January 30, 2013

Four responses to the coming persecution

by Jesse Johnson

persecutedPersecution is the reality for much of the Christian world. There are many places in the world where churches are not legal, evangelism is banned, and Christians are regularly beaten by their governments. In Egypt, Christians are martyred for their faith, probably even today. In Bhutan, Nepal, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, if the police show up at a church, they are there to shut it down—and arresting and/or beating everyone in attendance is likely as well.

China probably has more Christians than any other nation.  Many of these believers suffer imprisonment and significant pressure from the government; they are evidence of the fact that 2,000 years after the Great Commission, it is still not legal for Christians to worship together in much of the world.

This is why American believers really need to come to terms with the fact that persecution is on the horizon. Christians in the United States all too easily tend to see persecution as something that happens “over there.” For the most part, that may be true (for now). In the United States, the police are at churches to direct traffic, and make it easier to attend. They are not there to shut it down.

But recent events should serve as a gentle reminder for American believers that “it has been granted unto us to suffer for the gospel.” Briefly:


  • The day is quickly coming when churches will be subject to legal obstacles for their stance on homosexuality. Expect banks to call in loans if the government declares that the loan was made to a group that “facilitates hate speech.” Meanwhile, cities such as Boston and Chicago have already said that they will not approve of granting zoning changes for business that “don’t reflect the inclusive values” of their city.
  • This will not be limited to churches, but will affect private business owners as well. Lawsuits for discrimination, health insurance violations, neighborhood nuisance infractions have already started. Expect them to continue and increase.
  • Expect marriage to be completely secularized as cities, counties and states revoke the ability for pastors to perform weddings unless they sign documents affirming “marriage equality.”
  • It seems like only a matter of time before lawsuits targeting churches are filed if a church refuses to do parent/child dedications for same-sex couples. Because most Boy Scout troops meet in churches, the recent decision concerning openly gay Scout leaders will hasten this day.
  • A federal judge in California has already ruled that if it can be shown that Christians voted for a ballot proposal, and their faith was a motivating factor in their vote, then their votes do not count and the proposal is invalid.
  • It is not far-fetched that pastors will lose their housing allowances, and churches lose their tax exempt status, unless they are willing to affirm the validity of the homosexual lifestyle.

How should we respond to this?

  • First, we should be thankful that the kind of persecution listed above is still not as extreme as most of the world hurls at believers. A difficult zoning process, limited ability to borrow money, and extra taxes must seem like a strange form of persecution to many believers in Asia.
  • Second, we should realize the apolitical nature of persecution without neglecting the political means of forestalling it. On the one hand, those who persecute Christians are not operating out of political ideology, as much as simply a hatred for the truth. On the other hand, in the US it appears that the means of persecution is through political channels. We need to find the balance of not looking to politics to save us, while also not neglecting the pursuit of a social framework that enables us to exercise our God-given rights as a matter of Christian testimony . We want to resist evil and defend those with no voice. We cannot simply welcome persecution if it can be forestalled, and to smilingly shrug and say hostility is inevitable is a breech of fidelity with the Word of God. Yet we must always remember that the only lasting solution to the love of evil in the world is evangelism—and even that is not so much a solution as it is the mission we are given by Jesus to begin with.
  • Third, we should refuse to worry. Jesus himself told us that if we find ourselves dragged before courts and asked to explain what it is exactly that we think we are doing:  “Don’t worry about how or what you should speak. For you will be given what to say at that hour,  because you are not speaking, but the Spirit of your Father is speaking through you” (Matthew 10:19).
  • Finally, we should continually remind ourselves that love for our enemies is a biblical mandate. David refused to harm Saul, and so we must continually cultivate love for those who persecute us.

As the storm clouds of persecution gather on the horizon, here is what we should NOT do:

Don’t be surprised by [persecution], as if something unusual were happening to you. Instead, as you share in the sufferings of the Messiah rejoice, so that you may also rejoice with great joy at the revelation of His glory” (1 Peter 4:12-13).

