The "systematic efforts by those who seek to eradicate Christian principles from our schools and the public square should be seen for what it is -- persecution," said Rena Lindevaldsen, an attorney with Liberty Counsel. "Any avid observer of First Amendment issues will recognize that the efforts made by certain groups to 'maintain the separation of church and state' are blatantly discriminatory." For "only Christian teachings and beliefs are targeted for removal," and yet "secular humanism runs rampant in the schools" and "students are regularly taught Buddhist principles and Muslim beliefs."
But haven’t we been told that real persecution happens in other countries? Besides, how can Christians possibly be persecuted here in America, where they are in the majority? A brief look at the Biblical information on the word "persecution" may help clarify what we are talking about, and help us avoid overstating, or understating, what confronts us here in the States.
Biblically speaking, "persecution" can be understood to include a range of hostile actions against Christians. Consider the activities of Saul. In Acts 8, we learn that there "arose a great persecution against the church" and that "Saul was ravaging the church." Here the persecution was "great" but did not include killing or maiming, for Saul limited himself to dragging off "men and women" and committing "them to prison."
In Acts 9:1, Saul was "still breathing threats and murder against the disciples." Here, the persecution includes "threats" and a strong desire to kill Christians, as well as Saul’s attempt to acquire the authority to carry out the threats. Later, the great persecutor would be on hand to witness the stoning of Stephen, but Saul’s own action as a persecutor demonstrates that persecution is an activity that includes but is not limited to killing or maiming.
Consider also the career of Saul-turned-Paul, for he who once persecuted Christians later embraced Christianity. In 2 Tim. 3:11,12, Paul talks about the "persecutions and sufferings that happened" to him at "Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra." When we turn to Acts 13 and 14, we discover that "persecutions" include several elements. In Antioch, Paul’s teaching was opposed by people who drove Paul and Barnabas out of the district. In Iconium, unbelievers "poisoned [Gentiles’] minds" against Christianity and intended to "mistreat" and "stone" Paul and Barnabas, but the two of them left -- thus, Paul and Barnabas suffered persecution even though they had the good sense to leave before experiencing ill-treatment in a physically intense form.
In Lystra, the opposition pursued Paul and turned the crowds against him. He was stoned, dragged out of the city, and left for dead. Here we see persecution in many of its elements: Pursuit of the Christian, stirring up anti-Christian animus, and then decisive physical action based on that anti-Christian animus. It is this range of Biblical data that led one of my former professors in New Testament Greek to conclude that there are different kinds of persecutions: "physical, social, mental, and spiritual" (see W. Harold Mare, "Persecution," in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology).
It seems clear that what we see in contemporary America is a form of persecution. This is simply to state a fact, a fact that should always be kept in balance even as it is acknowledged. "As a boy," Os Guinness of Trinity Forum told me, "I lived through the Chinese revolution and its wave of savage persecution against Christians, so we must always keep a sense of perspective. And of course, we must always respond, not with victim-playing, but in the way Jesus taught his followers to face hatred and opposition. But there's no doubt that prejudice and discrimination against the 'old faith' are mounting and that extreme persecution may be in the wings." . . .
"Persecution is simply the clash between two irreconcilable value-systems," wrote John R.W. Stott in Christian Counterculture: The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. This is not to say that the clash of irreconcilable systems necessarily always results in physical or legal violence -- and Christians especially should take care not to persecute those with whom they have theological differences, as for example occurred when pre-Reformer Jan Hus was burned at the stake in July 1415 at the Council of Constance.
And yet, Stott’s comment about the clash of irreconcilable systems offers insight into much of what we have today: A smaller, but more organized and culturally powerful secular elite gripped by an anti-Christian worldview has successfully targeted the larger but less-organized and culturally less-powerful Christian community in America.
The two groups represent mutually irreconcilable worldviews, with the secularists declaring that Christianity is at best a subjective crutch that belongs in the closet and that, at worst, is responsible for just about all the ills of the modern world. A smaller group with a vision, plan, and the will to execute the plan, often has the advantage over a larger group, even a majority, if that larger group lacks these strengths and instead fears its loss of privilege, influence, or its "personal peace and affluence," as Francis Schaeffer once put it.
The Christian community as a whole has yet to mount an effective answer to the challenge of today’s low-intensity persecution in America. What is needed is an answer that says (and demonstrates, observably) that Christianity is a total way of life based on verifiable truth about God, humanity, and the universe, and that the Judeo-Christian worldview alone gives an adequate intellectual and livable basis for the dignity of man and human creativity, the fight against evil and injustice, and the possibility of substantial healing across the whole of private and public life, including government, law, and education. We have to ask ourselves: If we have yet to sufficiently challenge the milder opposition we now face in America, what makes us think we will be ready if we have to face forms of "extreme persecution” that "may be in the wings"?
Thankfully, we in America have not yet faced the kind of systematic persecution that Guinness lived through as a boy in China and that others even now face in North Korea, China, in Islamic nations, and so on, around the globe. We should be thankful not just because friends and families are not being harmed, but also because the relative freedom we still enjoy in this land can be used to better provide aid to our brothers and sisters afflicted elsewhere around the globe.
Having said this, let us not forget that Christians in America have been subjected to a measure of lethal anti-Christian violence. We can think of the three students in Paducah, Ky., who in December 1997 were gunned down at Heath High School, where they had gathered in the lobby to pray. Five other members of the group were wounded. Then in April 1999, among the many casualties of Columbine High School in Colorado were one wounded and two murdered Christian students (the killers reportedly asked students, "Do you believe in God?").
Then in September 1999, seven people died and seven were wounded at Wedgewood Baptist Church in Ft. Worth after a gunman fired into a congregation gathered for a Wednesday night prayer meeting. Those who think that severe, organized persecution could never happen here may want to consider the implications of abortion in America: that secularists are willing to spill human blood, even that of the innocent unborn, if they have the power and the law behind them. Is there anything more fascist than abortion?
"Social ostracism," wrote E.M. Blaiklock in The Christian in Pagan Society, "in the early history of the church preceded official persecution." There is a pattern in the move from milder to more extreme forms of persecution: First ostracize and demonize, then destroy. How many more years of the demonization of Christians will it take before the power-centers of society feel sufficiently emboldened to act against those who refuse to bend the knee to a modern Nero-class of government elites protected by activist supporters in the press, Hollywood, and on campus?
If the church, for example, can be demonized as a kind of cancer (which happened to a local congregation in Castle Hills, Texas, as Limbaugh’s Persecution reports), do we really think that anti-Christian hate groups will not employ this kind of sentiment to justify the attempt to remove the church and other "cancerous" groups from the body of society for the health of society? Christians are being persecuted in America, admitted one critic of the Limbaugh book, and they should be, according to this person -- because we live in a multicultural society.
"If Christians do not fight for the right to express their faith, they will soon find themselves living in an America where the more severe forms of persecution become mainstream," cautioned Lindevaldsen. Clearly, resisting the spirit of Herod and Pilate is not nearly as difficult as it some day may be, should the opposition actually enjoy the support of most Americans.