A few years ago I attended a conference where Brian McLaren spoke about “conflicted religious identity syndrome”. He challenged us to think about why religious people often seem so hostile, so willing to turn other people into enemies, so willing to use language of warfare (as in culture wars or jihads or crusades) as means of framing what they're about. I think he wanted us to look for these tendencies in ourselves, not just in other people.
Of course it’s easy to see the terroristic violence, but the same tendencies exist elsewhere in milder forms. Most of us have known at least a few people with very strong religious opinions. It’s not hard to offend them. It’s easy to slip into arguments with them even when that’s not your intention. Sometimes they seem eager for it.
One consequence of this is exaggerated claims of persecution. Sometimes this happens in the context of waning Christian influence in the broader culture. Religious monuments are taken down, popular Christian assumptions are brought into question, and the values of “old-time religion” are no longer embraced. This can make some of us feel like we’re in the minority, but it doesn’t mean we’re being persecuted. Having someone disagree with you and critique your perspective is not persecution. If people or businesses are not celebrating certain religious holidays, that does not constitute persecution. If public schools are not teaching your religion, that is not persecution.
What is persecution? Look at what Jesus said in the 8th and 9th beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount (in Matthew 5:10-12): “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Several things can be noted here…
God bless you,
Andrew McHenry, Pastor – First Congregational Church
The blog of Andrew McHenry, Pastor of First Congregational Church of Emporia, Kansas.