Persecution 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).