“Persecution” has become something of a buzzword in our culture. When uttered, some think of ISIS’ brutal behavior towards Christians in the Middle East, while others think of Bibles being banned from schools and public prayer halted. It can be challenging to know what “persecution” is when the word is so often used as a label, but the truth is, whether we’re talking about violence or even mere attitudes, “persecution” is the correct label. In fact, the word itself has a pretty broad meaning: “hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of … religious beliefs...persistent annoyance or harassment.”The Washington Times reported that 63 percent of Americans believe that Christians are facing growing levels of persecution, but American Christians aren’t the only ones noticing an increased hostility towards faith in the West.
Christianity Today noted last year that our brothers and sisters in the Middle East are noticing a disturbing pattern in the Western church and culture:
Listen to a Middle Eastern underground house church leader: “Persecution is easier to understand when it’s physical: torture, death, imprisonment....American persecution is like an advanced stage of cancer; it eats away at you, yet you cannot feel it. This is the worst kind of persecution.”
A Syrian remaining in the region to assist Christians and Muslims cautions, “It wasn’t only ISIS who laid waste to the church; our cultural compromises with the government and our divisions against each other brewed for a long time. We are Damascus, the seat of Christianity; what happened to us can happen to you. Be careful.”
When persecuted Christian leaders overseas warn about how seriously U.S. Christians are marginalized, it’s time to listen.
Many Americans are listening, and responding in various ways. Boycotts, demonstrations, protests… but none of these strategies seem to be changing culture. Is our culture is so far gone, or is it that we have forgotten the command to respond to persecution with grace?
Pastor John MacArthur notes the response Jesus calls us to:
Scripture calls for a different kind of response: ‘Bless those who persecute you’ (Rom. 12:14). Notice the imperative. That is not a command to be passive and nonresistant. Quite the contrary, it calls for an active response. We are to bless our persecutors.
Rather than angry rhetoric and political battles, a Christian’s response to persecution should begin and end with the gospel. Responding with grace does not imply passivity or being mowed over. In “God’s Not Dead 2,” high school teacher Grace Wesley powerfully proclaims, “I would rather stand with God and be judged by the world than stand with the world and be judged by God.” In the face of her own persecution by the ACLU and school district when she invokes the name of Jesus in class, Grace responds with strength, but also kindness and the gospel.
She does not back down or bow out, but she also doesn’t seethe with anger. Her response affects her attorney, the jury, her class, and most importantly, her faith.
You see, Jesus was pretty straightforward with his disciples, and by extension with us. He said in Matthew 10, “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Persecution is to be expected, and takes many forms in different contexts. But our obsessive focus on the fact that we are persecuted (something Jesus already told us was a certainty) misses the most important thing: how we are supposed to respond.
Scripture tells us to pray for our enemies (Matt. 5:43-48), reminds us that suffering brings us in closer fellowship with Jesus (Phil. 3:10), find joy in trials (James 1:2-4), and as Got Questions? Ministry notes:
It’s easy to be hateful, but Christlikeness produces kindness and blessing in the face of evil opposition. Peter says of Jesus, “When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
All that to say, when faced with persecution on levels big or small, our response should be full of grace (and a lot more like Grace’s)