Next to “How can I help the North Korean underground church?”, this is the most commonly asked question I receive these days. And just as with the answer I give about helping North Korean Christians, the answer about Christian persecution in America not infrequently raises an eyebrow.
Christian persecution in America is not a possible future event. It is a present day reality–if you are seeking to live a godly life in Christ Jesus.
I do not come to this conclusion after thoughtfully scouring Fox News reports or the claims of the myriad Christian free speech websites that trumpet every zoning citation as proof of their dire claims. Instead, I am merely quoting a Bible verse–2 Timothy 3:12–and taking it at face value:
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
It is worth noting that the Apostle Paul does not say, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus should prepare for possible future persecution.” It does not even say, “Everyone who does not live in a nation founded on Christian principles will be persecuted.” Rather, it says that in every age and place, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
Many American Christians with whom I speak seem most worried that persecution will take the form of someone invading their home and preventing them from holding a Bible study there. What they want to be assured of–and what they are worried about losing–is the private pursuit of their faith. They do not want anyone to crash through their windows and yank the Bible out of their hands as they lead family devotions. (Oh, wait–they already voluntarily stopped doing family devotions. OK, personal quiet time, then.) They do not want to have their heads smashed like watermelons by government thugs wielding baseball bats and demanding that they recant their faith in the name of political correctness.
But Americans who fear this kind of persecution need not worry. The private pursuit of faith rarely raises the hackles of even the most restrictive governments. If Christians around the world would just act like American Christians, privatizing their faith, there would be a whole lot less persecution in the world.
No, the most common form of persecution does not involve home invasions and the roughing up of those who profess a personal relationship to Jesus. Instead, the most common form of persecution is something that, sadly, most American Christians would embrace as actually being quite reasonable and even preferable–certainly understandable at least. It takes the form of a government saying something quite reasonable sounding, like this:
“Religious violence is inexcusable. We may have different ideas about God, but God sure doesn’t want us killing each other. Therefore, we need to make some laws that govern how religions behave when they are out in public.” Yes, that is very true, thinks the average American Christian. Religious people shouldn’t be killing each other, you know. And so the government continues its pursuit of reasonability:
“No one should have religious propaganda shoved down their throats, after all. Let everyone who wants to, be able to freely seek out information about religions that interest them–on their own terms. None of this telemarketing-during-dinner type behavior with evangelists shouting at us on the streets.” Yes, quite right, thinks the average American Christian. Why should someone interfere with my freedom? If I want to find out more about a religion, I will Google it on my own time.
And so certainly it will strike many as reasonable that children should not have their parents’ religion shoved down their throats, either. Let the children choose for themselves when they are of age. Until then, the government will assiduously guard their right to, uh, freely not know.
See? No baseball bat anywhere in sight. No heads being bashed like watermelons. And even the average Christian nodding sagely that protecting rights means restricting rights. If you can’t yell fire in a crowded movie theater, you sure shouldn’t be able to share your faith just because you think I need to accept it for myself.
Or so the prevailing wisdom goes.
And this is why when people ask me, “How can I prepare for the coming Christian persecution in America?” I reply, “If you are not presently being persecuted, I wouldn’t worry about it a whole lot.” Because Christian persecution is not the result of state malfeasance. It is the result of seeking to live a godly life in Christ Jesus.
You may have read last week about our upcoming fall campaign, 100 Days of Worship in the Common Places, as the North Korean underground church teaches the rest of us a thing or two about how to get your government to launch a full scale persecution of Christians. (Make sure to check out our Facebook page to learn more about and sign up to join the campaign.) The essential point is this:
Today, persecution follows worship in the common places like day follows night. If you quietly, peacefully, insistently carry out basic worship (in the case of our campaign, we’ll be using a liturgy drawn from the Four Pillars of underground North Korean Christian worship) in the common places of life–home, work, front porch, school, coffee shop, store–you will be persecuted.
No, likely not with baseball bats. Reasonability is the far more popular weapon of Christian persecution today and, interestingly, always has been. You’ll be safe in your home with your personal (i.e., private) relationship with Jesus. But if that thought brings you relief, you may be safe and yet not be saved. That was what Wesley meant when he made his famous (and nearly universally misunderstood) comment that all holiness is social holiness. This is what Wesley said:
Directly opposite to this is the gospel of Christ. Solitary religion is not to be found there. ‘Holy solitaries’ is a phrase no more consistent with the gospel than holy adulterers. The gospel of Christ knows of no religion but social; no holiness but social holiness.
And this is the sad paradox about American religious life:
The private practice of religion according to the dictates of one’s own conscience is likely assured for Americans for the forseeable future.
But the private practice of religion according to the dictates of one’s own conscience is wholly antithetical to what Paul meant by seeking to live a godly life in Christ Jesus.
It would almost be easier to get Christians to respond if the government got out the baseball bats.
See you on our 100 Days campaign page on Facebook.