I saw a post on Al Jazeera that reads: “The Bitter Tears of the American Christian Supermajority.”
In the article, the author says—you (secularists) may think that the most persecuted group is the Muslims, or the African Americans, or perhaps the immigrants. On the other hand Christians think they are the most persecuted and oppressed. He gives three anecdotal accounts of how the Christian people have pushed forth their message of undue persecution. In the first he says,
“On March 2, three Baptist ministers in Akron, Ohio, arranged for the local police to mock-arrest them in their churches and haul them away in handcuffs for the simple act of preaching their faith. A video was posted on YouTube to drum up buzz for an upcoming revival show. A few atheist blogs object to uniformed police taking part in a church publicity stunt, but far more people who saw the YouTube video (24,082 views), in Ohio and elsewhere, took this media stunt as reality — confirmation of their wildest fears about a government clampdown on Christianity.”
In his second piece of evidence he cites the controversial Arizona “anti gay” bill:
“On Feb. 26, Arizona’s conservative Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that would have allowed businesses to refuse services to people who violate their sincerely held religious beliefs — for example, gays and lesbians. Fox News pundit Todd Starnes tweeted that Christians have been demoted to second-class citizenship in Arizona, an opinion widely shared on the right-wing Christian blogosphere, which sees Brewer’s veto as a harbinger of even greater persecution to come.”
Finally, he gives this:
“And the feature film “Persecuted,” a political thriller about a federal government plan to censor Christianity in the name of liberalism, is due out in May. Featuring former Sen. Fred Thompson and Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, the movie received a rapturous reception at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference on March 10 and is of a piece with other Christian films such as “God’s Not Dead,” about a freshman believer bullied into proving the existence of god by an atheist professor.”
He goes on to dispute that these anecdotes indicate any real persecution. He says unequivocally that
“More than 75 percent of the United States identifies as Christian; 57 percent believe in the devil, and nearly 8 in 10 Americans believe the Bible to be either the “inspired word” or literal word of God. Despite the constitutional separation of church and state, the government began under President George W. Bush to outsource social welfare programs to faith-based organizations (more than 98 percent, according to one 2006 study, of them Christian churches), and schools with religious ties (mostly Christian) in several states are now well fed by direct public subsidies. But then, American places of worship (again, most of them Christian) have long enjoyed a de facto public subsidy as tax-exempt 501(c)3 organizations funded by tax-deductible contributions. Last month President Barack Obama himself held forth at National Prayer Breakfast about the importance of Jesus in his life.”
He is basically saying, this persecution of Christians is a myth. It doesn’t exist! There may be some persecution of Christians in Egypt or perhaps Nigeria—but in America they are coddled.
The writer tries to get at the orgins of this “orgy of self pity.” He cites Candida Moss in saying that self-pity is “hard wired into Christianity.” In her book, “The Myth of Christian Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom,” Moss pontificates on this theme. Moss says that claiming that Christians have suffered persecution is an admittance of amnesia. According to Moss,
“Early Christians were persecuted by Rome only sporadically, less for religious heterodoxy than for political insubordination in an empire that was draconian across the board. Early Christian writers Irenaeus, Justin Martyr and Tertullian chronicled such incidents as proof of the faith’s righteousness, laying a scriptural basis for a self-image of eternal persecution.”
She goes on to say that it was Eusebius who “encoded the understanding of the church as persecuted into the history of Christianity itself.” She goes on to point out that his martyrdom stories were conjured up in an effort to motivate the base. Moss goes on to say, “These tales of persecution — full of blood, cruelty and dodgy “facts” — were enjoyed at the time, much in the way that modern audiences take in horror movies, and the lowbrow gore has long been justified by embarrassed exegetes as a response to the strain of persecution.” Then the dagger—Moss argues, “the textual evidence indicates all these tales of persecution were composed after, not before, Christianity had become the favored religion of the Roman Empire in the early fourth century. In short, they belong to an invented tradition of victimization.” What scholarly evidence does she give to support this claim? None. She says that for Christian historians, “martyrdom is easily adapted by the powerful to cast themselves as victims and justifying their polemical and vitriolic attacks on others.”
Then the author of the article praises Moss’ study, and goes on to point out that the book
“Has earned favorable reviews for its scrupulous scholarship; it has also aroused much nastiness from Christian critics. Even before the book was released, she told me via email, it was denounced by conservative Christian commentators and she has since received hundreds of angry messages, letters and phone calls.”
Here is what Moss said about the criticism of her book. She wrote:
“Most of these people appear not to have actually read the book but, rather, have heard about it and see it as a further example of persecution. Many of them write to the university and ask it to fire me. An alarming number think that I deserve to be beaten, raped or killed (although blessedly very few of them threaten me directly). Many of the comments are about my character and appearance, but I hear that’s very common for female writers. I’ve been called a “female Judas Iscariot”, a “demon,” possessed by Satan, evil, the Antichrist and a Holocaust denier. “
Does this anecdotal account confirm that Christians are belligerent and acerbic in their confrontation of dissent?
