I’m sure every reader finding their way to this blog post has already cringed at the headlines telling of the malicious tragedy that took place in Oregon last week. The news of the shooting at UCC, where nine students were killed, has been at the forefront of the media for days – not just because of the crime itself (though horrifying) or because people are debating gun issues (a valid debate), but because of the alleged motive of the shooter. It’s widely reported that the bloodthirsty massacrist first interrogated his victims about what religion they practiced – and the aim of his gun was directed by their response. If they professed to be Christian, he shot them in the head. If they professed some other religion or claimed to be irreligious, he shot them in the arm or the leg. Within the walls of Umpqua community college on October 2nd, 2015, loyalty to Jesus was no light thing. A confession of allegiance to the crucified and risen Christ was one that would be accompanied by your own spilt blood.
American Christian, please hear me – this is what suffering for the name of Jesus looks like. This is what the apostles were envisioning when they spoke and wrote of Satan’s opposition to the ransomed people of God. It was primarily beatings, imprisonment, and death that our Lord was referring to when he said, “You will be hated by all for my Name’s sake” (Matthew 10:22) – not merely being laughed at or labeled a weirdo.
It certainly is a form of suffering to be mocked or excluded from social circles because of the perceived “weirdness” of our transformed life in Jesus. I’m not discrediting the pain of those experiences at all. But, American Christian, what you and I typically go through on a daily basis in this free country is often not worthy of being labeled persecution. Though being a “weirdo” in our culture can be hard, it is on a totally different and lesser level than being lethally opposed by those who hate your faith with such intensity that they want to see you eradicated from their society . . . or even the earth. The Christians being chased out of their villages, having their homes set on fire, being raped and ravaged, having their beheadings recorded and broadcasted, and being shot in the head because of their allegiance to Jesus – these are the believers who are suffering profoundly for the gospel.
This may offend some, but I think it needs to be said: being a political minority in a democratic society is not suffering for Jesus. Being defeated over the issue of gay marriage is not equivalent to being persecuted for your faith. The progressing moral collapse of our society and government is devastating, but contrary to how I often hear it described by some patriotic believers, it is not “an attack on the Christians.”
The legalization of gay marriage is a reflection of our culture’s faulty perception of morality. Is it wrong in the eyes of God? Yes. Will it have negative implications on our society? Yes. Could it lead to religious freedom issues [think Kim Davis] that could lead to actual persecution? Yes. But is it persecution against the church of Jesus Christ? No! What we see happening is the world simply being the world. People who don’t love Jesus don’t do what Jesus says they should do. The majority of our society is not in love with Jesus but with themselves and their sin. It’s only logical that something like the legalization of gay marriage would rise from the heart of a culture that is so saturated by unbelief, individualism, and an all-out obsession with sex.
Last Friday, the Christian students at UCC truly suffered for their faith. In literally laying their lives down for Jesus, they gave the most powerful witness possible to his worth. They didn’t shrink back in fear but boldly used their last breaths to testify to the worth and power of his gospel (Hebrews 10:39).
The next time we think we’re suffering profoundly for our faith when a friend doesn’t invite us to their party or a coworker snickers at our obsession with Jesus, may we remember these students in Oregon who were really persecuted for the name of Jesus. May their powerful example of faith give us strength and courage to be bold for Christ amidst our much lesser sufferings. And if, perhaps, the daily atmosphere of our society does evolve into a violent one for believers, may we follow in the brave footsteps of these students who gloriously exemplified our Lord’s command:
“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.
“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” – Luke 12:4-9