One time when we were working in Kenya, the leaders of the church located on our school compound began sharing the information that our church was going to have a very special visitor in a couple of weeks. Now, this information reached me in Kiswahili and I have to confess that when the special visitor was described as a “nail”, I got confused. With a couple of questions, the confusion cleared up and I got interested in the visitor as well. In Kiswahili, the word for “nail” and the word for a member of the Somali tribe are very close and since I dealt with a lot more nails in the village than Somalis, I can allow myself this confusion.
The Somali who was going to visit had recently become a believer–which was at that time a death sentence among many Somalis, who are Muslim. According to the story, when the man became a follower of Christ, his family held his funeral and several relatives vowed to kill him. To protect him, various church groups and leaders were moving him around the country and providing protection as he developed his new faith.
I begin with that story for a reason. It has become relatively common for Christians in North America to talk about the persecution that we believers are facing in our culture today. I find there is an increase in this kind of talk at this time of the year. We have seen our culture downplay and remove overtly Christian aspects of the Christmas season and replace them with more generic elements: “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas”; schools calling Christmas concerts something different; manger scenes being removed or banned from public places; “White Christmas” being played in malls rather than “Away in a manger”.
All these things plus all the things that I haven’t mentioned are signs of organized, sanctioned and ruthless persecution of Christians, at least according to some vocal believers, who often go on to tell us how much worse it will get, how it is all a sign of the end times and how we need to resist and push back against it.
I tend to get very irritated with this line of reasoning. We are not being persecuted for our faith in North America, especially when we consider the case of the Somali Christian who I talked about at the beginning of this post.
What we are seeing happen is not a persecution of Christian believers but the removal of privileges and perks that we have enjoyed as part of the Western culture that are being seen as unfair in a culture that has become more and more multi-cultural and less and less influenced by any one cultural line.
In a way, what is happening is a direct result of the influence the Christian faith has had on our culture. As a faith, we have taught things like equality of all before God; love and respect for all; individual freedom; concern for the oppressed and so on–our faith message seeks to remove oppression in all forms beginning with the internal life of the individual and moving on to the cultural life of a nation. While the church has a history of some very bad choices, we also have a history of influencing our culture in a positive way when it comes to the respect of others.
Losing privileges and perks is painful–but it is not persecution. When we are a part of a culture that celebrates Hanukah, Kwanza, Christmas and other cultural and religious events all around the same time, why should one have any more privilege than another? Certainly, we as Christians can claim historical precedent–but that is a very shaky claim since many of the perks we enjoy are not that old historically.
The situation we face as believers in North America is not persecution–it is the leveling of the playing field so that everyone has the same rights and privileges, which is a very Christian perspective on life. To call the natural working out of Christian love and respect for others within our culture persecution is to make two mistakes. First, it tries to go back to a mythical time in the past when unfairness was called Christian.
But more than that, it cheapens and demeans the real persecution of believers who live and believe in places where jail, beatings and death are the direct result of a decision to follow Christ. We should pray for God’s help for those who face real persecution and as well, give thanks to God that our faith has helped our culture become a more accepting place for diverse people to live.
May the peace of God be with you.