Christians and Persecution, Then and Now

Christians and Persecution, Then and Now January 13, 2013

I find it both sad and laughable at the same time that both Protestants and Catholics are claiming that they are being persecuted when their views are no longer taken for granted by others, or they are not given access to a particular platform to promote their views.

Having recently completed a study of the Book of Revelation in my Sunday school class, the persecution of Christians during the reign of Nero is the first of many instances of real, genuine persecution that comes to mind.

Nero blamed Christians for the fire in Rome, and as a result Christians were killed, often horrifically.

Compare the past half a century and down to today. Christians have been involved in some genuinely horrific acts. Child molestation – and covering it up. Opposing racial integration. Picketing funerals. It makes peddling lies and undermining education seem minor by comparison, but some Christians have done that and continue to do that too, and much else besides.

What's my point? Today one would not have to invent trumped up charges against Christians in order to persuade people to persecute us. There are enough instances of evil perpetrated by those who wear the label, that it would be easy to tar us all with the same brush.

Yet where are the mobs trying to lynch us? Where are the crowds determined to make us into living torches set alight? Despite there being things that at least some Christians have actually done, which could lead to legitimate outrage, there are still no executions of those associated with the organizations involved.

American Christians have no idea what they are talking about when they cry persecution. And as someone married to a Romanian, and thus who experienced something which, if still not like Nero's time, was far more truly persecution than what most Americans have ever experienced, I do not find it merely inaccurate. I find it offensive. It is cheapening the term and thereby minimizing the plight of those who really do face persecution.

American Christians seem to desire persecution. And that is understandable, since the Bible says that those who truly follow Jesus and stand for righteousness will be persecuted.

The appropriate response is not to cry persecution even when not suffering it. That doesn't fool anyone.

The appropriate response is to ask what you could do to actually stand against injustice and for righteousness. Maybe if you stood in the way of big corporations and wealthy power brokers trampling on the powerless, you would find out what persecution means. Maybe if you stood with the oppressed instead of trying to get in bed with the powers that be to share in their worldly power in order to oppress others, you would realize that there are those who do face persecution, bullying, enslavement, and many other horrors in the world – and that you may have at least contributed to the climate that allows that to continue.

Maybe then, you'll have taken up your cross and begun to follow the crucified Messiah.


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  • I’ve remarked a few times, “Nero fed Christians to lions. In Iran, Christians fear for their lives. In China, members of churches not approved by the state face life in prison. In the US, employers are expected to have their health care plans cover health care and can’t force other people to pray.”

    Good post. This rhetoric of persecuting Christians in the US is absurd.

  • Danny Klopovic

    That’s part of the gift of being an Anabaptist – we never expected a platform and it strikes me as petulant to cry about not having such now that the hegemony of Christians in public life is coming to a blessed end 🙂

  • Eric

    Well said. I’d add that cries of persecution also aim to malign those who disagree with or challenge Christians, but in a way that keeps the focus on the wants of Christians rather than the experience of others.

    • Mary

      I agree. It is an attempt to shut others up. But it goes beyond even that because what they are really saying is that anyone who disagrees is not just “persecuting” them, but also God. Since they don’t make a distinction between their wants and what they believe God wants, nobody else’s experiences matter at all.

      I am sorry but that attitude is not Christ-like. It is human hubris at it’s worst.

  • Jeff Carter


  • LHD

    I love this. I know, cheez comment, but its so true. Great job.

  • Claude

    In the US the Catholic Church pays no taxes and accepts government largesse only to cry persecution when the government mandates insurance options. At least while whitewashing its tomb the Church upholds the marginalization of homosexuals and condemnation of contraception that is truly at the heart of Christ’s message.

  • Mrkaphie

    Good article. But let’s not forget something. While there have been Christians on the wrong side of social issues, there have also been Christians on the right side. Christianity was essential in both abolitionism and the defeat of Jim Crow.

  • Tom Weaver

    I do want to add that there have been some cases of persecution of Christians in relatively recent time – it hasn’t been all that long since Seventh-day Adventists had issues with working on Saturdays. But I’m not sure that there have been any other cases, unless one wishes to count the tightrope that Child Protective Services has to walk when it comes to religious freedom vs. childrens’ health.

