be persecuted. Which you’re not.