August 21, 2017

Are American Christians “Persecuted?”

I’ve been in a verse-by-verse study of I and II Timothy this year with several other men on our staff. We had an interesting discussion on this passage and its application in various contexts.

II Timothy 3:12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

You have to be careful what you say to an American Christian.

Paul is speaking in II Timothy 3 about the lessons Timothy has learned from watching Paul’s own ministry. One of those lessons was the certainty of persecution.

In Paul’s experience, persecution was….well, persecution. Life-threatening attacks by mobs and local authorities. Timothy, who grew up in Lystra, may have witnessed Paul’s persecution there firsthand. He was aware of Paul’s scars and imprisonments.

So Paul states a general principle: all the godly will be persecuted as false believers and impostors grow worse and worse.

Cut to the typical gathering of American evangelicals, particularly those who believe the various manifestations of the culture “war” are the primary arena for discipleship. You’re certain to hear the word “persecution” frequently.

Are American Christians justified in saying they are persecuted? It seems like a difficult case to make when we compare the experience of American evangelicals with the experiences of those in Africa and India who are genuinely persecuted. American Christians may experience persecution from time to time in unusual situations, but the vast majority of American Christians will never know anything of the real experience of imprisonment, violence or hostility that genuinely threatens their well-being.

American Christians may know a bit about harassment, ridicule or even prejudicial bias and intimidation. These aren’t to be discounted. And within some cultural subgroups- such as zealous political atheists or strict Muslims living in America- actual persecution of a Christian convert might occur. I don’t want to ignore those genuine episodes of violence and persecution that do occur.

These episodes, however, are extremely rare. Even if we are to give some credence to the likelihood that western culture is moving toward more frequent and acceptable persecution of Christians (and other religions), we are still faced with how American Christians use the statement in 2 Timothy 3.

I would suggest that the culture war mentality of American evangelicals proceeds on an exaggerated sense of persecution based on Christian mythology. The nature of American history and society makes a certain tension with a pronounced sense of specific religious entitlement inevitable. When Christians seem to expect that they be given a privileged place they also give themselves an excuse for claiming “persecution” when that is hardly the case.

A visitor from Sudan or India would find most of our discussions of persecution to be rather odd when compared to their own.

Bu that same third world visitor might make another observation: the observation that American culture contains many challenges to the faith of American Christians that are far more seductive and polluting to the faith and practice of Christians than the clear demarcations of persecution by obvious enemies.

Our third world friend might point out that in America Paul’s statement that the “godly will be persecuted” is challenged more in the matter of what it means to “godly” than in what it means to be persecuted.

Rather than complain that we are being “persecuted” in a society where our employer might forbid open evangelism or where “Holiday” may replace “Christmas,” we should show real sensitivity to the truly persecuted. Without ignoring legitimate discrimination and episodes of mistreatment, we should remember that the American Christian experience shows many signs of distortion and weakness because it has been absent the bracing experience of persecution and is often far too affected by the seductions of secular acceptance.

Comments

  1. All I can think of is N. T. Wright quoting his bishop, “Everywhere St. Paul went, there was a riot; everywhere I go, they serve me tea.”

    However, I do know of one pastor in Ohio that matches St. Paul better than Wright’s bishop. He calls sin directly sin; he preaches repentance; he preaches the need for forgiveness and Christ as the only provision for that forgiveness. He does not scream, rant, or rail (I don’t think his voice has that volume level on it). Yet when invited to college campuses to speak, he does cause riots. The last time, the administration canceled the rest of his speaking engagements by fiat. His church on prior engagements got bomb threats.

    Somehow, this man, Dan Burgoyne,–by speaking the Word directly and without compromise OUTSIDE THE SAFE CONFINES OF A CHURCH BUILDING WHERE TO SPEAK TO BASICALLY EVERYONE THAT AGREES WITH YOU ANYWAY–still sparks the wrath of the world. Maybe Americans aren’t persecuted because we interact on two different levels, preaching Christ and the Bible directly within our churches and interacting with the world on “Christ Lite,” mentioning Jesus but still accepting the basic multicultural assumptions and language of our system.

  2. Many vain men in our day in America would make persecution a new work, a way to heaven, both insulting those overseas who are persecuted not for their bravado to the faith but for the Cross in which they trust. But this kind of pagan auto-flagellation is not new, it is as old as man’s fallen religion and comes in any time and society with fresh makeup on it. Theologies of glory, fallen religion under any name even “Christian”, always have a tendency to ‘wet their fingers and stick them up in the air’ of time and space to see how God is operating, then adjusting their works (varied and many) accordingly. Their eyes are completely off of the Cross or trying to see around or through it, hence a theology of glory.

