Can Christians escape persecution by doing good?

I had a brief back-and-forth with some friends on Twitter yesterday about whether Christians can escape the opprobrium of the world by doing good. I argued that we cannot. Others suggested that we can.

Enter Collin Hansen’s new book Blind Spots, which I just started reading today. He is very helpful on this point:

Take, for example, the strange promise you sometimes hear from those who see lack of compassion as the greatest problem with the church today. They argue that our compassion can win the world’s favor. So when we sell our stuff, save our schools, and serve the suffering, we won’t make enemies.

To be sure, I admire, even applaud, this optimism that Christians can make a difference with such intractable problems as global poverty and maybe even earn some respect and admiration in the process. And if they mean only that our good works will silence fools (1 Pet. 2:15), then I can agree.

But I do not believe Christians can ever win over the world this way. And when we expect that our good works should earn the favor of unbelievers, we’re tempted to blame ourselves or especially our theological adversaries when the Western world grows more hostile toward the church. We have enough jeremiads that place the sins of the world at the church’s door. But even if we did more, gave more, and loved more, many would still reject us and the gospel Jesus preached.

If Jesus is our example in compassion, why did the world hate him and his apostles? The world, of course, put him to death along with most of his disciples. Jesus told us the world would hate us for loving him. He warned his disciples, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). The church must follow Christ’s command to love our neighbors whether or not we ever receive thank-you notes. We will occasionally suffer antagonism for heroic stands on behalf of the most helpless among us—the unborn, for example. And in such cases we must know that the reaction of our neighbors cannot dictate our agenda. Compassion won’t always be appreciated or even received by a world that rejects the source of our compassion. –Collin Hansen, Blind Spots, pp. 44-45

For more on this, you can order Hansen’s book here.

17 Responses to Can Christians escape persecution by doing good?

  1. buddyglass April 20, 2015 at 3:11 pm #

    The world will always scorn the gospel message, but I think many outside the church would be willing to cut believers more slack if they (believers) better embodied sacrificial community service and modest living. And, yes, the bogeyman word “tolerance”.

    I also think much of the ire directed at Christians isn’t predicated on their theological beliefs, per se, but for how they understand those beliefs to play out in the political realm. Consider a believer who affirms the traditional belief that that homosexual practice is sinful and that same-sex marriages are illegitimate in God’s eyes, yet nevertheless chooses not to oppose the trend toward legally recognizing these unions.

    An LGBT activist certainly isn’t going to look fondly on this guy because of his (allegedly) misguided theology, but he probably won’t hate him as much as the guy with the same theology who is also an anti-same-sex-marriage activist. Say our guy also happens to volunteer at a hospice caring for AIDS patients. Well, then maybe he gets some grudging respect despite his (allegedly) archaic views on human sexuality.

    Look at how so many people outside the church gush over Mother Theresa despite what she believed w.r.t. homosexuality. As far as I know she affirmed the view of the Catholic Church, which is that same-sex attractions are intrinsically disordered and homosexuals should remain chaste.

    • Anthony April 20, 2015 at 4:31 pm #

      Regarding Mother Theresa, pro-SSM advocates will pull the generational bias card and say she couldn’t possibly have know better, given the era in which she was brought up. If she were around today, she’d totally be on our side, they’d say.

      • Christiane Smith April 21, 2015 at 11:02 am #

        Hi ANTHONY,
        I think she would STILL be saying:
        ” “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”

    • Kenneth Abbott April 20, 2015 at 5:17 pm #

      “[M]uch of the ire directed at Christians isn’t predicated on their theological beliefs, per se, but for how they understand those beliefs to play out in the political realm.”

      Rather. Refusal to burn a pinch of incense and say “Caesar is lord” has never gone down well with the cultural elites.

      • ian Shaw April 21, 2015 at 8:06 am #

        True

    • Gus Nelson April 21, 2015 at 12:10 am #

      I’d love to agree with you but the cynicism with which the world views Christians prevents most people from adopting the view you are proposing. If I happen to serve at a hospice for AIDS patients and my views on homosexuality ever come up, I’ll be accused by many (maybe almost all) of simply being there to try to convert people to Christianity and they’ll get even angrier at my apparent subversive motives. Few will give the grudging respect you suggest. So Christians simply need to do whatever good they can, with whatever means are at their disposal, whenever they can without worrying about whether the world likes it or not.