  • Mcfirefly4

    You do not seem to distinguish between Religious Right claims of persecution “when things don’t go their way”, and the growing will to indulge in schadenfreude at reports of persecution of Christians in China, etc, that believing Christians are increasingly experiencing. And yes, some of us are experiencing a degree of persecution. It heated up a lot this year with the Mayan calendar mess; some of us had threatening and cruel people breathing down our necks, assuming that we gullibly believed the world would end in Dec, but willing to let us know what they would like to do with us if and when they had the chance. Additionally, you are not acknowledging the perhaps more subtle persecutions dealt out by some, in which some of us have suffered great losses. It is all nice and political–in fact, it’s dialectical–to dismiss persecution as a figment of the imagination of the hypocritical Religious Right, which cares about its taxes, etc, and wraps it with issues like abortion, and believes that Obama just may be the Antichrist because worse people are propagandizing them to, but none of that is really about Jesus. This world truly is not a friend of the gospel of the grace of God, because salvation implies the judgment it is saving us from, and people have become vastly more hostile and intolerant to it, more willing to thumbs up the persecution of those who won’t give Jesus up. To continually confuse belief in and faithfulness to Jesus with Tea Party politics, is dishonest, when we really know that if Clint Eastwood had said in Tampa, “I don’t give a rat’s ass about Jesus,” the whole convention would have cheered, just as they did at the theaters. Willfully greedy people who don’t care if others die, as long as their bottom line improves a little, do not love or really believe in Jesus. They frankly can barely tolerate Him, and the fact that this whole delusion has been powered by lies, fear and hypocrisy, does not mean that real, believing Christians are not increasingly suffering for His name.

    • ellid

       I think you missed the entire point of the article. 

  • gemjunior

    I don’t think Christians in the US are persecuted at all. But Christians are doing a very inadequate job speaking about the Christian persecution in the middle east right now. If that were muslims, they would be rioting. Christians are definitely disrespected among all the religions in the country – you can make fun of “bible thumpers” and “Christian fundamentalists” and you can criticize Christians publicly with impunity. But you may not criticize, better not criticize Jews or Judaism, or Muslims or Islam without being prepared to wear the stigma of anti-Semite, bigot, hater, ignorant, Nazi, intolerant, etc.

    • So you think that Christians in the Middle East deserve protection from persecution as minorities there, but do not think minority groups in the United States deserve protection as minorities here?

  • John MacDonald

    Dr. McGrath wrote:

    Nero blamed Christians for the fire in Rome, and as a result Christians were killed, often horrifically.

    I’m excited because I just got my copy of Dr. Ehrman’s new book: “The Triumph of Christianity.” I haven’t started reading it yet.

    Perhaps the explanation as to why Christianity went from being a forbidden religion to the official religion of the Roman empire is that the Roman elites saw how devout the Christians remained under persecution, and figured that this kind of attitude would be wonderful for the general population to have. It would be analogous to the thinking of Rome’s Numa Pompilius, the legendary second king of Rome. Regarding Numa Pompilius, Livy wrote:

    “And fearing lest relief from anxiety on the score of foreign perils might lead men who had hitherto been held back by fear of their enemies and by military discipline into extravagance and idleness, he (Numa) thought the very first thing to do, as being the most efficacious with a populace which was ignorant and, in those early days, uncivilized, was to imbue them with the fear of Heaven. As he could not instil this into their hearts without inventing some marvellous story, he PRETENDED to have nocturnal meetings with the goddess Egeria, and that hers was the advice which guided him in the establishment of rites most approved by the gods, and in the appointment of special priests for the service of each.” (Livy 1 19).”

    Plutarch also suggests that Numa played on superstition to give himself an aura of awe and divine allure, in order to cultivate more gentle behaviors among the warlike early Romans, such as honoring the gods, abiding by law, behaving humanely to enemies, and living proper, respectable lives (see Plutarch, “The Parallel Lives, Numa Pompilius, §VIII”).

    • John MacDonald

      We also see the elites viewing religion as useful with Ptolemy I. Serapis (Σέραπις, Attic/Ionian Greek) or Sarapis (Σάραπις, Doric Greek), was cleverly instituted as a Graeco-Egyptian god. The Cult of Serapis was strategically introduced during the 3rd century BC on the orders of Ptolemy I of Egypt as a means to unify the Greeks and Egyptians in his realm.

      The elites of the Roman empire may have phased in Christianity after seeing how devout the Christians remained under persecution, and thought this would be an excellent attitude/crutch for the masses to have. In fact, Paul may have converted when he made a similar realization when he was persecuting Christians.