Fresh off the press and into the public is a book entitled Persecution. It is written by the brother of talk-radio personality Rush Limbaugh and seeks to demonstrate that the religious liberty so precious to all Americans is being systematically denied to Christians throughout the country.
In other words, Christians in American are being persecuted.
What is the evidence for such a charge? Public school educators, Limbaugh asserts, routinely prevent Christians from praying at school and have taken out of the curriculum all materials that can be connected to Christian history and values. Furthermore, he contends, television and movie producers consistently make fun of Christians and portray them in negative and condescending ways.
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
When I compare the complaints of these believers with those around the world who genuinely suffer for their faith, I want to laugh at the silly, self-centered pretensions of middle-class Americans and their claim to persecution.
There are places in the world where baptism is a death sentence; where worship is forbidden; where believers must gather in secret. It is these for whom we pray in obedience to the Word of God: “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them, those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured” (Hebrews 13:3).
I have friends who work in such environments, and it is to their witness I turn for testimony of genuine persecution. Their reports are all private, as you might expect; the publication of a book detailing the suffering they see would risk the lives and ministries of many people.
I remember also the words of Richard Wurmbrand who, years ago, came to my church and spoke of his incarceration in a Romanian prison. I bought his book Sermons in Solitary Confinement. He composed one sermon a day and committed it to memory. It was a discipline of survival. It was the real stuff.
What Limbaugh describes in his book as “persecution” is pseudo stuff.
I weep to think that boys and girls are being taught that the guidelines sustaining the separation of church and state in our great nation qualify as persecution. In reality, the wall of separation protecting our “first freedom” has created a social environment allowing religion to flourish.
In more cases than not, those who make and enforce these rules are themselves practicing Christians. In more cases than not, those who break the rules irritate the broader Christian community just as surely as they violate the law of the land.
It is true that some overzealous officials have sought to prevent simple acts of piety, especially in public schools. While these cannot be classified as “persecution,” they do seem to be misguided or over-managed attempts to build the wall of separation too high. This is regrettable and demands redress.
These stories, however, stand in sharp contrast to those memorialized in the stain glass window in the sanctuary where I worship.
There are 12 of them, each representing one of the apostles of our Lord. Tradition tells us that each of them died a violent death: one by suicide, and 11 at the hands of those who despised their loyalty to the Risen Lord.
My pastor is preaching a series of sermons on these windows and this week the subject was Thaddeus. His window features a club representing the unknown details of his martyrdom. The sermon spoke of steadfastness.
“In this life, you will have trials and tribulations,” our Lord says to all of us, knowing that death, defeat and despair are but the conditions of earthly life. But his promise is sufficient: “Be strong and of good courage, for I have overcome the world.”
Out of respect to those who have laid down their lives for their convictions, we must carefully distinguish between the ordinary difficulties of our lives and the extraordinary demands upon those who suffer for his name’s sake. The former are simply problems; the latter is more surely called persecution.
Dwight Moody is dean of the chapel at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky.