Thoughts about persecution and martyrdom

Toward the end of Between Babel and the Beast, Leithart decries the lack of Christian martyrs, especially in the West. I believe his statement is (I loaned the book to someone so I don’t have it ready to hand) “We have not been very good at producing martyrs.” The context makes clear he is talking about Christians in the West, if not America specifically. It is not always easy to interpret Leithart’s statements, but I take it he is saying that American Christians have so accommodated to Americanism that there is no real opportunity for persecution or martyrdom. That is, we tend to “go along to get along” by baptizing whatever our society and culture values as our values: civil religion, pre-emptive and punitive wars (by definition unjust by traditional just war theory), unrestrained capitalism, consumerism, obsession with entertainment, etc., etc. It’s rare, I take him to be saying, to notice a Martin Luther King among Christians today (to say nothing of an Ignatius or Bonhoeffer).

I was sharing about Leithart’s diatribe against Americanism among Christians with a cherished friend who is also brilliant (a certified genius and one of the wisest people I have ever known) and a devout Christian. His statement to me was “Whenever Christians are not in charge they will suffer persecution.” By “Christians” he meant “real Christians,” not nominal Christians. I take it he meant that the only reasons real Christians in America don’t suffer persecution are that they still have enough public influence to steer the culture and its powers in their general direction. But, he believes, that influence is waning and we may expect to see real Christians being persecuted, if not martyred, here, in America, in the not-too-distant future.

These are shocking claims by Leithart and my friend. It’s been a long time since I thought seriously about being persecuted just for being a Christian and living out my Christian faith.

I grew up in a Christian environment that expected Christians to be persecuted, mildly then and much more harshly, even violently, as the world deteriorates toward the “rapture” and “tribulation.”

I can remember some relatively mild events of persecution. One Sunday evening, when I was about ten years old, we were “having church” with the windows open (no AC then!). We were probably singing loudly (we were Pentecostals). When we exited the church building (probably around 8:00 PM or so), there was a large group of neighborhood teenagers gathered across the street mocking us. They were kneeling down and laying hands on each other and pretending to pray for each other. Then some of them would pretend to be “slain in the Spirit” and fall on the sidewalk or the grass. It was quite a display. Around that time many cars in our church parking lot were being vandalized and, allegedly, the city police would not send patrols to protect them.

We felt righteous, of course. But we thought that was mild compared with what was yet to come as America  became increasingly secular and pagan.

When I was in junior high school I got teased because I was overtly religious and because my religion was strange to many of my classmates. For example, I brought a note from our pastor to get out of dancing in gym class (when the unit on dance came around during the school years). I didn’t go to movies, so some kids teased me about that. At home my parents said I should be glad that my Christianity was so obvious that other kids noticed and that I was suffering for Christ’s sake. I didn’t really think I was suffering much (I had plenty of friends), but the teasing could be annoying sometimes.

Recently, partly by reading Leithart and talking with my friend, I’ve begun to reconsider the whole issue of persecution and martyrdom. Jesus did indicate that his followers would always suffer because of following him. How often does that happen in America today? Occasionally I read about a Christian losing her job because of refusal to go along with some policy or practice she regards as contrary to her faith. And right now there’s the law suit by Hobby Lobby against federal policies requiring companies to provide insurance that includes payment for birth control that amounts to abortion (viz., the “morning after pill”).

My friend’s point is, I take it, that as our government leaders wander farther and farther away from core Christian values, they will find real Christians strange in their midst and begin to pass laws that will make us criminals  by default (so long as we continue to live according to distinctively Christian values).

This has happened in the past with non-mainstream Christian groups such as the Doukhobors in Canada and Mennonites in the U.S. (many spent WW1 in federal prisons for opposing the war and evading the draft). My friend (and possibly Leithart) thinks we are in for more of that as mainstream, real Christianity becomes counter-cultural.

Well, however, if Leithart is right, what is more likely to happen (and may have already happened to a large extent) is that Christians will simply go along to get along and drop their distinctives in order not to be persecuted.

A question all this raises for me is: Is it a sign of something wrong with our “Christianity” when persecution is virtually unheard of? Or is that a sign that culture is “Christian enough” that real Christianity is not strange? Is my friend right that when Christians are not in charge, real Christians will be persecuted? Is that inevitable as the secularization process continues?

What are some signs of what is to come? Well, look at the mass media, especially entertainment. Where are any Christian characters portrayed sympathetically in mainstream entertainment? Why is it that virtually no characters on television go to church? Remember “Seventh Heaven?” Such an exception. Even there, however, it was rare to ever hear the name “Jesus” pronounced. The Christianity of that pastor and his family seemed awfully generic–compatible with almost anything except blatant dishonesty (and, of course, failing to be true to yourself).

Sometimes I suspect that IF real Christians were living out their faith consistently, there would be more persecution. But I think the lack of it is a combination of two things: 1) our culture and the powers that be are still “Christian enough” that real Christians are tolerated even when they speak out against mainstream culture and government, and 2) by-and-large Christians have accommodated so completely to culture that the cutting edge of their Christianity is difficult to see.

I don’t think Christians should seek persecution; that’ s not the point. But I do think real Christianity has such angularity in relation to any human culture that total lack of persecution should be cause for self-examination.

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  • Tim Reisdorf

    Leithart is correct that we have a dearth of martyrs in the West. The only one that quickly came to mind was Rachel Scott (of Colombine fame). The publication, The Voice of the Martyrs, is a good resource for learning more about the persecuted Church around the world (even sometimes in the West). Beyond that, strangely, I’d look to my LDS and JW friends for insights into persecution of this kind.

  • Scott Melvin

    You failed to mention the Catholic Church being persecuted by the current administration by forcing the HHR mandate? A policy that stands in stark contrast to Catholic teachings. You did mention Hobby Lobby but it is much wider than that.

  • Roger,
    Very good discussion. What if we swing the discussion to the other side and put the focus on the persecutors: what attitudes and events would lead to provoke an entity to persecute a group? Does the entertainment industry or a government set out directly to persecute the group or do they decide these things based on what they want their shows or laws to accomplish? In the past and present, is a group persecuted in this indirect fashion or because the persecutors hate and fear and marginalize the group and then use an event to blame them? We can see many examples from the history of early Christianity and even during the Reformation of the persecutors’ direct hatred and fear leading to persecution . If the news about the recent anti-Muslim video holds course, we may see a wide-ranging attack in Egypt upon the Copts.

    • rogereolson

      In the West (Europe and North America especially but also somewhat in Latin America toward evangelicals/Pentecostals) I think it will take the form of true Christians becoming so strange, so beyond comprehension, that persecution will inevitably be aimed at them. Of course, it won’t be labeled or even thought of as “religious intolerance” or even persecution; it will be simply a restructuring of social norms that make being a true Christian difficult and even in some cases criminal. I blogged about this some time ago in regard to laws being proposed and passed that make offering humanitarian aid to illegal immigrants a crime. This was what really woke me up to the possibility, perhaps inevitability, of persecution of real Christians even in our own country.

  • Mike Anderson

    Your thoughts on persecution are close to mine, so I can discuss them in many different directions, but pressed for time as I usually am I’ll choose one. It is in the interest of the state to have moral justification for its self-serving policies, and rather than overtly replacing religious values with states values (as in the Chinese Cultural Revolution), it is easier to form public opinion around established religion. In the West and particularly the United States, our heritage is Christian (or so the story goes), so the state forms public opinion through manipulation of Christian symbols and thought-forms. New norms are established both through the media and by church leaders who are entangled with government, such as association with The Council for National Policy. It is not necessary that there actually be Christians in government for the state to promote nominal Christianity, but only that Christianity be the most accessible, socially acceptable way to justify and motivate the people.

  • A provocative post. And on the other hand, as you are certainly aware, every time Christians have managed to obtain power in a culture, we tend to behave no better than pagans and persecutors in the same position. Kenya, the country where I presently live and work, has seen Christians martyred by Islamic extremists on several occasions in the past few months, and there is every indications that attacks on Christians and churches will only increase. Christians are facing persecution and threats of violent death all across the Sahel along the faultline where the Islamic north and Christian south meet, from Ethiopia and Sudan, Chad and Nigeria, Ghana, and Liberia. Christianity here in Kenya and the rest of our continent cannot hold a candle to the wealth and infrastructure and resources that characterize the American churches; instead Christians here have been forced to forge a faith without the luxury of so many crutches and distractions Christianity in North America, for all its power, wealth and frenetic activity, is actually receding in importance given the shift away from places where Christian faith is easy to places where discipleship actually costs something.

