But, there's just one problem! Most of those cries don't seem to be coming from where you might expect. For the most part, it's not coming from the minorities of this country--African Americans, Hispanics, Women, and homosexuals. Rather, throw a rock from where you are standing and you're bound to hit a church claiming they are being persecuted. Their pastors have taken center stage and exchanged preaching the word of God with taking shots at the minority left. Which has incited a mob like mentality within their congregations, with everyone protesting, "What poor, persecuted, people we are!"
So, this raises some important questions. To start with, is persecution a part of following Jesus? You bet! He, quite clearly, informed us that if we follow him persecution will come. One such example (of several) can be found in John 15:20 and 21. During his teaching, Jesus tells those listening that "A slave is not greater than the master. Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you. They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the one who sent me." While we haven't misinterpreted Jesus' promise that there will be persecution, it seems we have missed the point of what it will look like.
Which leads us to the most important question of all. Are we, Christians in the United States, really being persecuted? To answer that, we must look to Jesus and those who heard him promise persecution would follow. And, when we do, I get the impression that persecution meant something far different to them than we, in America, perceive it to be.
So, the problem isn't so much of us putting words in Jesus' mouth--that persecution would come. The problem is that we have lost sight of what Jesus meant when he promised persecution. At the risk of sounding insensitive, I have to say that, for those of us living in the United States, the word 'persecution' seems to have lost almost all meaning. That's not to say there aren't Christians being persecuted here. It certainly does happen! I have even experienced persecution myself--in the form of lost opportunities, broken relationships, and shattered dreams. But then again, I'm not so sure we can label all the opposition we face as persecution. An inconvenience? Yes. But, persecution? Maybe not.
What then, did Jesus mean when he promised persecution. As I've already said, to the first Christians, persecution meant something very different. They didn't define persecution as allowing those with dissenting views the opportunity to express their opinions. Neither did being called a bigot by the political left constitute persecution for them (nor does it for us today considering we have degrading labels for those outside the church). Being thought of as intolerant didn't touch on what it really meant to be persecuted. (On a side note, could it be that people call us intolerant because we are, in fact, intolerant?) Allowing those with different beliefs to have the rights, that should be, afforded all humanity didn't constitute persecution either. Nor did things like having prayer removed from school or the 10 Commandments taken off the walls come across as persecution. Not having social or political control was simply the way of life for the minority Christian in the Roman occupied Jewish territory of Jesus' day. So, I submit to you the persecution we, as Christians, face in this country isn't persecution in the sense those first followers of Jesus thought of persecution.
Rather, the speed-bumps and road-blocks we encounter in every day life are all a part of citizenship in this country we call home. They are just some of the give and take that comes with extending the freedom of religion to everyone. The reason, then, we aren't given preferential treatment has less to do with our faith in Jesus and more to do with the fact that we live in a country that believes "...all men are created equal, [and] that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Paul, in Hebrews 11, gives us a great description of the persecution Jesus was alluding to. The persecution those who heard him speak envisioned. "...But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground." For the original followers of Jesus, this was the ever present reality of life. They understood that persecution would come. They knew that following him would be costly. They realized that, not only would Rome hate and persecute them; but, so would the Jews. If both groups persecuted Jesus, why wouldn't they persecute his followers? Which is why they were told to "count the cost." Because it may very well cost them their life.
And yes, Jesus does give us the same warning today. As a matter of fact, that warning was for everyone who would ever follow him. Since Jesus first drew a crowd, those that followed have been faced with persecution. I just don't think we've quite reached the same level of persecution in the United States. Especially when we look to Christians scattered across the globe today.
To see what real persecution looks like, we need only turn to the LGBT who are denied the legal right to a civil marriage (afforded to them by this country--not the church--which is a different discussion altogether). The Native Americans in our own state who are struggling to find their identity. The African Americans who are still being treated poorly and unfairly in certain parts of this country. The Muslims (or in some instances, non-Muslims of a Middle-Eastern descent) living within these borders who are being called terrorists and/or are beaten to death. Granted, that's not Christian persecution. To see that reality, we have to travel across the ocean. We need to look at volatile places like the Middle East where people are killed because they have claimed Jesus as savior. Or Sudan, China and Korea where Christians live in fear. All because belief in Christianity will deem you apostate resulting in imprisonment, torture and/or death. Sometimes not just you, but your whole family as well.
The next time you think you are being persecuted, stop and ask yourself some telling questions. Do you own a Bible? Or two? Or three? When was the last time you were hindered from going to church? (And I'm not talking about getting pulled over for going 5 over the speed limit on your way to church). Is the sign on the building you gather to worship in each and every week visible from the street? Were you ever called a terrorist by a stranger? Have you been denied service at a local business? Has anyone refused to perform your wedding ceremony? Did anyone chain and torture you for uttering the name of Jesus? Were you ever killed for what you believe?