Are We Headed Towards Persecution?

Are Christians Headed Towards Persecution
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Many believers are wondering what’s next in the wake of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states. We can be certain that this decision will have far-reaching consequences, but how can we know what they will be?

As we look at this issue we should avoid two extremes: one is a shoulder-shrugging “oh well” mentality that pretends nothing will change. The other is to declare that this spells certain doom for the church, neglecting the fact that Christianity is supposed to be counter-cultural. It always has been.

As Christians we should look to the One who holds the future rather than worry about what the future holds.
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While it is probable that the recent redefinition of marriage will bring many challenges for the church, we should by no means be in a state of despair about this fact. As Christians we should look to the One who holds the future rather than worry about what the future holds.

So what can we expect the future to hold for Christians? The rapid rate of cultural revolution in our nation may be paving the way towards increased demands for Christians to abandon their beliefs. In all likelihood, the future will include some form of persecution.

You may think, “Whoa, slow down Chicken Little. Persecution just because of a decision made by the Supreme Court? Isn’t that a little over-dramatic? Just because a small portion of the US population gained the ability to marry doesn’t mean that the end is nigh.

I have no intention of taking an alarmist, doom-and-gloom position. Instead, I want to have a realistic view of the current culture and where we are headed. At the same time, I want to remind concerned believers that God is in control, no matter what takes place in our fallen world.

WHY SOME FORM OF PERSECUTION IS LIKELY TO OCCUR

British theologian Theo Hobson has observed that three things must happen for a complete moral revolution to occur.

These three phases of cultural revolution are:

  • Something that was nearly universally condemned is now nearly universally celebrated.
  • Something which was celebrated is condemned.
  • Those who refuse to celebrate are condemned.

It is clear that the first and second phases of this revolution have taken place, and we have already been seeing examples of the condemnation of those who refuse to celebrate the new morality.

Given how rapidly this moral revolution has taken place, there is no reason to expect that it will slow down. Bolstered by a victory that is being celebrated to great fanfare in the media and in the federal government, cultural change will continue to come at break-neck speed.

It seems realistic to expect that those who refuse to endorse the new morality will be condemned and ostracized at an equally rapid rate.And this isn’t just the paranoid musing of a politically conservative 2nd year M.Div. student.

Justice Samuel Alito, a dissenting member of the Supreme Court, offered the same observation about this decision:

It will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy. In the course of its opinion, the majority compares traditional marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment for African-Americans and women. The implications of this analogy will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.
Samuel Alito
Justice Alito also stated:
I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.
Samuel Alito

Justice Thomas warned that this decision, and the way in which it came to pass, has “potentially ruinous consequences for religious liberty.” Now that the law of the land is in direct contradiction to the Scriptural view of marriage, those who hold to “outdated views” can, and in all likelihood will, be vilified.

And while the debate surrounding same-sex marriage has been the biggest battering ram that has been found for knocking down the strongholds of Christian ethics, this trend is not limited to this issue.

As Voddie Bachum noted in a recent issue of Tabletalk Magazine:

Today, Christianity is seen as a threat to freedom, or even a pathological condition. Schools accept the “theory” of evolution, but view the idea of creation as a dangerous myth. Judges see the biblical view of sodomy as hate speech. In fact, various state departments of child protective services have at times listed regular church attendance as one of the hallmarks of abusive parenting. In this landscape, Christians must have a ready answer for those who believe that we are not just wrong—we are evil.
Voddie Baucham

In the new morality, Christian views on a growing number of important issues are being increasingly seen as bigoted and immoral.

And when the culture demands that we endorse that which we cannot condone, we will face backlash. We will be ostracized. We will be persecuted. But we should not be surprised. “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

It is an historical anomaly that Christianity in America has long been viewed as the norm, or even as the ideal. There is no reason to assume that American Christians will always be sheltered from facing challenges due to their faith.

Persecution is the experience for the majority of believers in the world, and has been for the majority of time since Jesus walked the earth.

WHAT PERSECUTION IS

No one likes the idea of persecution. We often read verses like Matthew 5:11 and in our minds replace the “whens” with “ifs.”

Some dislike the notion so much that they will push back hard against any warnings that it may soon be a reality for believers in America, mocking the idea as unrealistic and alarmist.

Not all persecution takes the form of the Colosseum in Rome, the internment camps of North Korea, or the wake of carnage left by ISIS

But remember, not all persecution takes the form of the Colosseum in Rome, the internment camps of North Korea, or the wake of carnage left by ISIS. Many times persecution comes “softer” forms, such as loss of jobs, exclusion from academic opportunities, and public derision.

Persecution is defined as “hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of race or political or religious beliefs.”

So while the term “persecution” is accurate, describing what may become reality for Christians in the US in the near future this way may paint too dark a picture in some people’s minds. Perhaps “suffering for the faith” would be a more helpful term for the time being. Whatever label is used, it seems that believers in America will be ostracized for following Christ.

With opposition to same-sex marriage being painted as little more than bigotry and irrational hatred, those who hold to and defend against the redefinition of marriage will increasingly be at odds with the majority of our culture. Not taking a stand will no longer be an option, and when we stand for biblical truth on this issue, we will be in opposition to the world around us.

While religious liberty continues to be a hallmark of what freedom looks like in America, when it comes into conflict with what is viewed as tolerance we have already seen that the culture will demand that religious freedom step aside.

In fact, this is nearly a verbatim quote from a government official. Chai Feldblum, Commissioner of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is quoted as saying “There can be a conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty, but in almost all cases the sexual liberty should win.”