Jesse Johnson

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Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • William Dudding

    I wonder if 21st Century Christians in the West will love their homosexual persecutors like the 1st Century Christians loved their Roman persecutors.

  • Roy Tinker

    @google-0ff57ca7e5c014278c8599399ef140fd:disqus: That’s certainly something to pray for – that we will love our enemies and adorn the gospel by our good works.

  • Hey Jesse, great article. This is always a sobering topic. I shared the post about you and Clint going to some remote place in Asia with my high school Bible class and it had a significant impact. Thinking about how good we have it compared to most places around the globe causes us to whine a lot less about our culture’s demand for “tolerance.”

    As far as what you said about persecution via political channels, if we (people in our camp) sit down, “trust God,” and do nothing to ensure our government uphold the US Constitution, it very well may be just a matter of time before the government comes in and shuts you/us down. But I don’t see that happening to that extreme any time soon, unless of course those in our camp remain silent. Where’s the balance between being completely removed from politics and being the stereotypical, over-zealous, vehemently American patriotic fundies that we like to separate from? It seems like we can be a little paranoid of becoming more like the latter, don’t ya think? 🙂

  • Suzanne T

    We understand the “powers that be” have been rising up against true biblical Christianity for a very long time. The things we see going on all around us, almost daily, being proposed or regulated or instituted is quite a shock! Or is it?

    We can too easily fall on one or another side of good biblical balance and right thinking when the heat of “persecution” (such as it may be) seems to be rising. What do we do? What we once affirmed as good and right is now being called evil, intolerant, and what we affirm as wrong is now being called good and right by our elected officials.

    It’s a mad, mad world, but we have this Hope, and so we press on with the sufficient grace we’ve been given.

    Very well layed out, thoughtful article, thank you for this!

  • disqus_i49hn6Dtrd

    An interesting list of “recent events.” I’d be interested in references for two of them:

    “Boston and Chicago have already said . . .”

    and “a federal judge in California has already ruled . . .”

    • Jamie

      Boston: http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/07/23/boston-mayor-blocks-chick-fil-a-franchise-from-city-over-homophobic-attitude/

      Chicago: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-10-19/news/chi-alderman-flipflops-again-on-chickfila-20121019_1_block-chick-fil-a-gay-marriage-dan-cathy


      In particular for California: The evidence shows conclusively that moral and religious views form the only basis for a belief that same-sex couples are different from opposite-sex couples. See FF 48, 76-80. The evidence fatally undermines any purported state interest in treating couples differently; thus, these interests do not provide a rational basis supporting Proposition 8.

      • Thanks for saving me some work Jamie!

      • disqus_i49hn6Dtrd

        A Boston mayor and a Chicago alderman may be obstacles, but they are not “cities” saying they will not approve….

        I understand that the U.S. Supreme Court soon will look at the Prop 8 mess. I don’t think it’s accurate to say that the federal judge in California ruled that the votes of motivated Christians “do not count.”

        • In many cities (including Boston), if the councilman/alderman who oversees an area opposes a zoning change, it is essentially dead–barring a costly lawsuit. Obviously the city didn’t say, as cities don’t have mouths. But the legal authority in the city said that they would oppose granting zoning to Christian businesses. Certainly you heard of this. It was major news.

          As for Prop 8, the judge ruled that because Christians voted and were influenced by thier religion, that “fatally undermines” their case, and the proposal is invalidated. In my mind, invalidating their votes is the same thing as saying they “do not count,” but I grant there might be some legal wiggle room in those phrases. BTW, the appeals court upheld that decision.

        • Jamie

          It’s more than accurate – it’s law. And not just a single judge in California – the Supreme Court in two cases (Romer and Lawrence) has made clear that 4000 years of Judeo-Christian ethics is no longer a rational basis upon which to base secular law.

          That’s the real tragedy here. Under rational basis review, judges would usually defer to the popular vote so long as there was a rational basis for the decision. It was, if you will, a view that the tie goes to the runner.

          But that’s clearly no longer the case if your rational basis for making a law (or passing a ballot prop) is that your religious views inform your decision. That’s no longer rational according to these decisions.