  • A provocative post. And on the other hand, as you are certainly aware, every time Christians have managed to obtain power in a culture, we tend to behave no better than pagans and persecutors in the same position. Kenya, the country where I presently live and work, has seen more than 20 Christians martyred by Islamic extremists on several occasions in the past few months, and there is every indication that attacks on Christians and churches here will only increase, as has been the case in Nigeria. In fact, Christians are facing increased persecution all across the Sahel along the faultline where the Islamic north and Christian south meet, from Ethiopia and Sudan, Chad and Nigeria, Ghana, and Liberia. Christianity here in Kenya and the rest of our continent cannot hold a candle to the wealth and infrastructure and resources that characterize the American churches and Christian institutions; instead Christians here have been forced to forge a faith without the luxury of so many crutches and distractions. Christianity in North America, for all its power, wealth and frenetic activity, is actually receding in importance, globally speaking, given the shift away from places where Christian faith is easy to places where discipleship actually costs something.

  • Jeff

    Dr. Olson,

    I think you are right about the reasons behind lack of persecution, but I see a deep hunger in people and if were we as a church to pick up on important issues that young people are concerned about today then we see a more sympathetic view towards Christians. Right now there are simply too many “normal” Christians doing little radical things (like posting death threat Psalms on billboards towards Presidents) to keep this from happening.

    There is a verse in I Peter that speaks to what I am talking about. I Peter 3:13 – “Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?” Are we really eager to do what is good, or eager to do what we think is written on a stone tablet and then proceed to pound into someone’s head?

    We need more leaders to talk against Biblolatry, and against additional requirements put on Christians where those who do not have it feel like second class citizens even though they put forth the effort, also start talking freely about why someone like Dr. Ehrman is not correct and where he could be correct without demonizing him or coming up with counter-arguments that are not well thought out. Books by the like of [name delected] should not be considered the go to standard for apologetics. We need to set the bar to a higher standard. Much of what he says in his books is just plain ignorant or wrong. He does makes a few valid points, but my whole point is that when something controversial comes out Christians nowadays tend to hide from it or talk about it for a bit and then get frustrated and walk away. Are pastors aware that today many young people swallow hook and sinker the ideas behind the internet video called “Zeitgeist”, a horribly inaccurate video which people swallow whole. Most pastors are unaware, and those that are simply dismiss it without giving time to discuss it, not because it makes good points, but because it has captiviated a lot of people. It was not that hard for the apostles to dispute the idea that Jesus really rose, because they, after all, had 500 witnesses! That did not stop them from talkig about it! Let us listen to those who struggle with their faith and why they do, instead of shoving down Bible nuggets down their throat!

  • J.E. Edwards

    Your questions, “Is it a sign of something wrong with our “Christianity” when persecution is virtually unheard of? Or is that a sign that culture is “Christian enough” that real Christianity is not strange?”
    I think you answered those pretty well at the end of the post. I have had those thoughts regarding my own life. Why am I not being persecuted? Is my life what it ought to be? Your closing statement is a great challenge to me, too. I could use more self-examination in light of Scripture. This is especially interesting to me (as the Lord would have it). I just finished Brother Yun’s autobiography “The Heavenly Man”. Talk about some self-examination….May the Lord see it isn’t wasted.

  • Great post. I’m often bothered by the lack of which I am persecuted.
    Another side of the coin are those on the religious right crying persecution as soon as any right wing policy is over turned or avoided (i.e. gays in the military). This may come back to haunt us when real persecution happens.

  • I’ve noticed a general distaste and avoidance of any sort of ‘radicalism’. MLK was radical, as were a few other pacifist Christians like Dorothy Day. I question whether the acceptance of the use of force has dulled our minds from an openness to creative interaction with culture.
    I also suspect, and I’m sure you’d agree, that the kind of person who becomes a Christian martyr is also the kind of person who is not trying to become a house-hold name or nationally recognized figure. So I wonder if there are people who are being persecuted who others will introduce us to in the comments here.

  • John C. Gardner

    Will the actions of American Christians demonstrate that we are counter cultural? I am a member of an evangelical denomination whict takes Biblical stances on homosexuality. I also notice that many of my fellow evangelicals seem to want to baptize all aspects of Republican politics(including war, capitalism, etc). Christ warned about misuse of wealth. Where is that critique in our churches? What about the wars we have fought and care for the poor? This was a very good post. Thank you.

