Is Your Persecution Complex Preventing You from Loving Your Neighbor?
Jesus warns his followers many times in the Bible that they will suffer for their faith and be persecuted. As Christians in the West, it’s tempting to misapply this passage to our lives and to attribute unpleasant experiences to persecution due to our faith.
All Christians will suffer trials in this life (John 15:20; Philippians 1:29; James 1:2-3), but, as Seth Hurd argues in his article “The American ‘Christian Persecution Complex’ Gets in the Way of Loving Our Neighbors,” equating our trials with the life and death situations Christians around the world face on a daily basis, not only minimizes their suffering, but prevents us from reaching out to those who are actually suffering severe persecution.
The number of Christians around the world who are ostracized from their communities, beaten, raped, arrested, and killed is staggering. Hurd notes that in 2016, 90,000 people around the world were killed for their faith in Christ and 600 million were prevented from practicing their faith “through intimidation, forced conversions, bodily harm or even death.”
I have personally reported on scores of Christian persecution stories this past year, from the government crackdown on Christianity in China and Russia to Christians being driven out of their ancient homeland in the Middle East to horrific stories of faith-targeted killings in Pakistan.
Christian persecution reportedly increased in the past year. Christian persecution charity Open Doors has released their 2017 World Watch List with the top 50 countries where Christian persecution is most severe. The United States, England, Canada, or any other Western country is nowhere to be found on the list.
These Christians in North Korea, Egypt, Pakistan, or Somalia feel the truth of Jesus’ warning that persecution will come to those who take up their cross and follow Him. But as an ancient church father has said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” and accompanying these horrific stories of persecution are inspiring stories of those who truly know that to follow Jesus means to give up your life for the abundant life found in Him:
“If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it” (Matthew 10:39).
God is growing his church despite these obstacles. And often, those who have something to lose for believing in Christ are the ones with the stronger faith.
Recognizing what Christians in many places around the world face on a daily basis for their faith will likely help us to put things in perspective. It will also hopefully remind us to pray for them.
Perhaps even with recognizing the persecution faced by Christians around the world, we may still feel that our culture is becoming more and more hostile to Christian faith. And this may be true. There are plenty of arguments to be made that religious liberty is under attack (see this recent article by Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary). However, we hinder our growth as Christians and our ability to reach out to those who face severe discrimination when our theology paints a picture of America as a “City on a Hill.”
The U.S. certainly has been blessed by God in many ways and it is good to be patriotic and love your country, but it’s so easy to confuse our priorities and to put country in the place of God’s Kingdom.
Hurd uses the example of the religious Zealots of Jesus’ day. These were a group of people who were extreme in their belief that the Roman Empire was evil and oppressive and that God had called them to undertake a religious-based revolution. The Zealots, like many Jews at the time, believed that Jesus was going to lead a political revolution. Instead, Jesus’ Kingdom turned out to come much more quietly, but also much more powerfully because it challenged the status quo of peoples’ hearts, and not just their society.
It does the same today.
God’s Kingdom is bigger than any single country. Hurd notes, “To put the government of United States of America at the center of the gospel story, and then to feel psychological pain when that vision doesn’t come true, is simply a modernization of the Zealot movement, which Jesus rejected.”
When we focus on God’s Kingdom, we are also better able to minister to those who face discrimination. We will likely also have more openings to share the gospel.
“When white evangelicals become obsessed with controlling the government, there isn’t much room left for sharing Christ,” writes Hurd. “And there’s even less chance that non-believers will want to hear from Christians who are openly trying to dominate and control behavior through force.”
“Simply put,” he continues, “we cannot feign persecution and effectively reach our neighbor at home. Nor can we properly understand the horrors fellow believers face around the world.”
Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: March 22, 2017
Veronica Neffinger is the editor of ChristianHeadlines.com