How Should Christians Handle Persecution?

It doesn’t take a degree in theology or a terribly astute political mind to surmise that the world is growing increasingly hostile toward Christianity. It seems like just about every day we’re hearing more stories of Christians under attack in this country. From Christian business owners denied the right to express their views on marriage to football coaches facing trouble for praying after games to a school system censoring a beloved Christmas institution, the hits against Christians in the United States just keep on coming.

I’m almost loathe to use the word persecution to describe actions like the ones above, because they’re trivial compared to the treatment of Christians in other parts of the globe. Hindu extremists constantly target Christians over their faith — particularly those who convert from Hinduism. Christians in China often have to battle the government there. And of course, we’re all aware of the horrors that ISIS inflicts on Christians in the Middle East on an ongoing basis. Certainly we can all agree that Christians in America have it easy compared to these believers.

But, whether we’re facing inconvenience, ridicule, or death because of our faith, how should we Christians respond in the face of persecution? What’s the right way to deal with attacks against fellow believers?

For starters, we shouldn’t be surprised. Jesus Himself told His disciples (and, by extension, us) that we shouldn’t expect the world to fall all over itself to embrace us:

If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. But you are not of the world, since I have chosen you out of the world; therefore the world hates you.

John 15:18-19 (TLV)

Jesus’ best friend, the apostle John, reiterated this idea in one of his letters to the early church:

Do not be surprised, brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.

1 John 3:13 (TLV)

Over at Acculturated, one of my favorite writers, R. J. Moeller, tackles this question, particularly when it comes to the new phenomenon of “prayer shaming,” where leftists, particularly in the media, have taken to making fun of (mostly conservative) Christians’ prayers for others in the face of tragedy. Moeller points out the one-sided nature of the attacks against American Christians:

President Obama, during both presidential campaigns that he eventually won, frequently preached politics from the pulpits of inner city churches – on Sundays, no less. And yet Senator (and Republican presidential candidate) Ted Cruz is mocked for appearing at any event that possesses even the hint of religious affiliation.

The press fawns over celebrities who embrace the tenets of Buddhism and Kabbalah, but are “weirded out” by Mark Wahlberg’s vigorous re-commitment to his Catholic faith.  Football player Tim Tebow, a religious conservative, was painted as a nut for praying in the same fashion that black and Latino athletes do in every major sport, every week of the year.

The Pope is cool, so long as he advocates for carbon credits.

Moeller then goes on to laud the example that a football team near Chicago set. When Coach Mike Stine faced a complaint from our dear friends at the Freedom from Religion Foundation, senior player Daniel Bumpus issued a statement on behalf of the players expressing solidarity with their coach. That’s right, Stine’s team, when facing down the Godless Gestapo, didn’t whine about being persecuted — rather, they stood up for their coach with what Moeller calls a “polite resoluteness in the face of anti-religious bigotry.”

Moeller makes some really good points in his piece at Acculturated, but he left out what Jesus told us about facing pushback for following Him. In the most famous sermon of all time, Jesus told an audience hanging on His every word:

Blessed are you when people revile 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 in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:11-12 (TLV)

The early church took this encouragement seriously, as they faced persecution with joy because they were “considered worthy to be dishonored on account of His name” (Acts 5:41).

Just a few verses down from His initial mention of persecution, Jesus suggested a radical method for responding to them:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than anyone else? Even the pagans do that, don’t they?

Matthew 5:43-47 (TLV)

Yes, we should stand up for what we believe, and yes, we should defend ourselves against attack. But what could happen if we also prayed for those who are persecuting us? For all we know, the man (or woman) who could spark a Great Awakening in the Middle East could currently be fighting for ISIS. Or the next great Christian apologist could be writing for the New York Daily News. Or the next great Indian missionary could be targeting Christians at this very moment.

On top of everything else we do in the face of attacks for our faith, we Christians should be praying for our enemies. After all, Christian history is full of stories of the amazing things that happened when God’s people prayed.