Additional note on 6/27/15 – with the Supreme Court decision that gay marriage is a constitutional right, some believe that Christians will face direct persecution by standing against same-sex marriage. This may be, or it may not be, but my point in this article still stands – that the church in the US is today facing little to no persecution.
A Christian Pakistani woman named Asia Bibi was beaten and arrested in June, 2009. Her crime consisted of stating that Jesus was the resurrected savior, and that Mohammed could not save. She was convicted of blasphemy on Nov 8, 2010 and sentenced to the death penalty. Asia is 44, and has a husband and two young children. She is being kept in prison while her attorney appeals the case. [Note: her death sentence was temporarily halted in July 2015 but she was still on death row as of April 2016].
On New Year’s, a bomb went off at a church in Egypt as worshipers were leaving a midnight service. It killed 21 and wounded 79.
Since the overthrow of Hussein, Iraqi Muslim extremists have begun open violent persecution against the church. On Oct 31, 2010, terrorists entered a church with automatic weapons, killing 59 and injuring 80 others. Hundreds of thousands have fled the country.
These three stories and many others may be found at persecution.com, the official site of Voice of the Martyrs. The accounts reflect those we find in the New Testament and throughout history, where Christians have suffered from official government action (Acts 21:33-36). Much more frequently, Christians suffer from “illegal” mob violence (Acts 19:23-41); this second type is easily the most prevalent today.
Persecution today typically takes place in Muslim nations, India and Marxist China and North Korea. In Sudan, about 1.5 million Christians have been killed in the last two decades, and another 200,000 taken into slavery. It has been calculated that most of the Christians who have been martyred throughout history were killed in the time period from 1900-2010. Currently, about 171,000 Christians lose their lives for their faith annually (http://christianity.about.com/od/denominations/p/christiantoday.htm). That’s equivalent to a World Trade Center attack every six days.
Verbal abuse; alienation from one’s family or village; divorce and having one’s children taken away; loss of employment; legal restrictions; imprisonment; beatings; exile; threats; death. These are the tools of the persecutors for the last two millennia. If we include all these possibilities, then over 200 million Christians are deprived of their basic human rights today (http://www.persecution.net/faq-stats.htm). *
All Christians, even American ones, should assume that persecution could happen to them and not assume that God will keep them from it. Some in the United States do presently suffer for their faith, but mainly at the less harsh levels. Many Christians have been verbally abused. Some Christians experience alienation from their extended family because of their faith. Jesus talked about this (Matt 10:34-36): “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.” Some marriages break up when a non-Christian person leaves a Christian spouse. There are Christian wives who suffer abuse for their faith from violent husbands.
On the other hand, in America someone who is fired for his or her faith has legal recourse just as does any other person; that has not always been the case throughout history, even in this country. Churches are not required to pay taxes on income or on property, so long as they show that they are not misusing donations and so long as their employees pay their taxes. Churches are not denied building permits because they are Christians – which is the policy in Marxist Cuba.
One website I’ve read has an article on which it begins with gun control of assault weapons, then an emotional plea that “they” are certainly going to come and take away ALL guns, then the next thing – it’s a dead certainty!! – is that they will take away our Bibles and put us in prison camps. They are playing “martyr dress-up” (for the young people, “Christian cosplay”) rather than doing the real work of God.
What bothers me is how some Americans equate their sufferings with the horrific persecution that other Christians face. For example, I’ve just read a blog that said that “no church should allow itself to be subject to the government’s tyrannical 501(c) 3 non-profit, tax-exempt status” and called Christians “sheepish” for not rebelling against the I. R. S. The author stated that the government is at times the enemy of God, therefore it is now the enemy of God and should be resisted. His entire argument was that Americans are suffering just as Daniel or the apostles suffered.
Where are the thousands of American believers who endure loss of employment; legal restrictions; imprisonment; beatings; exile; threats; death? I have run into far too many of these Christians who are playing a game of make-believe and what-iffery, making out that their minor daily irritations put them in the ranks of persecuted, confronting the world with chin held high. Americans posture, while brave soldiers such as Asia Bibi are fighting the real battles. I’m tired of hearing the response, “It’s getting to be that way here, too!” when I mention persecution in other lands. Likewise, no-one in America legally lives under sharia law, despite the rumors that are bandied about (for example, the hoax about Dearborn, Michigan).