This is a common sentiment, and the reason for such statements is that restrictions to so-called “sexual liberty” are seen as inexcusably intolerant. When opposition to same-sex marriage is portrayed in the same light as racism, many will feel they are justified in pushing the religiously minded to the margins of society.

Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California, was quoted in the New York Times as saying,

If I were a conservative Christian (which I most certainly am not), I would be very reasonably fearful, not just as to tax exemptions but as to a wide range of other programs—fearful that within a generation or so, my religious beliefs would be treated the same way as racist religious beliefs are.
Eugene Volokh

Those who refuse to endorse and celebrate the notion of same-sex marriage will be viewed as bigots, and the majority opinion from SCOTUS suggests as much.

WHAT PERSECUTION MIGHT LOOK LIKE

While we don’t know exactly what the future holds, we can look at recent events as an indication of where we are headed. Here are several challenges that appear to be on the horizon along with several real-world examples.

Churches and ministries that refuse to recognize and perform same-sex marriages could lose their tax exempt status.

Those with traditional views on marriage may lose their voice in the public forum.

  • One newspaper has already stated that they “will very strictly limit op-Eds and letters to the editor in opposition to same-sex marriage. These unions are now the law of the land. And we will not publish such letters and op-Eds any more than we would publish those that are racist, sexist or anti-Semitic.” Though they backtracked from their even harsher stance taken initially, it is a sign of where we are headed.

Christian owned-businesses which refuse to compromise their deeply-held beliefs could be punished with boycotts or loss of federal contracts.

Christian adoption agencies might be forced to either place children with same sex couples or cease operating.

  • “The ACLU is already looking at options to challenge laws, signed by Gov. Rick Snyder Thursday, that will allow faith-based adoption agencies in Michigan to refuse to serve prospective parents, like same-sex or unmarried couples, if doing so would violate the agencies’ religious beliefs” – Article

Religious Schools will be open to lawsuits due to their stance on same-sex marriage when it comes to admissions, hiring, and student housing.

Employees will lose jobs (either voluntarily or otherwise) because they cannot conform to their employers requirements of supporting same-sex marriage

Some may balk at the idea of labeling the above as persecution. Certainly these things pale in comparison to the physical persecution that our brothers and sisters in Christ have faced in church history or continue to face elsewhere in the world. Still, 1 Peter shows that persecution does take less-than-violent forms.

These are some of the very real challenges that believers may be facing in the coming months and years. Are these certain outcomes? By no means. But these are real possibilities, as the above examples show.

Everyday Christians will be put into difficult positions in their personal and professional lives.

So will Christians be persecuted in America? Perhaps. What we do know is that everyday Christians will be put into uncomfortable and difficult positions in their personal and professional lives.

Though tolerance may have been the byword that propelled us to this point, we should carry no illusions that believers who disagree with this new morality will be treated with any level of tolerance from the culture around us.

HOW SHOULD WE FACE PERSECUTION?

Pray. Pray for spiritual revival to come to our nation. Pray for the strength to stand for truth when it becomes increasingly difficult to do so. And, perhaps hardest of all, pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44, Romans 12:14).

Do not despair. God is in control. He will not be overruled by a court or overthrown in an election. No matter what happens in our world we take comfort in knowing we are secure in Christ Jesus and that He is still on His throne.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
James 1:2-4

Stand for truth. This includes resolving to not compromise our principles in the futile pursuit of being accepted by the world. Such a fear of man will make shipwreck of our faith and will not reach those around us with the truth of the gospel. A watered-down gospel is no gospel at all. The gospel is offensive; the gospel does divide. And this same gospel saves sinners.

Does this mean that we must always be holding a bullhorn in one hand and a picket sign in the other? No, not at all. But it is important that we do not heed the culture’s demands that we practice our beliefs only within the walls of our homes and churches.

Love others. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus did not add, “unless he denies the biblical view of marriage” to this command. Loving others does not mean that we compromise our principles or back-peddle on biblical truth. It does mean that we recognize that everyone we meet is a fellow image-bearer of God.

Love those whom God has put into your life, no matter how brief or seemingly inconsequential that moment may be. We must also love our spouses as Christ loved the church, so that we may serve as examples of what God’s plan for marriage is supposed to look like.

(See also Four Ways Christians Need to Respond in Love to the Supreme Court Decision on Same-Sex Marriage)

WHY WE DON’T FEAR PERSECUTION

For the believer, persecution should be expected (2 Timothy 3:12). But this should not cause us to fear. In fact, James 1:2 tells us that we are to “count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds.” How is such an attitude possible? John MacArthur comments on this verse:

If we suffer persecution, we should be happy because it will make us grow and reach others for Christ. But you have to be willing to live a godly life, rather than hiding and protecting yourself. Although the thought of receiving persecution may create great anxiety, we should look forward to it with great joy for righteousness’ sake (Mt. 5:10)
John MacArthur

Our calling as believers is always the same: Serve Christ and reach others with the Gospel.
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Yes, those who follow Christ are likely to see at least some form of suffering in the months and years to come. No matter what the culture looks like, our calling as believers is always the same: Serve Christ and reach others with the Gospel.

God has done amazing things throughout history with a church that is looked down upon, marginalized, and even violently persecuted. Know that He can and will ultimately use this situation for His glory. Though it our lives may get more difficult, such trials bring new opportunities to reach others with the gospel.

We need not fear, because we know that we have an heavenly citizenship and an eternal hope. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

So fear not. Stand for truth. Love others. And remember, this world is not our home.

Clayton Kraby
Written by Clayton Kraby
I'm a Pastor in North Dakota and created ReasonableTheology.org to help make theology accessible for the everyday Christian. You can find me on Twitter @ClayKraby.