    Thus, blessings from their god (and they may call their god ‘christian’ or biblical, but it is an idol) for their works can seek a blessing that is either negative or positive in outward form but is in sum total “how they know they are pleasing god”. In a word there is zero difference in ‘health wealth preaching’ which says in short, “IF you DO good (works), THEN ‘god’ will bless you with wealth and prosperity”; and these modern monks who in essence say, “IF you DO xyz, deny these worldly things, THEN ‘god’ will bless you with persecution”. A persecution worked for by ANY means is no real persecution at all but a martyr (witness) to the devil. Persecution, true persecution is unto and an attempt to dislodge one from that naked passive trust in Christ at the Cross for one. This is why Luther saw antichrist in Islam, Popery and the Anabaptist, and he was precisely and acutely dead on.

    A preacher who preaches a message that says, “Do good things to receive health and wealth” is not one wit different than a giddy spirited preacher that preaches a message that “If you don’t do xyz of the society or if you will imitate so and so over in that country, God will bless you with persecution”. Both of these are antichristic messages pure and simple. The Anabaptist witness made a crucial error here during the reformation, as do all forms of religious pietism, and these reveal the real antichristic nature of that doctrine, which Luther saw clearly. What pleases God is Christ and Christ alone, “this is My Son in Whom I’m well pleased…”. Those trusting that nakedly will receive true persecution either of the sword attempting to unlatch the Promise, or directly attempting to unlatch the Promise Word of God. Thus, when ANYONE says or implies that, “You are not a Christian because you are not being persecuted like xyz over there”, the absolute irony in that is that THAT person saying that is truly persecuting YOU the hearer of that. For the sum total of their speech is “The Promise of Christ for you for your sin and having eternal life is not yours until you do this work, the work of being persecuted exactly like so and so over there.” That’s the irony in this, to demand similar persecution as if it is meritorious and bewitching God for the favor of God over Christ alone…IS REAL persecution against the Cross of Christ in the one nakedly passively trusting in the Cross of Christ ALONE. It is the word of the devil, it is the mockery of Ishmael. Persecution, true persecution, is not garnered but laid upon one for trusting nakedly and passively (true saving faith) in Christ alone utterly apart from works of ANY kind, shape or form. That’s the very nature of true suffering, to have it laid upon you, not “earned or mustered up” for something one has DONE (works and merit mongering).

    Calvin got it in Galatians 4. So did Luther but his is longer.
    Gal 4:29. As then, he that was born after the flesh. He denounces the cruelty of the false apostles, who wantonly insulted pious persons that placed all their confidence in Christ. There was abundant need that the uneasiness of the oppressed should be soothed by consolation, and that the cruelty of their oppressors should be severely checked. It is not wonderful, he says, that the children of the law, at the present day, do what Ishmael their father at first did, who, trusting to his being the first-born, persecuted Isaac the true heir. With the same proud disdain do his posterity now, on account of outward ceremonies, circumcision, and the various services of the law, molest and vaunt over the lawful sons of God. The Spirit is again contrasted with the flesh, that is, the calling of God with human appearance. (1 Samuel 16:7.) So the disguise is admitted to be possessed by the followers of the Law and of works, but the reality is claimed for those who rely on the calling of God alone, and depend upon his grace.

    Persecuted. But persecution is nowhere mentioned, only Moses says that Ishmael was qhum, (metzahek,) mocking, (Genesis 21:9;) and by this participle he intimates that Ishmael ridiculed his brother Isaac. The explanation offered by some Jews, that this was a simple smile, is entirely inadmissible; for what cruelty would it have argued, that a harmless smile should have been so fearfully revenged? There cannot then be a doubt that he maliciously endeavored to provoke the child Isaac by reproachful language.
    But how widely distant is this from persecution? 1 And yet it is not idly or unguardedly that Paul enlarges on this point. No persecution ought to distress us so much as to see our calling attempted to be undermined by the reproaches of wicked men. Neither blows, nor scourging, nor nails, nor thorns, occasioned to our Lord such intense suffering as that blasphemy:
    “He trusted in God; what availeth it to him?
    for he is deprived of all assistance.” (Matthew 27:43.)
    There is more venom in this than in all persecutions; for how much more alarming is it that the grace of Divine adoption shall be made void, than that this frail life shall be taken from us? Ishmael did not persecute his brother with the sword; but, what is worse, he treated him with haughty disdain by trampling under foot the promise of God. All persecutions arise from this source, that wicked men despise and hate in the elect the grace of God; a memorable instance of which we have in the history of Cain and Abel. (Genesis 4:8.)