    • Chris Ryan April 21, 2015 at 11:21 am #

      Wise words, Buddy. LGBT activists don’t hate us because we think homosexuality is a sin, they hate us because we’re seeking to institute a Christian version of Sharia Law.

      If more of us were to reach out in a conciliatory fashion in the political realm we might actually carve out a compromise that protected our conscience rights. If we keep on doing the same thing we’ve tried the last decade we will end up being pilloried for having views every bit as backward as the segregationists of old. The big problem with that is that it harms adoption of the Gospel.

  2. ian Shaw April 20, 2015 at 3:51 pm #

    “I also think much of the ire directed at Christians isn’t predicated on their theological beliefs, per se, but for how they understand those beliefs to play out in the political realm”

    I cannot agree more with you on that.

  3. Christiane Smith April 20, 2015 at 6:09 pm #

    “We will occasionally suffer antagonism for heroic stands on behalf of the most helpless among us—the unborn, for example.”

    The problem remains that in 2012, a political party was against abortion, but also promoted an economic proposal that would have seriously brought more suffering to the poor, the handicapped, and those who live in the margins of our society. IF ‘antagonism’ was experienced that was effective against this party’s agenda, it is interesting that it came from the US Council of Catholic Bishops, who fully support the right to life, but could not support the punitive economic agenda that would have injured our poor while enhancing the lives of the wealthy in our country.

    My suggestion is this:
    if the Church wishes to stand FOR the most helpless among us, then let it do so with integrity, and not allowed itself to be manipulated by any political party that supports only a part of its agenda while also aiming to harm other helpless persons in order to benefit wealthy patrons.

    The Church’s integrity has to include all life, all Christ’s poor, all our handicapped, all of our people who depend on the kindness of others in order to live. No short cuts there. No political solutions that injure other innocents. The Church serves no political party. The Church serves only One Lord and the Church’s visible integrity is a witness to that Lord.

  4. jonakc1 April 21, 2015 at 7:38 am #

    go to a third world country

    Christians run free hospitals,
    give the best education etc

    still hated…

    western christians are naive to think abandoning the bible will work for them!

    • ian Shaw April 21, 2015 at 9:10 am #

      But the secularists here will say the people in those 3rd world countries aren’t “enlightened” like we are and can’t appreciate the good that is done. Though I find that mindset plagued with issues.

      I agree though. You could present everything on a silver platter, but if the Bible and it’s teachings still remain the core of the compassion source, the “good” won’t matter.

      • James Stanton April 22, 2015 at 4:02 pm #

        Who here has made this argument? Good works go hand in hand with living and teaching Biblical principles. These are the fruits of that. It’s irrelevant if people in “3rd world” countries aren’t enlightened or can’t appreciate the good we do. That’s not what its about.

    • Christiane Smith April 21, 2015 at 10:33 am #

      Hi JON,
      sometimes a poor country remembers those Christians who came to help . . . India gave Mother Theresa a state funeral when she died

      maybe the spirit of politics has affected Christians too much, when they express reaction to how popular they are in ‘the world’ or conversely how despised they are in ‘the world’ ?

      Christians don’t set out to ‘get credit’ for themselves;
      they do what they do for the sake of the One Who sends them to serve and sometimes to bear persecution as He did
      . . . ‘as the Father has sent Me, I also send you’ . . . this was not idle talk, but the declaration of One who spoke in the very Person of God to all of those who are ‘sent forth’ in His service

  5. Ben Rhodes April 21, 2015 at 11:31 am #

    I would argue, along with many other Christians that might be labeled as “liberal” on this blog, that the world hated Jesus because he was a threat to the power structures of the day. As long as Christians continue to believe that being part of the Kingdom of God is simply about doing good things, rather than subverting the sinful power structures of the world, they’ll continue to misunderstand why the world hates us.

