I find it remarkably interesting how the American Church’s use of the word “persecution” has been dramatically ramped up in recent years, especially in recent months. From the tragic theater shooting in Aurora, CO, to “National Chick-fil-A Day,” to any natural disaster in recent history, to ANY political election, religious discussion has always tended to enter into the equation. Debate and argument then breaks out, and eventually, the term “persecution” gets thrown into the mix.
Persecution (n.) - a program or campaign to exterminate, drive away, or subjugate a people because of their religion, race, or beliefs
Take a deeper look at that definition. A “program or campaign,” which is an organized and concentrated effort. “Exterminate, drive away, or subjugate”…all words used to imply violent and/or peace-less dismissal.
OK, so let’s take a look at some hard facts. According to a recent chron.com poll, nearly 80% of Americans identify themselves as “Christian.” Now, we could debate all day long as to whether or not everyone who officially identifies themselves as “Christian” are truly Bible-believing followers of Jesus Christ, but that’s a whole different post. The fact remains that an overwhelming majority of the American population openly claims a measure of religious belief.
In addition, there are just over 300,000 churches in America, approximately 1,300 of which are megachurches with more than 2,000 members, representing dozens of denominations and factions. What do they all have in common? Most of them all legally established, tax-exempt religious organizations that are fully permitted to operate and practice religious doctrine and activity within the scope of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
That, my friends, is far, FAR from religious persecution, especially when you consider that America is one of just a handful of countries with such rights as ours. Throughout the world, there are approximately 200 million Christians who face horrific persecution from their governments on a daily basis. Depending on the country, and the laws regarding religious practice, Christians caught in the illegal practice of Christianity could face anything from public ridicule, torture, or death. There have been countless reports of Christian pastors who have been forced to watch as their families have been brutally slaughtered in countries where Christianity is outlawed. Here is just one recent incident in Syria.
This is why I find it so despicable whenever an American Christian, who is legally guaranteed religious freedom to practice and espouse Christianity, cries persecution when their candidate isn’t elected President, or a law they voted in favor of doesn’t pass, or their faith is questioned or criticized by a co-worker, or an atheist neighbor asks them to stop leaving tracts in their front door, etc. It’s an insult to the millions of Christians worldwide who have to worship in secret for fear of death from their government.
Does persecution exist in some measure in the United States? YES. Is it possible that our rights to religious freedom and free speech could be threatened? Of course! Does the American wing of Christianity suffer legitimate persecution at the hands of those who would see the eradication of dissenting views? By no means.
I’ll leave you with this. Christians in this world who face daily persecution are some of the strongest Christians on this planet. They’re dedicated to spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ regardless of what may happen to them. They face death, yet they do not fear it and they do not back down. They embrace Christ’s words in Matthew 10:22 (“You will be hated by everyone because of Me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”), John 15:18 (“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first.”), and John 16:33 (“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”)
What then does that say about us, when we cry persecution when we’re made fun of at school for wearing a Christian t-shirt that we’re legally allowed to wear? Or when we get on Tumblr/Facebook/Twitter/YouTube and post lengthy rants about how the government is violating the First Amendment rights of Christians because the President isn’t hosting a National Day of Prayer? If we would react this negatively to mere disagreement, I shudder to think of how we’d hold up to legitimate persecution that would see us murdered in the streets for owning a single page of the Bible.
Somehow, through all of that, we seem to forget James’ message in James 1:2-4 (“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”) As our persecuted brothers and sisters in anti-Christian countries demonstrate, it is indeed a beautiful thing when we consider ourselves blessed in the face of animosity and adversity from our peers because of our love of Jesus.
Besides, we constantly talk about our eager anticipation for the return of Jesus. Yet we seem to have forgotten what’s going to come with Christ’s return…the most hellacious period of persecution against Christians this world has ever known. And guess what: it will even happen right here in America. It would do us a great deal of good to be thankful to God for the privileges we enjoy in a country where we face virtually no real recourse for our faith. Perhaps then we’d be able to take our eyes off of ourselves and pray for those who are truly sharing in Christ’s suffering.