I have found myself coming across a lot of examples, in the media and online, of North American Christians referring to themselves as suffering for their faith or even being persecuted.
Almost without exception, when I dig into their issues, it most often is a situation where Christians have lost a place of privilege in our culture (one that we should perhaps not have had in the first place), but are responding to it as though they are being put to the rack.
We’ve all read Matthew 5:10-12:
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
At one time or another, I am sure that most of us have wondered if our lack of persecution was somehow an indictment that we were not living as Christ commanded, and perhaps there is some truth to that.
However, in the light of the freedom and peace we do experience as Western Christians, we need to be aware of two potential dangers in this respect.
First, we must be careful not to overinflate our struggles as though they are persecution when they clearly are not.
While we should engage in civil discourse about things we believe strongly about, I believe it dishonors the prophets and martyrs who have gone before us (and who truly suffer even now around the world) to claim that we are persecuted and suffering for such things as no prayer in schools or marriage equality. Yet far too many of us do just that.
This is what I call becoming “paper-cut martyrs,” people who inflate their own righteousness by treating legitimate, but relatively minor, struggles and challenges as though they were in the arena standing before lions.
Let us not dishonor God or those who truly suffer in any attempt to boost our own spiritual status. After all, it is for Christ’s sake that we suffer, being no reflection of our own merit or worth. Where it is not being done to build up our own so called holiness, it is being done out of faithless and selfish fear—a fear we claim to have been liberated from by Christ, where death itself has no sting!