When I read the article, Are We Raising Persecution Ready Kids? I remembered with a shudder, how much of my own evangelical upbringing was gearing me up to be “persecution ready.”
The piece began with a story of a boy being tortured to death for his faith, while his mother watched him die, urging him to stay true to his path of unflinching loyalty. The rest of the article lamented how lukewarm Christian parents have become in raising children, sidelining our faith and producing children who would be incapable of enduring a persecuted life.
As a kid, I learned in Bible Study the words of the great missionary martyr, Jim Elliott, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” I devoured popular Christian novelist Francine River’s fiction and imagined how I would respond if I were the protagonist in her stories: a slave girl named Hadassah who was thrown into a lion’s den for her faith. (Don’t worry, despite having her appearance marred by the lions, a handsome aristocrat falls madly in love with her and conveniently converts so they can be equally yoked.)
The wider cultural narrative of American evangelicalism’s persecution complex is problematic in its co-opting and cheapening of the real suffering of persecuted people worldwide and historically. It enables Christians to participate in oppression of others while crying foul, and results in a dysfunctional marriage of violence and faith.
But for the purposes of Unfundamentlaist Parenting, raising persecution ready kids is detrimental to healthy development in adolescence and beyond in three ways:
1. Warped View of Reality.
A direct consequence of persecution-ready child-rearing is the child internalizing a fear that the world is somehow out to get us. Although it is true the world isn’t always safe, and that sometimes standing up for what is right will cost us, the extent to which children are fed the persecution narrative is exaggerated and leads to a warped view of reality. We want our children to have clear eyes to discern which fears are actually warranted and to make a fair assessment of what the world is like.
More importantly, we want to encourage a love of exploration, and a willingness to take certain risks to live into the world. A persecution complex compels kids to eye the world with suspicion and sets it up as a place to be feared, instead of a place to both revere and delight in.
Alan Noble in this Atlantic piece diagnoses the problem with the persecution narrative in Christian culture as “fetishizing suffering.” After the tragic school shooting in Columbine, in which one of the victims were allegedly asked to deny Christ before being shot to death, many teenagers aspired to be a martyr. The reason is that they staked their spiritual identity in how much they could suffer for the cause of Christ. This led to both fantasizing about martyrdom as well as falsely interpreting every infraction that’s a normal part of teen lives as persecution.
How many of us parents cast an ultimatum on our kids and ask them if they would sacrifice their lives to save us, should the extremely unlikely scenario occur? And then rate their answer as a measure of their love for us? We would make for sick, sadistic parents if we do! God’s love for the children is similarly reciprocal and does not guilt trip. We want to ground our children’s spiritual identity in the rich soil of God’s love, not internalizing victimhood as a mark of their faith.
3. Warped Sense of Mission.
When you encounter pushback in your dialogue with others in the world, and interpret that through the persecution grid, you lose the ability to self-reflect, interrogate, and learn how to earn your right to be heard. We want our teens to lean into their passions and bring their vigorous energy into their causes. But if they are radicalized by an obsession to become “sold out” for Jesus, it warps their sense of mission by creating large blind spots. They can never be wrong—they can only be right, or persecuted for being right.
In addition, when extreme suffering, or sensational martyrdom becomes the only acceptable mission, our teens aren’t rewarded for the exceptional work they do through the ordinary moments of their lives. In our modern age of viral videos, we must remind teens that you don’t have to go viral to be living a faithful story. Everyday acts of kindness, every moment of building character, every opportunity for learning, growing, making mistakes and overcoming struggle that takes place in a teenager’s life is significant.
Dear Christian parents, we do not need to raise “persecution-ready” kids. We just need to raise ordinary kids who have a strong self identity rooted in love, a thirst for truth in the way they view the world, and who slowly but surely venture out into our beautiful and terrible world with a steady sense of purpose.
The sum of the meaning of our children’s lives comes not from how they will die, but how they live. What joy it is we get to walk this hero’s journey alongside them.
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