It seems like everyday I turn on the news, read the internet news feed, or get into faith discussions with my friends; I’m more and more aware of the religious persecution around the world.
Persecution can take a lot of different forms, and one of the arguments I keep coming back to is trying to define what persecution actually is. Of course, being detained or killed for a certain faith position would be considered persecution. But what about the not-so-evident forms.
Persecution from Without
It’s pretty clear when someone is persecuted for their faith from another people group. I write about this in my new book No Fear In Love that will be released this May, and I think it will be a good conversation starter for people who want to dig deep into the feelings of fear versus our calling as followers of Jesus.
The Us. vs. Them. narrative we live by can sometimes take the same form as a loyalty to a certain sports team. Metaphorically, we put on a red shirt, they put on a blue shirt, and there’s this unstated, or state, battle for who will actually “win” – whatever that means.
Persecution may take the form of a firing from a job, exclusion from a certain social group, a de-motion because of certain ideological positions; but ultimately, persecution from without can be clearly defined. “They” didn’t agree with what I believe about God, so I endure some kind of hardship in my life.
Taken to the extreme, we can read about the Persecuted Church around the world where Freedom of Religion isn’t a core value for certain nations, and Christian is a minority. Today we see groups like ISIS who are persecuting Christians by identifying a group and alienating, or at worst brutally killing people groups for their identifiers. (what color shirts they wear)
It’s not that different from when Jesus walked the earth.
Remember Saul? He “persecuted” Christians. He stoned people to death because of their beliefs. He was the early church’s version of ISIS, but somehow we’ve sanitized the word ‘persecution’ so it doesn’t sound that awful. After all, we wouldn’t want a terrorist to be at the helm of 2/3 of our scripture.
Lots of people died at the hand of Saul because of their belief, but this brutal murderer had a transformative experience to become one of those who he formerly persecuted and as such becoming one of the most prolific writers of Jesus in history.
Saul met God (Acts 9;1-19) and became Paul.
This story makes the persecution argument all the more intriguing in light of current events, and can be one of the most profound guidelines for those of us who hitch our wagon to fear. Persecution from Without conjures up an emotion of protection, fear, and defense. But something is different in God’s economy of persecution. The equity of strength can sometimes undermine the power of forgiveness and grace. And that’s where the conversation gets REALLY interesting.
Jesus was well aware of the persecution from without, but continued to argue for a different way of handling this persecution. He didn’t fight for religious freedom. In fact, he actually went out to face persecution right to the foot of the cross. I think we need to continue this conversation about persecution from without and examine rightly the practical positions we take when we think about the fear of being persecuted from others.
After all, it was Jesus’ right hand guy, Peter, who wrote, “But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:13)
Persecution from Within
Take this video for example. (If you have some time, this is a great message to engage in religious persecution from within.)
Dr. Randy Beckum of Mid Nazarene University gave this talk to a community chapel last month. His argument basically boils down to “As a follower of Jesus, how should I act in the culture today?” He brings up some interesting points that are worth a debate, but ultimately; here is a Christian leader on Christian campus struggling to wrestle with his own faith in front of people who are of the same faith.
If you take the time to watch the video, you’ll see some obvious dichotomy in his message. These are some hot topics in and around our world today, especially in the western world. When I watched it, I tried to be self-aware enough to distance myself from what I wanted to feel about what he said and what he actually said. “If we’re going to follow Jesus, we have to deal with what Jesus said.”
I just learned that Dr. Beckum was demoted at the University for this talk, and I had to wonder, Was this Persecution from Within? Or, was there something else going on? Not being privy to the private conversations at MNU, I’ll never know. But the fact that Persecution from Within is real is clear as day when I watch people who say they follow Jesus start arguments with others who follow Jesus to the point of hardship on their own life. We’re all to quick to cry “heretic” sometimes without really taking into account the person behind the statements. I’ve always said, “We love to shoot our own.”
But I guess it’s not that different from when Jesus was here. Even when Jesus was walking the earth, persecution from within was rampant. He was seemingly always running from the religious leaders of the day right up to his death. He knew they wanted to discredit Him for the message He brought to the people, and I wonder…how many of us fall into the same camp?
How many of us are willing to implement the teachings Jesus came to tell us beyond the obvious Well that’s not what he really meant. It’s easy to sit in a church in a comfortable seat in the heat or air-conditioned of a nice building. It’s easy to hear words that are encouraging and give us justification for how we live our lives. But how many of us are willing to truly put Jesus’ words into action in spite of our un-intended bias of culture?
So the questions I’m wrestling with today are:
- What is Persecution? We all use the verse Jesus said, “Don’t be surprised if the world hates you…they hated me first” (John 15:18-20) to justify our positions. But what is real persecution?
- If we’re following Jesus, how good of a job are we doing lining up our unstated beliefs with the way Jesus called us to live?
- Are we willing to endure the persecution to come from without OR from within? Or, are we really trying to avoid persecution at all cost?
I don’t mean for this to be controversial. So if we can have this discussion in a civil manner, I’m honestly wondering how the emotions we “know to be true” line up with our outlook on persecution. Ok? Let’s do this. Feel free to start a thread, and I’ll play when I can get to my computer.
Last week, a dear friend who works with the organization Voice of the Martyrs said, “Jesus and the cross are a package deal.” And that was the genesis of these thoughts.