  • John Ayala

    I agree completely that it is a combination of both points – 1 and 2. I have recently discovered the “Ordinary Radicals” movement/book of Shane Claiborne and “The Simple Way” and I have to say that I find myself agreeing with his/their views and brand of ordinary radical Christianity. He would definitely fall into changing/correcting your second point. Do you know of him and have you read his book(s)? If so, I would be interested to know how you would categorize his theology or at least in what directions he leans most.

    • rogereolson

      I am only familiar with him via video clips on youtube. And my students talk about him a lot. What I know of him (not much) reminds me of what I read in John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas. And, of course, Greg Boyd (who I know and read and quote to my students all the time).

  • Deets

    I’m reminded of a man I’ll call Pastor Johnny. Pastor Johnny planted churches in many muslim and communist countries. In fact, when I met him a few years ago, he was visiting the US and his home country had just proclaimed Christianity illegal. Pastor Johnny was asking in a meet and great how much that bothered him. Johnny responded, “Persecution doesn’t bother me. Before persecution my church grew to 40 people, but those people were weak. With persecution we shrunk to 7 people. But the church is now strong. Persecution is good for making the church strong.”

  • James Petticrew

    I am not sure I would call it persecution given what some Christians are experiencing in Islamic countries but I certainly can for see a time when in the UK when I will feel compelled to commit acts of civil disobedience. As Christendom is progressively rolled back the Church will find itself increasingly confronted by laws which will compell behaviour which contradicts the Kingdom of God.

    The current legislation being introduced in Scotland to allow Gay marriage has a clause to allow religous organisations to decline to carry out such ceremonies. However there is speculation that European equality legislation could overturn that exemption. I won’t be protesting the introduction of the legislation but neither will I obey it if it tries to force me to carry out gay marriage, I would be prepared to go to prison. I think more and more in European Christians will find themselves in conflict with authorities, several Christian Unions at UK universities have had their official status withdrawn (with access and financial implications) simply for upholding Christian values. One such CU refused to allow a gay christian to sit on their leadership group, one wonders what would have happened if some one from the CU had wanted to sit on the leadership of the Humanist Society? I see more and more of these conflicts coming up. I am sure our brothers and sisters around the world would say “welcome to the real world” and tell us to be grateful that the persecution we face doesn’t involve violence.

    Whilst I don’t think we should welcome persecution for persecution’s sake, I think the increasing hostility to Christianity from institutions and governments gives us the opportunity to reconfigure the Church as a subversive movement which offers an alternative way of life to that enforced in the surrounding culture. Perhaps there is something in the Church’s DNA which makes it more potent when confronted by a clear opposition to its values and lifestyle ?

    • rogereolson

      You are thinking along the same lines (as I) and further. If I am not mistaken, some Pentecostal pastors in Scandinavian countries have gone to jail and had to pay fines for preaching against homosexual sex in their own churches.

      • James Petticrew

        Yup that’s happened

  • I would agree with his statement, but I think there is more to it than just being silent in America. We have few martyrs because we ignore the first command to go out into all the world and instead have decided that should mean “go where it is safe and easy and people respond so you can build a great big church building with your name on it.” I am not even talking about the Middle East that we don’t go to, we won’t even go next door to Mexico and demand the drug cartels stop raping and killing women. We just ignore it.

    I believe go into all the world applied to the whole church and all people; it wasn’t a command given for a few crazy people who choose to go crazy places (like Jim Elliot for example). We would prefer to write a check and send someone else; to critique Islam rather than to know and love the people and win their hearts and friendship. How rarely we even go down the street to the wrong part of town and put ourselves in a place where persecution is possible. Like say, if we went and worked on racial reconciliation in the inner city. We would much rather sit on our pews in pretty temperature controlled buildings and hear feel good messages than to go somewhere dangerous or even uncomfortable. I’m not saying everyone should go permanently, but even a week or two in somewhere like Pakistan and people are already thinking you have lost your mind. Many good friends of mine in these locations have said that it’s hard even raising funds to go people in the US want to “protect” them so they don’t give them funds. Many end up working other jobs when they get there just to get there.

  • Steve Rogers

    I would make a distinction between taunted for some of the peculiarities of worship style or holiness standards and becoming a martyr for confessing Jesus as Lord. The first is similar to the stuff that goes on in any middle school lunch room everyday for all sorts of reasons, mostly not religious. The latter is a direct clash of light and darkness. How we respond to one MAY indicate our readiness for the other and help build character. However, when one faces the choice of denying his Lord or dying, that’s a whole other realm of spiritual warfare and need to lean on the everlasting arms. I sure hope I never have to face that choice.