    Too many Christians believe that the world hates us Christians simply because we follow the moral code of Christ. “They hate us because we love Jesus”, as if simply not being a jerk about following a moral code is all it will take for people to actually like us. But I don’t think that’s why people hated Jesus. The authorities hated Jesus because he was a threat to their power and the power structures they used to assuage their anxieties. As long as Christians continue to follow in the footsteps of Christ, who subverted and challenged the power structures of the day, people will continue to hate us. They’ll hate us whether or not we are jerks (though we shouldn’t be jerks) and whether or not our good deeds are amazing. They’ll hate us because our very presence in the world threatens to tear down the power structures they love so much.

    I believe Christians argue that our good deeds will lessen people’s hate for us because they think Christianity is just about feeding the poor, etc.. “How could the world hate people who take care of the poor?”, some would argue, “Especially if we’re not jerks about it.” But Christianity is not just about feeding the poor. It’s about subverting the power systems that allow the poor to go hungry. And that act of advancing the Kingdom of God on earth, as opposed to accepting the systems of sin we are born into, is the reason why the world will hate us.

    To me, discussion is a massive misunderstanding of what Christianity is about, and where the world’s hate comes from, and this includes the quote from Hansen’s book listed in the post.

  6. Christiane Smith April 21, 2015 at 12:13 pm #

    “But Christianity is not just about feeding the poor. It’s about subverting the power systems that allow the poor to go hungry. And that act of advancing the Kingdom of God on earth ”

    Pope Francis would agree with you, BEN

  7. Kenneth Abbott April 21, 2015 at 3:17 pm #

    “The authorities hated Jesus because he was a threat to their power and the power structures they used to assuage their anxieties. As long as Christians continue to follow in the footsteps of Christ, who subverted and challenged the power structures of the day, people will continue to hate us. They’ll hate us whether or not we are jerks (though we shouldn’t be jerks) and whether or not our good deeds are amazing. They’ll hate us because our very presence in the world threatens to tear down the power structures they love so much.”

    There is some truth to this, but as stated it’s incomplete. I had typed up a much longer response; the Internet ate it. In brief summary, the world hates Christ because he is Lord, it is not, and it desperately wants to be. The opprobrium that falls upon faithful Christians comes directly from their association–indeed, their union–with Christ. In the words of Paul, we are to those who are perishing the stench of death, an odious reminder in their nostrils that one day they will die and be held to account for their sin and rebellion. Christians may be–often are–very imperfect models of God’s righteousness and love, but what is modeled suffices to echo what their consciences already tell them that they work so hard to suppress.

    • Ben Rhodes April 21, 2015 at 6:21 pm #

      if I’m understanding you correctly, I’m pretty much trying to say what you are saying. Where I would perhaps disagree is on the point that they hate Jesus because he is Lord and it is not. In general, the world does not hate lords and the status lords represent. Many in the world love their lord. Revelation is full of the ways people love their lord, Rome (which is encoded as Babylon in the book). The world hates Jesus as Lord because of how He threatens their status by supplanting THEIR kingdom(s) with His own. It’s not lords that the world hates, it’s what that lord (or Lord) brings.

      Overall, though what we’re now talking about was not really my point. My point is that people seem to be confused on this topic because they believe that Christianity is simply involved in good deeds, like feeding the hungry. The resulting logic goes something like this: How could someone hate those who feed the hungry? It’s unreasonable to hate those who care for others. Therefore, if we weren’t jerks about it, people would love us Christians because we do good deeds like feed the hungry.

      This logic misses the point in two ways. First, The world doesn’t really hate those that feed the hungry. NGOs and other secular organizations do that all the time, and are lauded for it. Feeding the hungry is a noble calling that all Christians should participate in, and isn’t particularly radical or controversial. Second, Christianity should challenge the structures of sin and power in the world by presenting it with a risen Christ (who cannot be killed by the rudimentary tools of violence) who brings his own Kingdom to supplant the old. THAT challenge to the world’s comfort is why the world will hate Christians. Not simply because we have a Lord and follow a moral code like feeding the poor, but because we follow a Lord that unseats other lords, and replaces violent, sinful, and oppressive regimes with a new Kingdom that demands nothing short of rebirth as the entry fee. The world doesn’t want rebirth. THAT’S why they hate Christ, and therefore, why they will hate us.

      If Christians are involved in good deeds without challenging the structures that make those good deeds necessary, then they very well might have less backlash from the world. And, I would argue, they give up important portions of the “good news” to do so.

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