The dreaded “P” word, persecution, has been in the news again recently. There have been stories about religious attacks against people in China, Syria, Somalia, and Egypt. Most of what we hear in our media is about attacks against Christians. However, not all religious discrimination is directed toward Christians. Religious persecution also targets Jews, Muslims and other minorities, even atheists. If Christians are going to speak up for religious liberty as a civil right, let’s be sure to defend the practices of other religions, too. If Christians have the right to plant a church in America, Muslims have the same right to build a mosque. As followers of Jesus, we speak up for the dignity of all individuals, not just believers.
About a week ago, several of our elders attended a conference for rural church leaders in Litchfield, Minnesota. One of the speakers was Leith Anderson, who is president of the National Association for Evangelicals. In a Q&A session, Anderson noted that one of the greatest fears of white evangelicals is the rise of persecution in America. He said he was at a meeting recently in Washington, D.C., where some pastors were asking where they could find help to prepare for the coming hostility. A black pastor stood up and said the black church could teach them how to prepare for persecution because they’ve been dealing with it for 300 years.
Perhaps it’s debatable whether the racial discrimination blacks have suffered in America is worthy to be described as persecution. It might depend on which side of the racial divide you stand. But it doesn’t appear to be debatable that the white evangelical church is afraid of persecution in America. Evangelical news outlets such as The Christian Post have been featuring many reports this week about persecution and the fear of persecution. The current issue of Christianity Today features a cover story on the Benedict Option, written by Rod Dreher. It’s a strategy for Christians in a declining culture, e.g. persecution. World Magazine also prominently features articles on persecution.
A fear of religious persecution may be new to white Americans. But it’s not new to the rest of the world. Religious persecution has been business as usual in many parts of the globe for centuries. For Christians it all started in Acts 4, which is a primer on persecution. This minor event in the life of the early church is the first word, but not the last word, on religious persecution in the book of Acts. Of course, we in America don’t endure the same kinds of religious oppression as much of the rest of the world. There’s really no comparison. But there still is a huge takeaway for us from this story—a lesson in human relations.
Persecution may–or may not–be coming to America. But it’s already reality in much of the world. That’s reason enough to care about it. This Sunday at New Life Church in Clarkfield, Minnesota, we’ll consider the prospect of persecution from the perspective of Acts 4. If you’re in the area, you’re invited to attend as a guest. You can check out what to expect at http://www.newlifecma.com.