  • Mark Nieweg

    Roger, I just finished reading Paul Alexander’s book “From Peace to War: Shifting Allegiances in the Assemblies of God.” Your post got me asking the question “how about Christians who try to follow Jesus in their own communities?” Paul’s book sure does show what can happen within our communities when the challenges of Jesus and discerning biblically are put front and center right where self preservation rather than the cross is used for decision making. Right now I find myself marginalized just by bringing up issues like he did in his book. One of my elders said to me that he fears “when it hits the fan, he sees our congregation forming militias instead of following Jesus.” I replied, “and what are we going to do about it?” I have a gut feeling that any persecution that comes my way will be from my own fellow believers before I get it from the wider culture. But then, Jesus’ “own” did not receive him either…..

    • rogereolson

      Paul’s is a good book. However, a friend of mine wrote a book about Pentecostal pacifism a long time ago. His name is Jay Beaman and the book was simply entitled Pentecostal Pacifism. When I was growing up Pentecostal I didn’t hear much about that part of our history although my youth pastor had served as a conscientious objector doing non-combatant duty in the Korean War and told us that it was because “back then” Pentecostals were pacifists. If I’m not mistaken, Paul Alexander was shown the door by a Pentecostal college where he taught due to his retrieval of that part of Pentecostal history. At least that’s what I have heard from some of his former students. I’ve never asked him about it myself.

      • Paul was formerly my professor, and he was shown the door for his “liberal” beliefs it is true. Pacifism was one of those beliefs. Although (I had graduated by this time, but still had a lot of friends there) some students said it was because he was pushing those beliefs too much – getting off topic in theology classes to discuss has passion for Pacifism and other things. Having sat in his classes, he did run off topic quite a bit, and was extremely passionate about his ideas, but unlike some of the later students, only once (of the four classes I took with him) did I really feel like it was being “pushed” on me. But later students said after 9/11 he got more intense (I graduated in May 2001, so before 9/11) and some (especially a number of VA students) started complaining that it was pushed too much.

        So I don’t know the truth to be honest – I heard the Paul defenders side, and the side of those who felt he’d crossed ethical lines of what a theology Professor should do. Paul was very passionate (that was why I enjoyed his classes so much!) but I can see him getting carried away in the wake of a country marching to war. I appreciated more than anything, the questions that were presented and pre 9/11, felt free to question his ideas, didn’t feel pressured when I came to a different conclusion than he did.

        All that to say, I think it was more complicated than just being fired for taking a stand (isn’t it always?) I think post 9/11 emotions ran high on both sides and the University chose to take the moderate view. I’m not sure that he was fired for his beliefs as much as how he presented those beliefs to a diverse body of students, many of whom had previously been in the military and took it personally. I would say those students likely took it too personally as well – but in all, it was an intense time and tensions ran high on both sides of the issue, and the University decided to go with a moderate instead. Should they have done that? I really don’t know.

  • Craig Wright

    This post brings up some ironies.
    When I was in high school, I was mocked by my youth pastor for supporting Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. At school, a friend of mine told me I was full of B.S. when I shared my faith in Christ with him, yet we continued to be friends. You can imagine which jabs hurt more.
    When I later took a moratorium on my faith, that is when I applied as a conscientious objector, and was drafted as a combat medic to Viet Nam. When I came back to faith, I found Oregon senator Mark Hatfield was scorned at my church for being against the Viet Nam War.
    About 40 years ago, I remember some Seventh Day Adventist acquaintances telling me they feared persecution as legislation would develop more blue laws. I though that was ridiculous as we were becoming more secular in our country, yet about 2 weeks ago a group took out a full page ad in the L.A. Times worried about a movement to stop sales on Sunday.
    At my church today, if someone admits they voted for a Democrat, they say it secretly out of fear.
    I find people who sometimes talk of persecution for their faith in the work place are obnoxious people in the first place. It is also irritating to hear cries of persecution when fighting about cultural Christian symbols used in politics or the market, or even in Hollywood portrayals.
    If Christians are eventually persecuted in the West I hope it is for being a real Christian. That would take some discussion in the context of the church.

