The Reality of Christian Persecution in the 21st Century
Two thousand years ago He warned us in Matthew 5:11-12, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Jesus did not say it was a matter of “if” they persecute you, but “when” they persecute you.
Although some who grew up in America have been sheltered from religious persecution for some time, that short respite is over. We are now entering the age of persecution in modern-day America. At a recent commencement ceremony at Liberty University, our Vice President, Mike Pence, gave a wise warning to the new graduating class, “Throughout most of American history, it's been pretty easy to call yourself Christian. It didn’t even occur to people that you might be shunned or ridiculed for defending the teachings of the Bible. But things are different now.” Pence also said, “Some of the loudest voices for tolerance today have little tolerance for traditional Christian beliefs. Be ready.”
Be ready indeed. Gary Bauer, a commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recently said, “Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world and it's accelerating.”
The news headlines are littered with intolerance of Christians and their convictions. Pennsylvania State Representative Brian Sims has become a recent household name and hero for the Left by confronting abortion protesters (an elderly woman and teenage girls), calling them 'scum' and bullying them with language filled with racism and sexism. Representative Sims’s behavior was shocking, but even more shocking was the legion of followers who applauded his provocative behavior that would normally be considered intolerant, if it wasn’t directed toward Christians.
Progressives and liberals are not only enjoying the bullying of Christians; an underlying truth is quickly being uncovered. It has become clear that in the age of political correctness, where it has been common practice to invent new definitions for familiar words, the culture is following the example of its prized political leaders by avoiding the use of the word “Christian,” especially if the narrative may paint the picture a Christians is the victim.
Instead, strategic new terminology is used in such a manner that creatively coined terms like “Easter Worshipers” are used to replace Christians. Regarding the terrorist attack last month in Sri Lanka, Obama tweeted the following: “The attacks on tourists and Easter worshippers in Sri Lanka are an attack on humanity. On a day devoted to love, redemption, and renewal, we pray for the victims and stand with the people of Sri Lanka.”
In just three hours after Obama’s tweet, Hillary Clinton tweeted her own message: “On this holy weekend for many faiths, we must stand united against hatred and violence. I’m praying for everyone affected by today’s horrific attacks on Easter worshippers and travelers in Sri Lanka.”
This is even more alarming when viewed in comparison to the language they both used when addressing the massacre of Muslims in New Zealand on March 15. Clinton and Obama wrote about their grief and heartbreak for the “Muslim community.” This is in stark contrast to the messages regarding Sri Lanka, which is completely void of any mention of Christians. This deceptive attempt to subconsciously eliminate the Christian identity is not a new practice. An example of this abuse is found in the Scriptures.
When the Babylonians captured the Israelites, they forced them to be identified by new pagan Babylonian names, which usually held the opposite meaning (taking attention away from God and focusing it on a pagan god) of their original Hebrew names. For example, Daniel in Hebrew means “God is my Judge,” but his Babylonian name was Belshazzar which means "Bel protect the King" (Bel was a Babylonian god).
As harmful and hostile as this behavior is, it is only the very tip of the iceberg. According to Open Doors USA, a watchdog group on Christian persecution, one out of every nine Christians worldwide is being persecuted. In the United States, we are just now getting a taste of the extreme Christian oppression that is experienced around the world.
Unjust Laws: Created for Evil by Man but Prescribed by God for Steadfastness
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, discussed the radical new laws Canada is adopting that are used to target Christians. He said in his article, The End of Religious Liberty in Canada, that “On April 28, the Canadian Senate passed bill C-250 by a vote of 59 to 11. In passing this legislation, the Canadian Parliament added ‘sexual orientation’ to the nation's laws criminalizing ‘hate speech.’ The result is that the Bible may now be considered a form of criminalized hate literature and Christians who teach that homosexuality is sinful may face criminal charges.”
In Pakistan, blasphemy laws have been used to target Christians in an attempt to silence them. The annual report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) states, “Sections 295 and 298 of Pakistan’s Penal Code criminalize acts and speech that insult a religion or religious beliefs or defile the Qur’an, the Prophet Muhammad, a place of worship, or religious symbols… Accusers are not required to present proper evidence that blasphemy occurred, which leads to abuse, including false accusations. Moreover, the law sets severe punishments, including death or life in prison.”
Asia Bibi (whose story gained a significant amount of media attention), spent eight long years in a Pakistani prison until she was released last year. She was originally imprisoned due to allegedly breaking the “blasphemy law.” Although she is now reunited with her family in Canada, her former cell will be occupied by yet another Christian woman, Shagufta Kausar (and her husband) who have been condemned to death over another set of wild blasphemy charges.
Christianity Today has reported that, “Now Kausar is locked in the same prison cell in Multan Women Jail where Bibi has been incarcerated for many years. Kausar and her husband Shafqat Masih, 48, were condemned to death by a trial court in February 2014. The Christian couple hails from the infamous town of Gojra, where in 2009 more than 100 houses were set on fire and 7 Christians were killed by a violent mob over blasphemy allegations. Since then, the tension between Christians and Muslims have regularly flared.”
As we hear these emotional testimonies of extreme maltreatment, we can find comfort in the words Christ spoke in John 15:18, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” As followers of Christ, we can experience a sense of peace knowing not only did our Savior Jesus endure persecution and hatred before us, but we now have been equipped with the Holy Spirit to empower us to endure persecution for the glory of God. In Paul’s letter to his spiritual son in the ministry, Timothy, he said, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
Counting it All Joy: The Biblical Reaction to Persecution
We see from Scripture that we, as the followers of the Most High, are expected to endure persecution. What is to be our biblical response to this reality? We are to count it as all delight. As James writes, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).
Additionally, let us be cognizant of our reaction to the ones who persecute us, regardless of the intensity of our harassment. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” (Romans 12:14). Jesus, sinless and blameless, endured the cross in a state of the most excruciating physical, and more importantly, spiritual agony and torture; yet in that state, He forgave His oppressors and prayed for them out loud as He struggled to take His next breath (Luke 23:34).
Finally, let us remember that the oppression we endure is not about us. The persecution we endure is to be for the sole purpose of bringing all the glory to God. We understand from Scripture that we are not truly the object of maltreatment, but persecution is targeted toward our Savior and King of Kings.
When Paul was terrorizing the 1st-century Christian world, notice what Jesus says to him on that road to Damascus in Acts 22:7, “And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’” All the persecution, hatred, intolerance, both soft and hard, subtle and obvious, is all directed toward our precious Jesus. So, let us count it all joy that we may have the honor and opportunity to endure hardships for His Name and be used as His instruments, as salt and light to this world.