A first argument would be that for every “ignorant Christian” who claims to be the victim of unwarranted persecution, I can draw attention to the very same thing on the side of the secularist. I do wonder—why is it if I were to propose the positioning of a monument to honor Voltaire in Washington DC, this would go through a proper debate process and would be judged by its merits as an idea. Yet, if I suggested a statue of Moses or Jesus—it would instantly be struck down as an idea that violates the separation of Church and state? Arguably, Jesus and Moses have done much more to shape the understanding we have of freedom and individual liberty in this country than has Voltaire. Even through another perspective we see the bias. Why is it that among faculty members on the secular campus, which is made up of let’s say, 12% homosexuals—is the homosexual faculty member more likely to outwardly portray his/her sexuality in the tenure process than is the 2% of the faculty made up by Evangelical Christians? What about this minority group? It as if we are allowed to have our beliefs in private, but they must be stricken from the public square. If we put up a statue of Moses, is that the same thing as the government endorsing Moses as the only way? Political Scientiest Dinesh D’Souza asserts,
“But you have no problem with government removing all religious symbols from the public square and you don’t see that as government endorsing atheism or secularism?…I want the public square open to both Moses and the 10 Commandments and to Voltaire.”
I agree with Dinesh D’Souza, when asked by Bill Ayers to give a “full-throated support for queer rights,” asserts:
“I believe in the United States we are all a minority of one and we are each entitled to the full rights made available to us in the Bill of Rights.”
I wonder if many on the left would give a full throated support for the rights of evangelical Christians to be recognized, and to be protected from “derogatory comments from other citizens.”
I also agree with D’Souza who says,
“I submit that if you were a professor here (Dartmouth) before the tenure committee, the defender of queer theory would have every reason to expect to be promoted, while the evangelical Christian would have to hide his true views.”
We are a minority of one. Persecution is inevitable at some point for all people.
I don’t know that I would agree at all with the author’s (Mrs. Moss) premise (and I have read her book). I think she has a fundamental misunderstanding of what Christianity is all about—as do many people. Are Christians persecuted? Yes. Should we expect it? Yes. Consider:
“And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets – who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated – of whom the world was not worthy – wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”—1 Hebrews 11:32-12:2
Love is costly by definition. Do you think that even though something may be offered to someone for nothing—that means that it didn’t cost the giver anything? It may indeed cost all. The trouble is that I think many in the church—when it comes to the issue of witnessing to people of other worldviews seem to be looking for methods and means that will cost nothing. I think that the only way this could be achieved would be to separate love from our method. Perhaps this is why some of Christianity comes across as abrasive or crude. If one only employs methodology, they will have no love in their action. If the only employ love, they will have no method. They must be coexistent.
Do you not think it is interesting that nearly every action by Jesus in the New Testament is an example of a “costly demonstration of unexpected love?” Consider, the father leaving the house to run to the prodigal, the Samaritan carrying the man into the Jewish village, the Shepherd leaving the 99 to find the one–or the woman who must get down on her hands and knees to search for one coin. It doesn’t stop there! What about Jesus who has no time for the crowd in Jericho (the oppressed), but has time for Zacchaeus (the oppressor)? You notice in that story, the moment that Jesus shows love for Zacchaeus, the anger of the crowed moves from Zacchaeus to Jesus. A costly demonstration of unexpected love.
Now, we must understand—Rejected love is painful—without question. In fact, Jesus Christ expressed pain and hurt in the face of rejection. There is a mandate for us to give our lives to the lost in the same way that he reached to us through the incarnation and the Cross. Wasn’t it E.M Bounds who remarked,
“The world is looking for better methods, God is looking for better men.”
I think that as Christians we should concentrate more on changing hearts than changing our methods.
Well, what about persecution more specifically?
Do you know what Jesus said about persecution? He said it was part of the job. You can understand that as—“expect it.” Jesus, in preparing his disciples for the trials of this world, told them that difficulty would come. They might have thought that, with God on their side, no suffering would ever befall them. Jesus however told them:
“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think that he is offering service to God…”
Right before he said that—he said this,
“And you also will bear witness…”
More than mere persecution—What do you know about the word witness? It comes from the Greek word “martys.” Do you know what that means? “Martys” was translated to Latin as “martir,” and it developed through history to become the word “martyr.” If you are interested in this, Michael Jensen from Oxford has a wonderfully erudite dissertation on the matter. He says that without question, our word martyr can be traced without any question—to the word that we read in the Bible as “witness.” Don’t take Michael or my word for it though. Even in the New Testament—there is a clear connection between being a witness and suffering. We are told that being called to be a witness means that suffering will come for Christians. Christ said, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” He goes on to say, “The world hated me.” Should we be surprised at the hatred we attract because of His name?
Take the earlier Hebrews passage: Faith and faithfulness to God lead to great victories in His name. What happened? Well—kingdoms were conquered, justice enforced, promises were obtained, the moths of lions were frozen, fire was quenched, people escaped the sword, enemy armies were put to retreat, and women received back their dead! It also shows that this came at great cost! Some were tortured, mocked, flogged, put in chains and imprisoned, stoned, sawn in two, and impaled and killed with the sword. I would say that they were the ones whom the world was not worthy.