  • J.E. Edwards

    One more thought here regarding the lack of persecution in the U.S. We are benefactors of people who have fought and struggled to see that that kind of thing doesn’t happen. Even our constitution is set up to protect religion. However, if I am living as a Christian (even here)the Bible does promise tribulation of some sort. The current political climate of our country is shifting, too. The shift is in changing moral issues to legal issues. Instead of morally right or wrong, it’s what is legal or illegal. That’s how governments (Canada and others) have been able to put pressure on churches to refrain from preaching about homosexuality or abortion for sure. Once the political leaders hijack moral issues we can expect the same. It is coming.

  • Ivan A. Rogers

    Dr. Olson quoted a good friend who said, “Whenever Christians are not in charge they will suffer persecution.” Olson added his opinion of the above statement: ‘By “Christians” he meant “real Christians,” not nominal Christians.’

    May I suggest that church history demonstrates that when “real Christians” are IN CHARGE all hell breaks loose and persecutions (even martyrdom) reaches an appalling level. I could provide a long list of historic Christian-led persecutions with this post, but inasmuch as Dr. Olson’s blog is read by knowledgeable students of religious history, I don’t think it’s necessary. Sadly, we all know how true this is. And it is also true that in virtually every case, these atrocious persecutions were perpetrated by recognized “real Christians” against those who were not considered to be “real Christians.” I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to happen in the western world is for those so-called “real Christians” to take charge.

    • rogereolson

      Well, we obviously just disagree about who is and who isn’t a “real Christian.” In my book, one would never persecute other real Christians. A Christian who persecutes Christians is not a real Christian.

      • Would someone explain to me what a “real Christian” is without wrapping them up in their own good works?

        • rogereolson

          My parents always said “We know one when we meet one.” One of their main criteria was that a “real Christian” talks about Jesus with love and passion. I don’t necessarily agree. But it is easier to identify a “fake Christian”–someone who merely adopts the label “Christian” for self-serving purposes without any personal commitment to Jesus Christ and his cause in the world. Hitler was a fake Christian, can we agree about that? (He was baptized a Roman Catholic and never officially dropped his church affiliation.) Then how about the politician who joined a church only to enhance his chances for election but previously never darkened the door of any church and, when not elected, never came to any church again? As I’ve explained many times before, I’m not judging anyone’s salvation; I’m talking about who deserves the appellation “Christian” as in “Christ follower.” Not everyone who claims it deserves it. Surely we can agree on that?

  • JamesT

    If I’m persecuted for being a Republican does that count? It’s kinda the same only different.

    • rogereolson

      Interestingly, other commenters in this thread say they have been persecuted (or fear being persecuted) for being Democrats!

  • Tim Reisdorf

    I think that the Coptic Church is going to be experiencing the heavy hand of persecution in the very near future, to say nothing of the Church in Syria. For them, it will be an intensification, rather than just a start. In fact, the whole Arab Spring may very well turn out badly for the Christians in those regions.

    • rogereolson

      I agree that it seems we (America) have failed to look into the crystal ball and see that our support of revolutionaries in some Middle Eastern countries may come back to haunt us and may result in serious persecutions of Christian minorities in those countries. We too seldom look to the unintended consequences of our foreign policies.

  • On the Hobby Lobby thing there are two sides to it as well – plan B isn’t an abortion pill. It is a maximum dosage of hormonal birth control the same as used in BCP’s which are modeled on the bodies natural released hormones from breastfeeding, in higher doses. The scientists and doctors I have asked say it just blocks ovulation, there is actually no evidence it causes abortions and if a woman is ovulating and takes it the next day, she still has a normal risk of becoming pregnant. My friends who are doctors think HL is getting this pill confused with the actual abortion pill which health insurance does not cover. They are really frustrated about the general lack of scientific knowledge of the general public.

    Whatever the case, it brings up a good question – what is true persecution and what is perceived persecution? How much of it is two sides honestly trying to do good, yet both being unwilling to listen to the other and overlooking their own blind spots?

  • Roger,

    I’m curoius about something…

    It seems to me that most people with our Pentecostal background never really fully get rid of some of their old practices even after they change their theological views. Have you? Do you go to the movies now and do all those things you couldn’t before?


