Ross Douthat has an insightful blog today about “Pagans and Christians” that you should read. Among other things, he argues that America isn’t really a “pagan” nation yet. So much of its middle-class spirituality is still deeply informed by the judeo-christian tradition. He is certainly right about that.
He also argues that secularists don’t know what to do when Christians outshine them in acts of mercy and charity. Case in point: the overwhelmingly Christian identity of western doctors on the ground in Liberia right now. They are missionaries, they are there to heal, and they are there to proselytize. Everyone likes the healing part. But secularists get really uncomfortable about the preaching part. Douthat says that Christians ought to relish the tension that this creates in our secularist friends and neighbors:
[A secularist’s] real complaint: Not that the missionaries are necessarily doing something wrong (he won’t actually come out and say that), but that they’re doing something right in a way that makes his team, Team Secularism, look somewhat less impressive by comparison. Which isn’t really a reaction that Christians should be offended by. It’s one that should be welcomed, worn as a badge of honor, and joyfully provoked.
Read the rest here. It’s good stuff.
I would tweak Douthat, however, on one point. Douthat says he doesn’t like it when American Christians complain about persecution in this country. He thinks that such complaints are really hollow in light of the carnage inflicted on brothers and sisters living abroad who are losing their lives for the faith.
In what I’m about to say, I do not wish to suggest an equivalence between their suffering and the suffering of American Christians. We do well to recognize that some Christians suffer to the point of shedding blood, while others do not (Heb. 12:4). Nevertheless, Jesus spoke of persecution in terms that embrace the whole spectrum of human suffering and mistreatment. For example,
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. -Matt 5:10-12
Clearly, Jesus includes public insults and social marginalization underneath the aegis of persecution. This is not to say that suffering insults is equivalent to being murdered. It is to say that the hatred that leads to insults is on the same spectrum as the hatred that leads to murder (Matt. 5:21-22). Failure to acknowledge this fact blinds people to the ugly seeds that will one day bring forth a harvest of grave public injustice. We need to be clear-eyed about how those seeds are being sown right now before our very eyes. And we need to bear witness to injustice when others refuse to see. Losing the language of persecution to describe what is happening now in America will not serve us in that task.
Even by American standards, this is extremely mild compared to what it was like to be black or gay or even Jewish or Mormon in our country from its founding until 1960.
Denny, that is an excellent point that you made about persecution in America. It is about time that we quit saying that we don’t have it here. Everyone who desires to live a godly life will be persecuted. If a Christian is not suffering any, whatsoever, these days he or she needs to examine their faith . Are they hiding their light under a bushel? If you are bold in your witness there will be push back, I can assure you. And your point that because it hasn’t reached some level makes it not count simply cannot be justified by scripture.
I’ll take that challenge.
Wait for it…
My faith has been examined. It’s alive and well.
I’ve incurred minor financial loss for my belief, but the Lord gave it back ten fold. And certainly there are unbelievers who think poorly of me because of my belief. But in the context of what’s going on in the world, my “suffering” certainly doesn’t qualify as real suffering.
I agree with you in principle, just not degree. All Christians will be inconvenienced. However, not all Christians so blessed as to live in the West will endure real suffering because of their faith. If you have and have persevered, you should be commended and the Lord praised. Similarly, I praise God that He’s spared me. It may not always be so. That’s for Him to decide.
“They are missionaries, they are there to heal, and they are there to proselytize. ”
I don’t have a problem with that, so long as their patients’ treatment isn’t contingent upon having to listen to a commercial. Everyone has a set of values that motivates what they do. There’s nothing malicious about simply being honest and forthright about what those values are.
“Jesus includes public insults and social marginalization underneath the aegis of persecution.”
Unfortunately, folks are a bit myopic about this. Public insults and social marginalization are acceptable when it’s committed *by* Christians. Only when others rudely return the favor is it deemed “persecution”. Mike Huckabee recently implied that atheists have no place in public office (despite that nettlesome “no religious test” clause in the Constitution). Many still oppose even basic legal protections for gays in housing and employment (let alone for gay couples).
This doesn’t mean to suggest that some Christians haven’t been on the receiving end of unjust treatment in this country. People often respond to individuals in a way that they think will punish the collective. In other words: “some Christians (or gays or atheists or Muslims) have treated me poorly in the past, so in this particular incident, though the personal wrong done to me may be negligible or even non-existent, I’m going to make an example of this person as a means of catharsis for my anger at the group to which they belong.”
I heartily agree.
As we see what is happening in our country,the persecution of Christians is an active but stealth persecution. The health care mandate violating our moral teachings on abortions and sexual morality, the in your face mandates of homosexual acceptance, etc. This persecution is growing and rearing its ugly and evil head.
Cardinal Timothy George of Chircago said it best–that he is fully expecting to be imprisoned during his life for standing up for his Christian beliefs, but he is also expceting that his successor would be martyed for doing the same in the near future.
James Harold Thomas
One obvious way to quiet down the cognitive dissonence is for the secularists to set up their own charity organizations. Poorly run, inefficient, and corrupt they may be, they do serve the purpose of gaining glory for their beaucratic creators all while the wasted money comes through coersive taxation. And I wonder how many dollars and hours our fellow believers don’t spend loving their neighbors because there’s already a tax-funded program for that.
I think persecution is best understood in the light of soviet torture and thhe holocaust. I can’t communicate well with Jewish friends when this rhetoric is present. Jews, blacks, native Americans – massively eliminated, not counted as persons. How does this relate to being forced to treat gays as individuals with all the normal human rights?
” This is not to say that suffering insults is equivalent to being murdered. It is to say that the hatred that leads to insults is on the same spectrum as the hatred that leads to murder (Matt. 5:21-22).”
This, however, is interesting. Shouldn’t Piper, etc. realize that insults from one spouse to another, may very well be on the same spectrum as murder, and the injured spouse should exit the scene when any threat or restriction of human and civil rights are experienced? We need much more teaching on that as it often really does involve physical damage and murder. I have not heard of Christians being lynched lately. Lay out the bodies and then talk.
Have you read the Forbes article on the Enron of the American Church? Its embezzlement on a grand sclae inside the church.
James Harold Thomas
No I hadn’t until now. Yeah, Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll have some big problems. And they are certainly not the only examples of toxic leaders in the church. I myself was once a member of a large Acts29 church. I left for several reasons, one being the focus on business, management, and marketing principles to the neglect of the Bible’s teaching on how a church should function.
Of course, there’s one big difference in toxic leaders in a church and toxic leaders in Washington: I can leave a church and stop paying them. Try doing that with your taxes long enough and eventually some well armed folks with three-letter acronyms on their jackets will break down your door. Unless of course you’re filthy rich. Then you just might be selected as the US Treasury Secretary (hint: Timothy Geithner).
Try doing that with your marriage! There’s toxic leadership for some women that is a little closer than the gov’t.
As a “secularist,” here’s what I do when a Christian outshines me in acts of mercy and charity: I appreciate them. I don’t care what someone believes when they’re doing good. This whole thing where we divide the world up into teams of people I agree with versus people I don’t agree with is childish and unproductive.