You may have seen a certain graphic floating around the internet. It’s a flow chart entitled “Are you being persecuted?” and it pokes fun at the tendency we in the evangelical camp tend to have to claim persecution when someone does something as simple as wish us “Happy Holidays.” I saw it myself recently, chuckled and reposted it without thinking much about it. Shortly after, a friend commented on the post saying that he agrees with the heart of it, but doesn’t wish to avoid the reality that Christianity is, in a sense, under attack in the United States. So, what are we in the West to say about our relationship to our culture? Have the developed countries of the world declared a cultural war on Christianity? Does the culture of the West indeed persecute followers of Jesus? It’s an easy enough question to answer in an Eastern context, where believers are literally risking their lives to follow Jesus. I think by going back to scripture, we can get a better idea of what Western believers are up against and, more importantly, how we can respond to it.
First, we need a good, Biblical definition of the term persecution. In Matt 5:11, Jesus describes persecution in terms of others reviling His followers and “uttering all kinds of evil.” That last one He adds a very important qualifier: Falsely. In other words, if you actually are doing evil, it’s not necessarily persecution. It’s simply consequences for sin. So Westboro Baptist Church for example cannot claim persecution because they are in blatant sin when they picket the funerals of innocent children. But what if non-believer were to read the news and see Westboro’s actions and revile the Church in general? What if they were to claim that all Christians are terrible people who would delight in the deaths of children? One would certainly consider that to be persecution.
In This World
But Jesus also said that in this world we will have tribulation. There is a subtle difference here between persecution and tribulation. While persecution in the greek denotes a connotation of being consistently harassed and pursued, tribulation in the greek carries more of a notion of extreme pressure due to the life we’ve chosen to live, which is a narrow life and not a wide one. We see this often in life in the West. We believe in a narrow path of salvation that comes only from Jesus and no other name. We believe that God Most High, and not humanity, is the moral center of the universe. We believe that there is such a thing as objective truth and it can be known, at least in part, as it is revealed to us from its Originator. This is in direct conflict to the humanist worldview of the West, which states that truth is something defined by those who experience it, and that mankind is the moral center and highest value of the universe. Therefore, the great sin of postmodern humanism is to assert that there is a certain way by which people are saved. In our culture, the way of salvation is self actualization. So it comes as no surprise that major corporations create a company policy to wish customers a happy holiday.
What Should We Say, Then?
If you feel the pressure of holding to a worldview in the midst of a society that holds a drastically different one, I would call that tribulation. But does that mean there is no persecution for us in the West? By no means. Being wished a happy holiday, or having trouble finding an appropriate movie to watch with your kids because everything is filled with violence and sex and a self-glorifying message: Tribulation. But what about the fact that the media regularly and blatantly mocks Christianity to a greater extent than they do any other worldview? It is inescapable that the West is a place where culture openly and aggressively propagates stereotypes of Christians that promote a negative and, indeed, reviling view of them. Though Christians are not often threatened with bodily harm in the West, (Though this is not unheard of) they are reviled on a consistent basis and are subject to people speaking evil falsely against them often. But we often have not responded to this well.
Jesus teaches us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Many of us in the Evangelical community often respond to persecution by becoming increasingly political. We seem to trust in our ability to influence culture by legislation and policy more than our ability to do so through prayer. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that it has become a mark of Christian culture in the West to say that we will pray for something, while we rarely actually do. Additionally, as a representative democracy, our political system will always be under the rule of the worldview that holds a demographic majority. If Christians continue to spend more time and effort influencing policy, and less planting churches and leading others to Jesus through personal evangelism and discipleship, we will continue to see a decline of Christian values and worldview in politics and entertainment because we are allowing Christians to slip into minority status. Though there is certainly nothing wrong with influencing politics, and Christians are indeed called to transform all realms of society, we should remember that Jesus did not leave behind a political party or governing system as His agent of change. He left behind the Church and charged her to replicate herself in society.
This Christmas season, you may encounter a salesperson who says “happy holidays.” Or you could encounter a satirical manger scene mocking the incarnation of our Savior. Perhaps an atheist family member will suggest that you are a bigoted and closed-minded simpleton because of your faith. But let us follow the example of our brothers and sisters in the East and stand up to persecution by being salt and light in the Earth, illustrating to a broken world who Jesus really is, through love and prayer. As Jesus said, let an antagonistic world see your good works that they might glorify your Father in Heaven.