    • rogereolson

      I rarely go to movies in movie theaters, but that’s more because of the outrageous behavior of other patrons (talking on cell phones during the movie, bringing babies and little children who cry and talk out loud, etc., etc.). I have trouble enjoying a good movie in that kind of setting. So, if I want to see a movie, I usually wait for it to come out on DVD. Lately that’s not a long wait in most cases. I don’t have moral qualms about attending a good movie (and I mean that in every sense including decent language, lack of gratuitous sex, etc.) anymore. Movie theaters are not what I was led to believe when I was a kid–dens of awful iniquity where people were having sex in the balcony, etc. Now, for the most part, they’re just dens of awful movies and patron behavior! I still don’t dance or drink alcohol. “You can take the boy out of Pentecostalism, but you can’t take the Pentecostalism out of the boy.” (I had an ex-Pentecostal colleague once who quoted that often to explain his and my odd behavior.)

      • David Martinez

        What about secular music (e.g., Michael Jackson)? Pentecostals believe it is a sin to listen to non-relegious music. Did those feelings remain in you?

        • rogereolson

          I rebelled early on that taboo. I remember buying my first transistor radio (does anyone even remember what this was?) at about 15 and listening clandestinely to it under the covers at night, the little plastic radio pressed up against my ear. I remember hearing “Are You Going to San Francisco?” and wondering what that was all about! 🙂 Most of the secular music I listening to was probably about drugs and sex, but I had no idea. I just liked the tunes. What I found highly amusing then (and still) is that when our Pentecostal church rented the local roller rink for a “teen social” (we couldn’t skate with non-Christians, you know) the pastor and youth leaders allowed the roller rink to play the same music they played other times. So we holy rollers (literally) skated to “Let Me Tell You ‘Bout the Birds and the Bees” and other riskee songs. Now, strangely, I prefer the gospel music of those years, but it’s hard to find. I often buy old albums on itunes and listen to them on my ipod as I drive or work out. I guess getting old is the same as getting holier. 🙂

          • Old gosepl music? You mean like Russ Taff and The Imperials, Candi Staton, Andrae Crouch, and Andrus Blackwood & Co? 😀

            I’m only 27 years old but that’s the music I like. I even have old LP records … WHY, oh why, did God sovereignly decree to predistine me to be born in the wrong generation?! ;-P

            In most of the Hispanic Pentecostal churches I preach in today they don’t allow even Christian songs if they have a “secular” tune (whatever that is supposed to sound like!)

            David Martinez

          • rogereolson

            I did enjoy Imperials concerts with Russ Taff in the seventies. I even took my youth group to one in the late seventies in houston. But my nostalgia goes back further to the great southern gospel groups of the fifties such as the Speer Family and the Goodmans, et al. I grew up pentecostal and the more tear jerky the music the better!

          • Two questions:

            1- As far as you know, did most of those young people “backslide” or remain in the Pentecostal denomination? I ask because, unlike yourself, I still remain heavily involved in the Hispanic Pentecostal denomination and preach for them all the time. However, my friends and I have disagreements about the impact of the legalism we see in Pentecostal churches. He feels Pentecostal legalism is not good but that it does not destroy lives; I feel it’s devestating and most people in these circles don’t remain faithful. Where in both of our extremes (I admit I can be pretty harsh about Pentecostal legalism because I get frustrated) do you find yourself?

            2- I really NEED to part ways with the Pentecostal church. I don’t mean that I won’t fellowship with them. What I mean is that I no longer want to be an official member of a Pentecostal church (I’m from AG). However, I am clueless as to what the closest alternative would be. For example: I am not a cessationist but I also don’t like the way the “gifts” function in the Pentecostal church; it’s a MESS. Do you have any advice for me?

            I know my question is too complicated for you to adequately respond in a quick comment. However, ANY advice you give me will be useful. Even if it’s just to recommend a denomination or a book for people like me: people who are fed up with the Pentecostal denomination, are too “in” to get out, but are too “out” to stay in.

            David Martinez

          • rogereolson

            You are exactly where I was thirty-five years ago. I attended a Baptist seminary and worked my way into several different Baptist networks and denominations after that. I found them very open to me once I proved myself. Chances are, to move on, you will need to go to seminary. (I don’t know what your educational experiences have been.) Choose one that is associated with a denomination you find fits your doctrines and spiritual ethos. There are many good evangelical seminaries–both denominational and non- or trans-denominational. Where you live and whether you can move are crucial in making this decision. If I were you, I would look for a good Baptist seminary and enroll and join a church affiliated with it and move on into its ministry. Of course, I recommend Truett Theological Seminary (Baylor University), but there are other good ones scattered around the country. I can’t recommend any of the Southern Baptist related ones, though (for theological reasons).