When the Church Cries Wolf: a few thoughts on Christians and persecuton

My son is at the age where he will sometimes claim an illness to get out of things he doesn’t want to do. When he doesn’t want to eat dinner, it’s blamed on a stomach ache that magically disappears when talk of dessert begins. And, when he does this, I tell him the story my parents told me in such situations, the story of “The Boy Who Cried, ‘Wolf’.” I won’t bore you by telling the story here, but the gist of it is that when you falsely claim something–a stomach ache for example–it becomes harder and less likely that people will believe you when you actually mean it. 

I bring this story up because I think this is happening–and has been happening–among some Christians–for a while now. From displays of the Ten Commandments on court-house lawns to the “Happy Holidays” greeting to fears of government incursion on church policy, the cries of persecution are being raised by more and more Christians in America. For the record, as a white-middle-class-straight-American-male-pastor, I don’t feel persecuted in the least. Claiming such a thing, living where I live, seems preposterous, and an insult to the millions of Christians, past and present, who are being persecuted around the world. However, let’s assume for a moment that those claiming persecution are correct. Let’s assume that Christians in America are being persecuted and mistreated. How should we respond? Should we become angry and rude? Should we seek to marginalize those who we feel are marginalizing us? Should we seek to grab whatever power we can and use it to further our own position? 

Thankfully, Jesus actually spoke to this issue in his teaching that we call “The Sermon on the Mount.” In his pronouncement of blessing (rendered “happy” in the CEB) upon the poor, the weak, and those pushed to the edges of society Jesus includes those who are persecuted, or “harassed.” Let’s allow these words from Jesus to be instructive in our respond to feelings of persecution:

Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Happy are you when people insult you and harass you and speak all kinds of bad and false things about you, all because of me. Be full of joy and be glad, because you have a great reward in heaven. In the same way, people harassed the prophets who came before you. (Matthew 5v10-12 CEB)
“You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you  so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete. (Matthew 5v43-48 CEB)
Jesus says, to those being harassed, insulted, and falsely spoken of, to respond with love toward our persecutors and enemies. We do this, Jesus says, because this is what God is like, this is how God treats all of us, and this is what it means to be a child of God in the world. Perhaps the real issue is not that many Christians feel persecuted. Perhaps the real issue is that for so many of us, so often, when we feel this way we seek to respond the conventional way that everyone responds (by getting even, inflicting upon others what they’ve inflicted upon us, etc.), and not in the Kingdom of God way that Jesus calls us too.
The ultimate task we have is to take Jesus so seriously that we seek to embody his teaching in our own lives, relationships, and communities. We cannot do this by “crying wolf.” We can only do this by imitating and enacting the message of Jesus–the message of love, compassion, and peace–in the most unloving, indifferent, and hostile situations.
May we seek to make this prayer of St. Francis of Assisi our own:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

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