What’s a Christian Martyr?

What’s a Christian Martyr? February 2, 2015

Bruce Wilson quoted me at the Huffington Post Blog the other day. To be precise, he quoted Evangelical activist (not, as Wilson says, pastor) David Lane quoting me, without attributing the quote to me. That’s OK by me. I don’t mind not being quoted in an article with a title that begins “Anti-Gay, Anti-Mormon Hate Group. . . .” 

Because the quotation keeps getting misconstrued, though, I’m coming out of the closet and owning my words.

Wilson quotes this from Between Babel and Beast: “American Christianity has not done a good job of producing martyrs. . . . Christians must risk martyrdom and force Babel to the crux where it has to decide either to acknowledge Jesus an imperator and the church as God’s imperium or to begin drinking holy blood.”

It’s a truism that American operated with an informal “Protestant establishment” for the first couple of centuries of our existence. Under those circumstances, being inculturated into American ways was, in many respects, identical to being discipled in Christian ways. Now that the Protestant establishment has collapsed, Christians are in an unfamiliar position. We can’t take for granted that America is the church and the church America. We need to be prepared for witness even if it means, or is perceived as, being unAmerican.

So, like other conservative Christians these days, I see our time as a time of martyrdom, when Christians must speak the truth despite pressure coming from writers who write articles with titles like “Anti-Gay, Anti-Mormon Hate Group. . . .” 

When Christians are faithful witnesses, they are an irritant to the powers that be. And the powers that be want them out of the way. If they can get Christians to get out of the way on their own with articles like Wilson’s, so much the better. If they can’t, sterner measures might be necessary. This isn’t imaginary. It’s the history of early Christianity in its relation to the Roman Empire. It’s the history of dozens of countries in the present day. 

That quotation above has made the rounds in the feverish backwaters of leftist watchdog groups, with their nightmares about a theocratic takeover of the federal government. Every time it’s quoted, the implication is that I’m advocating violence. People see the word “martyr” and think “suicide bomber.” 

One would think Bruce Wilson, who writes on religion and politics for a living, would know better. 

Christian martyrdom means bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel and of God’s word, especially in the face of intimidation, insults, exclusion, put-downs, threats, articles with titles like. . . . Christian martyrs peaceably bear witness to the Lordship of Jesus. They peaceably confess that Jesus is Lord of lords, King of kings, ruler of all nations. American martyrs peaceably urge Americans to acknowledge Jesus as Lord, even of America. In our time, Christian martyrs will have to bear witness, peaceably, to the truth about the unborn and the truth about marriage, regardless of what the Supreme Court has said or will say in the next few months. 

Christian martyrs are defiant, no doubt about that. Defiance is of the essence of witness. They are not violent.

Christian martyrdom is a willingness to follow Jesus all the way to the cross. Martyrdom doesn’t involve killing. It’s jolly defiance, ready to be slandered, insulted, beaten, killed for the one who died for me.


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