Tuesday, December 10, 2013

When Christians Feel "Persecuted"

From many an evangelical pulpit come the the thundering words: "We are being persecuted by a powerful lobby of liberals and secularists who would silence us and take away our rights. We must stand up as followers of Jesus and defend the gospel and claim our rightful place in in our great land of faith and freedom."

One should rightly ask: Who's persecuting whom, and just exactly how can anyone be sure that, as 1 Peter 4 puts it:

12Beloveddo not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is takingplace among you to test youas though something strange werehappening to you13But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’ssufferingsso that you may also be glad and shout for joy when hisglory is revealed14If you are reviled for the name of Christyou areblessedbecause the spirit of glorywhich is the Spirit of Godisresting on you15But let none of you suffer as a murderera thiefacriminalor even as a mischief maker16Yet if any of you suffers as aChristiando not consider it a disgracebut glorify God because you bear this name17For the time has come for judgment to begin withthe household of Godif it begins with uswhat will be the end forthose who do not obey the gospel of God?

For many an evangelical Christian, it's comforting to believe in persecution as a badge of honor, a confirmation of faithfulness. 

But is persecution for the sake of gospel, for the sake of Christ, or simply simply because of "mischief" and worse?

From  Psalm 94:

1O LORD, you God of vengeance,

you God of vengeance, shine forth!
2Rise up, O judge of the earth;
give to the proud what they deserve!
3O LORD, how long shall the wicked,
how long shall the wicked exult?

Thus far, in the reading, there is no definition of the "proud" for whom the Psalmist wishes judgment. 

But the Psalmist doesn't leave us hanging:

4They pour out their arrogant words;

all the evildoers boast.
5They crush your people, O LORD,
and afflict your heritage.
6They kill the widow and the stranger,
they murder the orphan,
7and they say, "The LORD does not see;

the God of Jacob does not perceive."

Who are the proud?

They are identified by their deeds:

They kill the widow, the stranger and murder the orphan.

Reminiscent of Jesus when he warms against those "who take widow's houses and then say long prayers" … the very same who then prance around the Temple Treasury throwing in large sums of money out of their "spare change" while creating a system that takes the last few pennies a widow has to live on (Mark 12.38-44).

The widow, the stranger, the orphan - the three most vulnerable social categories of Israel - victims of wealthy interests (for a devastating critique on those "who borrow and never pay back," spend some time with Psalm 37).

What systems in our land create hardship for "the widow, the stranger and the orphan"?

What would the Psalmist says about Food Stamps, Social Security, health care, pensions, children in poverty, crushing debt for college students and a host of other burdens created by the wealthy to game the system in their favor, and why would Christians cheer any of their nefarious schemes in the light of Scripture?

Such Christians, when criticized, are quick to label themselves "persecuted." But I would label them "dupes of the wealthy," many of them, like the widow Jesus notes at the end of Mark 13 - a victim of some of kind of "prosperity message"? - give your last penny to "god," and miracles will come your way. Even as she gave her pennies, she was standing beside the wealthy who perhaps congratulated her, smiled at her, for her faithfulness even as they schemed to take her house.

Evangelical Christianity has been short on compassion for a long time now, a victim of a misconstrued gospel mostly the tool of the powerful to further their own vested interests even as they "say long prayers" or have others do it for them. 

For Scripture, then, there is is a litmus test: the wellbeing of the "widow, the stranger and the orphan," and how well society cares for them!

It is what we own to one another (Romans 13.8-10).