In a Washington Post opinion article entitled “No, Christians do not face looming persecution in America,” Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian discusses how power, real or perceived, is the defining characteristic of discrimination. She argues that Christians are “vastly over-represented in national politics, not underrepresented,” citing how 70 percent of the United States population identifies as Christian, while 92 percent of Congress identifies as such, with the proportion of Christians in state legislatures is even higher. The article ends with this particularly strong paragraph:
How will we know when American Christians are genuinely under threat? When they start changing their names from the obviously biblical “Andrew” and “Mary” to the more secular “William” or “Jennifer” in order to avoid hiring discrimination. When Christians in Congress hide their faith and instead loudly claim to be atheists. When Christians are regularly blocked from buying homes or renting apartments in the good parts of town. When the president of the United States calls for Christians to be banned from the country. Then we can start taking claims of religious discrimination at face value.
But until such times, American Christians who say they are being persecuted are simply, fortunately wrong.
Allen-Ebrahimian has a point. The 280 million Christians in the United States do not fear for their lives, as do many Muslims in America. The Coptic Christians are actively losing their lives for their belief—but what do American Christians fear? How can we rationalize the American fear that the Christianity is being persecuted when there are thousands, if not millions, of lives that were taken because they held strong to their faith, whether or not in Christ?
In the tenth chapter of Matthew, however, Jesus seems to refer to a different form of persecution. Jesus in speaking to His apostles says, “I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues.” He warns those martyrs of what was to come, and through the work of the Holy Spirit guides them in acting rightly. In regards to defending their belief, Jesus reassures his apostles saying, “do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be give to you at the time’ for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10: 19-20).
What does this mean for the “persecuted church” in America? Persecution might be a strong term, but the secularization of America is actively challenging Christian doctrine that has been held to so strongly for centuries—held strongly enough that people gave and continue to give their lives for it. Though the Christian experience in America is vastly different from that of the Muslim or the Coptics, Jesus’s words still hold true due to the rapid secularization of society and the inability to have conversations surrounding God and faith.
However, the conversations about our faith must first start in our own Christian circles. Jesus in verses five through seven implores the apostles to not approach the Gentiles or Samaritans, but rather to go “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” to proclaim the good news. This exhortation seems risk averse: to have these conversations within our own circles limits the potential for the persecution Jesus describes in later verses. However, given Jesus’s call to share His Gospel to the nations, persecution is natural and expected. In our society, we are not called to forcefully impose our beliefs on others; rather, we are to hold fast to our beliefs and inviting others to an encounter, and God will provide the words to uphold and defend them.
No matter how much Christian belief is challenged in American discourse, however, the term persecution should be reserved to give honor to those who have risked and continue to risk their lives daily to love and serve their God. Christianity’s power and prominence in current society recluses it from suffering persecution as it has in the historicized past. That being said, we’re continually called to share our belief with others in search of open dialogue, even if that means conversing with someone with whom we disagree with. The Christian life is full of challenge, but let us not do dishonor to those who have suffered much more for their faith than the current state of the Church by misusing the term of “persecution,” and let us remember to uphold Christian charity towards everyone we encounter.
Nick Colon ’19 is a junior Comparative Study of Religions concentrator.