          [and yes, I am a lawyer.]

  • Pauline

    Here in Australia you should see the tirade of abuse several independent politicians have had to endure because of anti homosexual comments they have made. One had to resign. Who says we have free speech? We are on the same path as you folks in America, maybe even a little further along, . And what more could you expect from a God hating Prime Minister who is shacked up with her live in boyfriend in Canberra .

  • I may be a little bit of a sadist, but I think that an increase in persecution can ultimately be a good thing. Why? Because it makes the lines more clear. I believe we’ll have far fewer “moderates” or cultural Christians, and I think that makes the gospel more clear.

    • I’ve thought the same thing, Joey. That doesn’t mean I want persecution, but only that I’m absolutely confident that God will use it for His own glory and the good of His people.

    • busdriver4jesus

      Great point… to use biblical metaphors, the visible church in America is filled with goats, and the best way for God to clean house is to make it much less comfortable to profess Christ.

  • kevin2184

    Another great post, Jesse. Thanks.

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  • Johnston: I deleted your post because of the language you used. And yes, to answer your question, I do love you after what you wrote.
    I will add this though: the whole first paragraph of your now deleted post made me wonder if I was clear above. I made a point that the kind of persecution we face is not at all as extreme as what people in other countries face. I even have what is meant to be a humorous graphic about that point. But then what you wrote was basically railing against the article saying that persecution around the world is so much worse then what we have. No kidding!

  • Whipple


    I am bothered by several pieces of rhetoric in this issue, and I’d love your thoughts (and Jamie’s) on the following:

    Prop 8 (the PDF), pg. 111, line 13
    “The state regulates marriage because marriage creates stable households, which in turn form the basis of a stable, governable populace.”

    No denying this, of course, but it is disconcerting that a government debating these particular issues with the stability of the populace in mind would not bother to denote (or perhaps even explore) just why marriage creates stable households. The lack of commentary on this, the rub of the matter, smacks of a refusal to contend head-on with values and the origins of values.

    Secondly, I wonder what your thoughts are on a different tack in this and other nationwide debates. Specifically, it is my experience that nothing is secular. Every human action or thought is given up to the chosen deity, whether that be Yahweh, the self, or humanity at large. People have faith of a sort in whatever they believe to be the greater good, be it any of the above or science or otherwise. Yet, by and large, I’d wager that anyone who claims humanism as a worldview would be loath to say that he was religious. What would be the use of attempting to prove the religious stance and motivations of those opponents of Christianity who claim not to be people of faith?

    I know these are large questions. Forgive me if I sound haughty. I’m not trying to poke a stick in the middle of a dogfight; I really want to know what you think.

  • John_D_11

    Hi Jesse –

    I tend to struggle whenever the term “persecution” is applied to American Christians. It just seems like such a stretch for us to use the same term that is used of Stephen (Acts 8:1) for preaching “the coming of the Just One,” to describe what’s happening to those who believe in traditional marriage. Stephen’s (and the apostles, prophets, reformers, etc.) was a true, Christian persecution based on the message of truth they were preaching, whereas, each of your five bullets above in some way pertained to our stance on marriage, which is also a stance Catholics and Mormons and many non-Christian republicans take. Are they being “persecuted” too? I think when the real persecution comes, Catholics and Mormons and Republicans will be just as hostile to Christians as liberal politicians and citizens are toward traditional marriage. And still, what’s our politically active liberal homosexual neighbor going to do to us? All he’s going to do is threaten us with a sharp number 2 pencil and head to the ballot box and shade in “I approve gay marriage.” But when that sharp number two pencil becomes a sharpened spear, and is shoved into Christian’s sides while they hang on telephone poles around the neighborhood, with no government interference, that’s when I think we can start using the term “persecution” again. Until then, I don’t think we can begin comparing our government or its leaders to hostile governments and leaders of the past. I agree we’re headed that direction (hence your title “the coming persecution,” which I like how you phrased, implying that it’s not yet here”).

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