Over the last few weeks, some annual lists came out that have me heartbroken, frustrated, and more than a little angry. One of my goals on this blog and social media is to advocate for religious freedom. I truly understand that not everyone is going to believe as I do. But as a Christian (according to Merriam-Webster, that is “one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ”), I actively try to obey Jesus’ words regarding treating others as I would have them treat me, and loving my neighbor as myself (Luke 6:31 and Mark 12:30-31). When the World Watch List of the fifty countries that most persecute Christians came out, I was prepared. What I was not prepared for was that the International Christian Concern showed that Christians are now the most persecuted group of all religious or ethnic groups in the world, and that they created a new classification watching the next twelve countries where persecution is fastest growing, and the United States of America was on that list with Russia and Mexico.
Thanks to Google Analytics and WordPress Stats, I know that this blog is read by people around the world. I am amazed and humbled by the fact that friends I know well and friends I’ve never met—friends of various political, ethnic, educational, and religious backgrounds—find something of value in this blog. I try to keep that in mind as I write. My goal is to always be respectful to all. This post is not directed to all, but to American Christians. If you do not consider yourself an American Christian, thanks for stopping by, please return next week, and feel free to click on to the next blog you want to read.
Dear Christians, we need to do better! Please take a few minutes to look at the info I hyperlinked above. North Korea has been number one on the most persecuted list for over a decade, no surprise there. The growing persecution in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, should also not be a surprise if we are watching the news. And, if you are a practicing Christian in the US, you have probably noticed your friends or pastor talking about the growing disrespect and crazy court cases that have negatively impacted the Church over the last decade. But to be on an international watch list equal to Russia and Mexico?!? That should get our attention.
I know the verses in Matthew. Jesus said we would be persecuted as He was persecuted, He told us to pray for those who persecute us, in the Beatitudes he said blessed are the persecuted … for theirs would be the kingdom of heaven. It’s no surprise that Christians are being persecuted. It is a surprise in a country where the First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people to peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
How did we get on the watch list? ICC cited both subtle and direct examples of media representation of Christians as evil, criminal, buffoons, hypocrites, and simple-minded. It cited court cases where Christians have been refused the free exercise of religion and gathering to worship, cases where local authorities have tried to require pastors to submit sermons in advance for approval, where Christian parents have been charged with crimes and had their children removed from their custody for disagreeing with the local public schools based on religious beliefs. Cases where military personnel have been terminated for posting a Bible verse on their desk, and chaplains aren’t allowed to pray in Jesus’ name outside the chapel—these brave people who are laying down their lives to protect our freedom of religion aren’t being allowed to practice theirs. I was aware of many of these circumstances over the last decade, but seeing them all together… unacceptable. And as I’ve been mulling this over in prayer and thoughts trying to decide if I should address this in writing here, I’ve been convicted to be bold.
So, as I’ve mulled, prayed, and thought about this over the last two weeks, I’ve wanted to get angry. My human nature wants to lash out against the government for protecting everyone but Christians, against the media for representing us in such a negative light, and against society for accepting and protecting every fringe group except Christians. I even had the nerve to cry out and ask God why He was allowing this to happen in the land of the free and home of the brave. I cried out, and the reply was that still small voice that speaks to the heart and reminded me of so many answers that Jesus already gave us…
- Have you prayed for and blessed those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:28, Romans 12:14)? Ummm… well no… really haven’t. The majority of Christians have demanded our rights, posted snotty memes on social media, and called for boycotts of every business that’s offended us.
- Have you loved God with all your heart, soul, and mind? Have you loved your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31)? Ummm…well… but see, God, we can worship at home before the football game, and I don’t even know my neighbors names so how can I love them—wait, I can Google them. And God I call myself a Christian, and I get mad at the things you get mad at, so that counts as loving you, right?
- Have you followed the Great Commission? Ummm… come again… The last command Jesus gave before ascending to heaven… Look up Matthew 28:19-20… I’ll wait. OK, let me find a Bible. Matthew’s in the New Testament, right? Oh, never mind. I’ll just Google it. Here it is… Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (ESV). OK God, make disciples, got it….ummm… how do I do that again? How about you just start with becoming a disciple. Read the gospels, join a congregation that teaches the Bible, and serves the poor and oppressed, practice talking to me daily in prayer—I really do enjoy communicating with you.
Christians, we can do better. We must do better. We can’t cry that we’re being persecuted when we’re not even doing what Jesus called us to do. If you call yourself a Christian, make sure you know what Jesus actually said. Read the four gospels (biographies in the beginning of the New Testament) for yourself. You might be very surprised to find it’s not exactly what you thought. If you’ve been calling yourself a Christian, but can’t be bothered to attend church, or don’t like hanging around with other Christians, please read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John again, and then visit a different church. Keep visiting until you find one that teaches what Jesus taught.
Dear Christians, I’ve read the back of the book. Revelation says there will be persecution. It will happen here as it is happening elsewhere. In North Korea, anyone even accused of being a Christian is sent to labor camps. In Pakistan, a lovely young Christian mother, Asia Bibi, sits in prison, sentenced to death because her neighbors accused her of saying something negative about their prophet Muhammad. In Nepal, where Christians make up less that 1% of the population, they are not even allowed to bury their dead or have Christian funerals.
Dear American Christians, we must pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who fear for their lives to follow Christ, and we must pray for their persecutors. We must be alert and vigilant. We must know what the Bible says, as it’s preparing us for the days ahead and how to endure this temporary life. We must pray for all those in authority (I Timothy 2:1-2), we must continue to gather together and encourage each other (Hebrews 10:24-25), we must love our neighbors because Jesus says his disciples will be known by their love (John 13:35). We must stop expecting to legislate morality or arguing people into godly living. When people choose to follow Christ and commit to a biblical Christian life, the Holy Spirit will change them. Our job is to love God through prayer and reading scripture and worship and obedience, to love people through kindness and service, and to become and then make disciples by telling the good news. That is all. Dear Christians, we need to love, pray, and tell better.
And, on the chance that a non-Christian has read this far through this post, please let me say one more thing to you, dear friend. You are loved. Jesus loved you, in your sinful state, so much that he died a horrific death on the cross to be the perfect sacrifice for your sins. If you are being harassed by one who preaches hate instead of love, please know that’s not what Christ taught. Jesus loves sinners, he loves them so much he wants a personal daily relationship with them, so that they can become saints. Saints are simply forgiven sinners. No one is perfect in this life, except Jesus. He won’t condone your sins, but he will free you from them. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you want more information. KathrynMcClatchy@gmail.com