The topic of Christian persecution came up during a pastor’s roundtable luncheon I attended a few years ago.
I was gathered with a dozen other pastors who met three to four times a year for fellowship, a nice meal in a private room at a nice restaurant and a discussion on some topic related to the contemporary church.
This particular luncheon was a few weeks after Maryland had passed a law that some – but not all – of our pastors had opposed.
One pastor was particularly upset, and at one point he exclaimed, “We’re being persecuted!”
I looked around the table and saw our plates of pan-seared Chilean sea bass with ratatouille, capers and lemon butter; grilled Norwegian salmon with seaweed and cucumber salad and wasabi vinaigrette, and chicken piccata sautÃ©ed with white wine, and thought, “If this is persecution, then I want to be persecuted every day.”
“Christianity is under attack in America!” is a common refrain in some circles, and it drives me crazy.
Under attack? Are we so soft as Christians that we can’t take criticism, some of it deserved?
Some of the criticism is directed toward Christians who take extreme positions on biblical interpretation and try to impose those positions not only on the rest of us Christians but also on the rest of society.
I understand the position that when the Bible and science conflict that Christians should side with the Bible, but when there is a conflict, it’s not always because of bad science.
In fact, it’s usually because of bad Bible reading, as when the church persecuted Galileo for saying that the Earth revolved around the sun when the Bible clearly says that the sun revolves around a fixed earth (see Genesis 1 and Joshua 10).
We don’t read it that way anymore, having adjusted our understanding of the Bible to fit what we now know of the universe based on science.
And if some Christians were to insist that the Earth is the center of the universe based on their reading of Scripture, they should be criticized. If they try to impose that teaching in public schools in America, we should oppose them.
But whatever that is, it’s not persecution.
The feeling that some Christians have that they are under attack also comes from the fact that Christianity is no longer the clearly dominant religion in the land.
Christianity has long enjoyed being the only religious voice in America, but now there are other voices that are not only being heard but also actually being listened to.
It can feel threatening when you are used to being the only voice. But being forced to let other people talk is not persecution. Being forced to listen is not persecution.
And a person who feels attacked when they are simply being asked to listen to an opposing viewpoint is a person who needs counseling.
When Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10), he wasn’t talking about either of these situations.
Persecution isn’t when you are criticized, when someone disagrees with you and says so, or when you are prevented from using your religion to discriminate against others and prevent them from having equal protection under the law.
In none of those cases are you being righteous. Righteousness is standing up for those who are discriminated against, who are denied their rights to live where they want, shop and eat where they want, or worship as they want – or not at all.
Unfortunately, in our history Christians have often been the persecutors, not the persecuted, as we were with African slaves prior to the Civil War, with convict labor laws immediately after, and with Jim Crow laws in the first half of the last century.
And in a twisted irony, when laws were passed to prevent them from doing these things any longer, these Christians were among the many who whined that they were being persecuted.
Larry Eubanks is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Frederick, Maryland. A version of this article first appeared on his website and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @EubanksLarry.
Pastor of First Baptist Church of Frederick, Maryland.