Any thought about witnessing without cost is fraudulent. There were miracles and there were martyrdoms. This is no contradiction—but rather, the knowledge that we are called to serve—and to give our lives in His name—and one day we will be called home.
We must remember that we follow in the footsteps of “martyrs,” or the witnesses who went before us. These were not spectators who watched what went on. They have come before us and finished the race. The Bible doesn’t say they were a small group—in fact, it calls them, “A cloud of witnesses.” They are now spectators seated in stands that are not lightly filled. The stands are packed—with many who gave their lives for Him. Christians shouldn’t lose heart, or their way—but rather fix their eyes on Christ. We should run after Him—who was despised with the shame of the Cross—and is now seated at the right hand of God!
Now to deal directly with what she says in the book. This is actually not a unique time in history. There has always been a cost to reaching people with the Gospel. Many Christians are unwilling to pay it, however. The truth is though; this is the context in which the Gospel took root in the world and spread. To preach a sermon of repentance and faith has and will always be a challenge. A good friend of mine shares the gospel in Islamic countries. He noted to me that,
“I have had the privilege of speaking in some parts of the world in which personal safety cannot be guaranteed. It is always disappointing to hear some people’s concerns that maybe I shouldn’t go to a particular place because the risks are too great. “
Our goal as Christians isn’t to conserve our lives, but rather to give it. We are not called to ignore risk or employ reckless abandon. We believe in prayerful consideration. But my friend is right when he says, “But to refuse God’s call to go because of hardship is to demand something that the first Apostles would struggle to recognize as genuine Christian obedience.”
I am struck that the Hebrews passage contains numerous inferences to the hope of the resurrection. We don’t follow the3 dead—but rather those who have new life in Christ—this is a resurrected life that Christ has already won. We don’t fear death—for if we lose our life for Him, we end up keeping it!
This passage in Hebrews is riddled through from beginning to end with the hope of the resurrection. We follow in the footsteps, not of the dead, but of those who have the hope of new life in Christ, a resurrected life that Christ has already won for us. Let us not fear death; if we lose our life for Christ we end up keeping it.
Here are two final thoughts. In the early church, everyone was by definition “of another faith.” We learn a great deal just by looking at the NT. Have you seen what A.A. Trites has written on the Gospel of John? He says,
“The Fourth Gospel provides the setting for the most sustained controversy in the NT. Here Jesus has a lawsuit with the world. His witnesses include John the Baptist, the Scriptures, the words and works of Christ, and later the witness of the apostles and the Holy Spirit. [I would add that we too are being called as witnesses.] They are opposed by the world… John has a case to present, and for this reason he advances arguments, ask juridical questions and presents witnesses after the fashion of the OT assembly. The same observation is true of the Book of Acts, though Luke develops his case somewhat differently from John. All of this material is suggestive for twentieth-century apologists. The person and place of Jesus… is still very much a contested issue. The claims of Christ as the Son of God are currently widely disputed. In such an environment a brief must be presented, arguments advanced and defending witnesses brought forward, if the Christian case is to be given a proper hearing. To fail to present the evidence for the Christian position would be tantamount to conceding defeat to its opponents. That is to say, the controversy theme, so evident in the NT, appears to be highly pertinent to the missionary task of the Church today… it is noteworthy that faithful witness often entails suffering and persecution.”
There are three marks of these Biblical witnesses.
1. They are passionately involved in the material they present. They have been apprehended by it, and they have a compulsory drive to share it with others. We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.
3. We must be true to the bare facts of the Gospel, but also be responsible for sharing their meaning. Thirdly, witnesses must be faithful not only to the bare facts of the Christ-event, but also to their meaning. As John Piper quips,
“If we cannot explain the good news of the gospel, it is neither news nor is it good.”
We must also give thought to our credibility. If a person is an eye-witness to something, but there are a known drunk—their credibility will be in question. We are told to be known by our fruit (singular fruit with plural taste). Titus says that the, “purpose of Christ’s death was to purify for himself a people enthusiastic for good works.” This is not the foundation of our salvation, but it is the evidence of it. By our evidence, the Gospel message is, “adorned and commended to others.”
Where I would focus my polemic on the church is not that they incessantly whine about being persecuted, but rather that they have wrestled perpetually with the balance between good works, having people eager to do good works, and the preached word of the Gospel. The Gospel and evidence must go together. Even the writers of the Lausanne Covenant said it this way: “The church may evangelize (preach the Gospel); but will the world hear and heed its message? Not unless the church retains its own integrity. If we hope to be listened to, we must practice what we preach… In particular, the Cross must be as central to our lives as it is to our message. Do we preach Christ crucified (I Cor. 1:23)? Then let us remember that a church which preaches the Cross must itself be marked by the Cross.”
There must be evidence of the Cross in our lives. If not, we will only be seen as giving theories. The world doesn’t want theories, it wants real people who have truly been transformed. Without being willing to accept being willing to lay down our lives, we have all theory and no action. On the flip side, to spring into action with no Gospel would be just as absurd. I wonder if we as Christians are prepared for the cost.