Sorry, But the North American Church is NOT Persecuted

Sunday, October 27, 2019

The world hated our Lord to the point of executing him on a cross. But are we hated for the same things Jesus was hated for?

I used to believe that Christians in North America were persecuted.

When I found my way into a mostly white evangelical faith community at age 16, I was told in explicit and implicit ways that Christians were persecuted. The world, I was taught, hated our Jesus. And for that reason, they hated us. I read books about persecution and Martyrdom. I poured over the thick pages of DC Talks “Jesus Freak” books, preparing my heart to stand steadfast on the day when gunmen would enter my church and demand that I renounce God in order to save my life.

But that day never came.
In fact, in the nearly two decades that have passed since then, I have never felt unsafe because of my faith in Christ. While there were certainly times that people expressed hostility towards my faith, it was normally because I was acting like an entitled prick and not like the enemy-loving Christ I claimed to serve.

We have embraced a mindset of fabricated victimhood.

I believe that North American Evangelical Christianity has a martyrdom complex. We flex our muscles as the dominant culture and then call ourselves victims when culture pushes back. The church lives and teaches a mentality of victimhood.

We are told that we are being persecuted for our faith, when really we are the bully on the playground, throwing rocks at our peers and then unable to understand why nobody wants to play with us. And when we perceive the secular world to be at odds with our beliefs, behavior, or politics, we claim solidarity with Christ who was executed. Just as the world hated him, it hates us.

But does the world really hate us for the same reasons it hated Jesus?

It is true that the gospel is both beautiful and offensive. But the middle-class evangelical church’s efforts to maintain a system of power, privilege and oppression under the guise of “Christian values” is just plain offensive. We aren’t hated by our culture for loving Jesus. We are hated by our culture for loving power.

Friends, Christ didn’t come so that Christians could hold the powers of this world firmly in our hands, but so that we could discover a new way of being human. One where His kingdom manifests on earth as it is in heaven, where there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no slave or master. In other words, no forces of oppression and privilege. Jesus came and asked us to sell everything and give it to the poor, to lay down everything that gives us prestige and power in our world economy, and instead seek treasures in heaven.

Is the church hated for our enemy-loving? For standing with the marginalized? For surrounding ourselves with the so-called less-thans and losers of our day, preaching reconciliation for all? Are we hated for our creative non-violent protest of a system that elevates the rich at the expense of the poor?

Yes, our world hated our radical, enemy loving, self-sacrificing and inclusive Lord. The man who rebuked the religious elites and dined with social outcasts and healed his captors.  But I assure you, the world doesn’t hate the middle class North American evangelical Church for being too much like our Christ. 

In fact, it is not the broken and pained sinners, the oppressed and marginalized, that called for Jesus to be executed. It was the systems of power joining forces with the religious elites. Christ was not hated by the poor and disenfranchised, he was hated by the powerful. By the people who felt they held the cards of religion close to their own chest.

What Persecution is not.

Persecution is not being forced to entertain other viewpoints. It is not being held responsible for the consequences of our own oppressive history of colonization, slavery, and bigotry. It is not receiving push back from a culture that does not believe in our God. Friends, can I say this in love? Persecution is not receiving backlash for refusing to bake a wedding cake, or removal of prayer in public schools, or the so-called retail “war on Christmas”. It is actual, real, tangible injury because our faith is not tolerated.

Public resistance to our understanding of faith issues is not a sign that Christians are being persecuted. The opposite, it is a symbol of free society.

Is Christian persecution a real thing?

A 2017 study showed that white evangelical protestants believe that they are more discriminated against in America than their Muslim brothers and sisters. More telling than that though is that they were the only demograph that thought so. Christians, members of the dominant culture in America have spun a narrative where they believe they are being discriminated against at a greater rate than Muslims, a people group that faces daily prejudice. Because to those who have historically held all the power, being expected to give some up, to share space and resources and influence with people they see as somehow “other” will feel like an attack.

Of course, real persecution against Christ followers exists. There are places in our world where Christians live in fear for their lives because of their proclamation of faith. And North America is not immune to persecution. People do enter places of worship and open fire. But calling the hostility that society has towards our faith as a result of our own efforts to colonize, marginalize, homogenize, and oppress is a disservice to those Christians who are truly persecuted for their faith.

What it means to stand with Christ.

Standing with Jesus means to crouch down into the dust and offer people a healing love. To set tables in the wilderness of life and beckon our neighbours to come. It means always pulling up another chair for your fellow image-bearer of God. It means love that defies social expectations and cultural norms and ancient conflicts.

 Standing with Jesus means to love people who have nothing to offer you so well that the gatekeepers of power and influence take notice and get angry.

Jesus gave up his power and entered into humanity in order to live and die. He showed us humble submission and fearless servitude. He didn’t reach for power to overcome the evil of his day, instead he became lowly and humble. Jesus was hated for his subversive protests of systems of power and privilege within God’s people, for dining with outcasts and loving the socially unlovable. That is what it means to stand with Christ. That is how to be hated like Jesus.

Friends, if we must be hated, let us be hated for our love.

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