Persecution. It's a word that Evangelicals enjoy using a lot. Mainly because of Jesus warning that those who follow him will be "persecuted for righteousness sake" and that the world will "hate you and say all kinds of evil about you". And so, in a very real sense, we Evangelicals look for opportunities to cry "persecution" so that we can feel like we fit into Jesus' words. But is this an okay practice to be engaging in? Have we watered down persecution? I think so.
The reality is, if you live in North America or the United Kingdom, you're probably not being persecuted. In fact, you probably never have been persecuted. It just doesn't happen in our society. Because even though Christians may be loosing the place of prominence in our cultures, we are still a welcomed and embraced people group. Sometimes we may put ourselves in positions to recieve harsh or even violent rebuttal- like when we decide to protest gay pride parades or duct-tape our mouths shut in front of Planned Parenthood and attempt to intimidate people going inside. Or even when we decide to stand on the boardwalk and preach to people that they must "Repent or Perish". People sometimes get angry- and rightfully so. And they may call us a name or two. They may throw something at us. They may even attempt to humiliate us. But that is not persecution. And sure, our governments may be increasingly less open to the Christian tradition being in a place of prominence- we may not be allowed to pray in schools any longer or evangelize on campus- but once again, this is not persecution. And by calling it persecution we are telling ourselves a false narrative that is doing nothing but creating a false enemy out of the cultures we live in and demeaning those around the globe and in history who actually have been and are being persecuted for the Gospel.
This issue became clear to me as I was reading the recent blog interactions between Evangelical Blogger Adrian Warnock and Atheist Blogger James Croft. First, I must admit, I was very pleased and blessed with the interactions Warnock and Croft shared. They honored and respected each other even though the vehemently disagreed. The tweet off and post war was started by Warnock posting about how Christians were facing persecution in the United Kingdom. Croft, astonished by such claims, responded to Warnock reminding him of the positions of honor and prominence Christians still have in the UK. One statement Croft wrote at the end of one of his posts really hit me like a brick wall:
"It is increasingly common for Christian groups to claim they are being marginalized and persecuted when what is in fact occurring is the mere loss of illegitimate privilege. It is incumbent on those who have for too long clung on to privilege to find the grace to let go gently, so that the rest of us can share the cultural stage as equals." (Post available here)
What got me about that statement is that is is profoundly true. Especially in America. We consistently tell ourselves we are being persecuted because we cannot pray at graduations or in school, because our religious slogans are being taken off buildings and currency, and because our faith is being pushed out of the spotlight- when in reality, we are just facing the "loss of illegitimate privilege". We don't deserve those things anymore than a Muslim deserves to have "In Allah We Trust" on the dollar bill or an Atheist deserves to have "There is No God" engraved on the side of a government building. Now I know this wording will hurt some of my Evangelical friends. But the reality is, we are not being persecuted. We are simply being made equal with every other religious or social group in our societies. Since Americas founding we have revelled in undeserved prominence and privilege. Our country was founded not to be a Christian nation but rather to be a religiously free nation. And yet, from day one, we as Christians have been treated as the "state religion" and enjoyed much privilege at the expense of every other religious or social group. And now, that is being taken from us. And we don't like it. So we tell ourselves we are being "persecuted" and insodoing we demonize our whole society (or at least those who don't want us to have privilege) and we act as if we're going to be locked up or slain in the streets- but that's not going to happen.
I happen to believe that this loss of privilege is a gift from God to the Church. When we are privileged, everything is corrupted. We begin to worship prominence over Jesus and begin to build political and social platforms instead of the Kingdom of God. Christians come from a long history of real persecution and oppression. Our faith is meant to function on the grassroots level, not as a state or national force but as a subversive, Spirit empowered movement that changes the world from the bottom up. The Church is supposed to be built on the least of these- the poor, marginalized, broken, addicted, battered, scared, hopeless- not the strongest, mightiest, and most powerful. So maybe what we are experiencing isn't persecution at all- it's the hand of blessing from God that is stripping us from our undeserved privilege. And maybe we should start seeing it as that and stop telling ourselves that our society is persecuting us- because it does nothing but create a victim mentality and makes everyone not like us an enemy which has proven historically to be catastrophically destructive for everyone.
And even more than all of that- instead of pretending we are persecuted, maybe we should actually pray for and do something for those of our brothers and sisters who really are facing persecution around the globe. Like those in Darfur who live in fear of being killed every day or those in India who fear getting bombed by extremist Hindu groups or those in extremist Muslim countries that are facing imprisonment, torture, and death because they name the name of Christ. Or maybe just take a gander into Church History and read how our forefathers were crucified upside down, beheaded, or fed to lions for refusing to deny the name of Christ. That's persecution. Our "persecution" is nothing like theirs. And we demean them and the suffering they are experiencing by calling our "loss of privilege" persecution. For more information on the suffering of our brothers and sisters around the globe for the sake of the Gospel, check out: Persecution.org
I realize that this post is likely to throw salt on the wounds of some of my fellow Western Evangelicals. But please know, I write this not as an outsider kicking dust in our eyes, but as a fellow brother and Evangelical follower of Christ who desires us to be a more effective witness of the love of Christ in our world. I write this with respect and humility. I pray you receive it with the same.
Grace and Peace-