Here are some fallacious arguments that bolster the “poor, persecuted American Christian” myth:
- Equivalency fallacy. Take the example above, where churches who use their lawful I. R. S. exemption are labeled as collaborators with an evil government. This makes the normal, everyday actions of Christians who live in this age with cooperation with the devil.
- Thin end of the wedge fallacy. The Jeremiah Project states: “Here in America the persecution of Christians has not yet reached the feverish pitch as in other parts of the world. There is still a Constitution that protects them and allows them to freely practice their faith.” They repeat the gossip about Obama setting up labor camps and putting all Christians on a terrorist list. Notice the nice use of the phrase “not yet.” The implication: American Christians are a persecuted people, and it’s only a matter of time before they burn down your church or throw you into prison. Sometimes they allude to the church in Nazi Germany: it got bad little by little, and then it was really bad! Therefore if it is a little bad now, we too must be on our way to fascism.
- Root Cause Fallacy. As a kid, I listened to a radio preacher who daily preached against Communism. The problem with this reverend was that he found commies under every stone. For months he fought a battle against the local government, which required that all houses of worship, like other buildings where crowds gather, have an escape system with emergency doors and proper fire stairs. This man refused to obey the law and went to court, since to follow the fire code was in his mind caving in to State Control of the Church. The communists were out to get him, and the fire code was their foot in the door!
- The Misuse of Bible Prophecy. America is heading toward Globalism; or a Cashless Economy; or a New World Order, as prophesied in Bible. Typically, the sitting American President is suspected to be the antichrist. President Obama is an easy target, since someone with an overactive imagination could accuse him of being all sorts of things (like the Texas politician who claimed inside information that Obama was a gay prostitute in order to pay for his drug habit), or being a closet Marxist and a secret Muslim and a Nazi and a New Ager (believe me, these loyalties don’t mix – I challenge anyone to show me a single historical example of a New Age Gay Drug-addled Marxist Nazi Jihadist). But let’s not have short memories. Only a couple of years ago, plenty of Christians thought that George W. Bush was the instrument of Satan; and many more felt the same way about his father when he was in office. The idea: persecution has to be right around the corner, and it’s up to the preacher to rebel against the government now, before things get too bad. This too is play-acting.
- Coulda-woulda-shoulda. I read far too many blogs which follow this sort of logic: the government could impose martial law; and could take away the internet (that was the panic-button issue last month); and could make all Christian doctors perform abortions against their will; and could tell the U. N. to take over the country and throw all believers into a concentration camp. Yeah, could. But the government doesn’t, hasn’t, doesn’t give much indication that it’s on the horizon. Let’s play reality, not fantasy.
After the sinking of the Titanic, newspapers discovered a strange trend: there were individuals who were stepping up, claiming to be Titanic survivors, going so far as to tell details of which lifeboat they were in and what clothes they wore and how the ship looked when it went under the sea. But when investigated, many of them had not been on the ship, were nowhere near the sea at the time, and some had never crossed the ocean at all. Some of these fakers were looking for money and fame; but others seem to have been swept up in their own fantasies, creating a story about their survival that became part of their personality. In the same way, at least one person claimed to have escaped the WTC attack on 9-11 and that her beloved fiance had been killed when the other tower fell. She became a celebrity survivor – until it was discovered she was not in New York at the time, but in Spain. Her story is told in the fascinating documentary “The Woman Who Wasn’t There.”
There is a scene from the movie “Jaws” that perfectly illustrates my point. Shark-chasers Quint and Hooper swap stories of how they were bitten by sharks or got other scars. Sheriff Brody (in the center) is about to show off his appendix scar and then thinks better about it. Brody has the sense to keep quiet and listen, providing us American Christians with an example of sobriety and balance.
Please: Christians in other countries who have gone to prison in reality, not in their dreams. My wish is that people in the US would not imagine that they are under the same kind of persecution that others face every day in East Africa, China, India, Pakistan, and Indonesia. I don’t want to hear martyrdom fantasies from people who ride home to nice houses in big cars. If we’re so keen to suffer for the Lord, then let’s do what the gospel says: sell our nice homes, learn a new language and culture, and go to a place where we’re be at real, not imagined risk for speaking the gospel.
* Note: I take these numbers for purposes of illustration from organizations who support the martyrs; some think the actual numbers are lower. They may not be scientifically verifiable and I do not necessarily vouch for them.
“Persecution is NOT good for what ails the church.”
“Martyrdom Fantasty Camp,” by Gary Shogren, PhD in New Testament, Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San Jose, Costa Rica