    This reminds us, that not only ought we to be filled with horror at outward persecutions, when the enemies of religion slay us with fire and sword; when they banish, imprison, torture, or scourge; but when they attempt, by their blasphemies, to make void our confidence, which rests on the promises of God; when they ridicule our salvation, when they wantonly laugh to scorn the whole gospel. Nothing ought to wound our minds so deeply as contempt of God, and reproaches cast upon His grace: nor is there any kind of persecution more deadly than when the salvation of the soul is assailed. We who have escaped from the tyranny of the Pope, are not called to encounter the swords of wicked men. But how blind must we be, if we are not affected by that spiritual persecution, in which they strive, by every method, to extinguish that doctrine, from which we draw the breath of life! — when they attack our faith by their blasphemies, and shake not a few of the less informed! For my own part, I am far more grieved by the fury of the Epicureans than of the Papists. They do not attack us by open violence; but, in proportion as the name of God is more dear to me than my own life, the diabolical conspiracy which I see in operation to extinguish all fear and worship of God, to root out the remembrance of Christ, or to abandon it to the jeers of the ungodly, cannot but rack my mind with greater anxiety, than if a whole country were burning in one conflagration:

    –End Quote

    Blessings,

    Larry KY

  3. The quote is too long. Link it next time.

  4. That wasn’t a quote, IMonk, that was a full-length sermon.

    What I see is another Christianization of the general Apocalyptic feel of the time. Since Darby, there has been the idea that things HAVE to get worse or Christ won’t return. This can easily slip into the attitude (overt or covert) of making things worse to grease the skids — the direct opposite of the Jewish idea of tikkun olam.

    Since the current economic slump and the release and promotion of that Ben Stein movie Expelled, I have observed even Christians who I thought were levelheaded going into full-honk Great Tribulation mode. (Even the Christian SF trying to break the Conventional Christian Fiction mold has too heavy a proportion of Persecution Dystopias for me.)

  5. …which sometimes seems more like a case of the atheist/leftist caricature of Christians in America feeling persecuted because they don’t get to persecute other people. — Jeremiah Lawson

    “Feeling persecuted because they don’t get to persecute other people” — Good line; gotta remember it. Though it’s not specifically Christian so much as a generic “Stupid People Trick”.

  6. Upon reading your post I was thrown aside a little by your opinion that can Americans justly claim that they are being persecuted? That is an interesting question in which I never thought about because I always assumed that any hindrances in advancing the Good News was considered persecution. There are many ways in which a person can be persecuted. From top-down persecution which includes overt hindrances from the government to the individual, and bottom up persecution where one’s family and friends turn the convert over to the authorities or religious leaders for losing their faith. When you said, “So Paul states a general principle: all the godly will be persecuted as false believers and impostors grow worse and worse.” I take it to mean that everyone who professes the name of Christ Jesus will suffer persecution and in fact Jesus says “don’t be surprised when they persecute you because just as they treated me, they will do the same to you!” It is true that persecution takes many forms depending on geographical location, however, it is trivial to assert that one form of persecution is genuine than the other. This could perhaps be an issue of pride if one takes their type persecution and esteem it over another’s to dismiss or belittle their suffering. However, I do believe that when in war it is much easier to fight a visible, identifiable enemy than to fight an invisible force as if one was shadow boxing. In other words, the persecution that happens outside of The United States has a face and a body attached to the persecutor rather here in the states, the persecutor is a force of persuasion and a current that can carry you adrift if you are not aware of societies schemes. This is why Paul says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2)

    God bless,
    rjb

  7. True Christians and others are being persecuted at the present time in America.
    Please pray for the truth to be exposed, justice to be served and for righteousness to prevail in America.
    Now, called “gang stalking” (please google search this term) is being aimed at Christians in America and elsewhere. It is real, and it is spreading.
    http://www.badexperiment.com/

  8. Descendent says:

    Well backing up whining of persecution with long lengthy setences from biblical quotations or whatever is really clever isn’t it, Billybob?
    As an atheist who is being watched left and right and had many noses stuck up at mefor being open about atheism, I will say without a doubt in my mind, Christians…ARE NOT BEING PERSECUTED!!!!!!!
    Wow, you talk about persecution but yet you want to take action to possibly kill people for having homosexual sex in their own bedrooms and you keep bitching about Islam? Tell me, can you tell the difference between a Jew, Muslim, or Catholic just by looking at them. Do you ever find yourself not making an ignorant racist statement against Mexicans or people of possible Middle Eastern origin. Having to spend my days roaming across the evangelical republican wastelands of Ohio, I will happily laugh in your face for everytime you whine about persecution. I hope one day you are right and I won’t be threatened out of schools, jobs, or anywhere else for daring to mention in a discussion that I’m an atheist. It must be nice having everything in your control and being able to make everybody feel sorry for you so easily. If anything, at least you provide me with a good laugh as much as the fact that Jerry Falwell’s fat carcass is rotting in the ground along with his boyfriend, William Luther Peirce.