Yes, the list of what is “American” is growing, and persecution is now in the inventory. What is persecution?
“Persecution is the suffering or pressure, mental, moral, or physical, which authorities, individuals, or crowds inflict on others, especially for opinions or beliefs, with a view to their subjection by recantation, silencing, or as a last resort, execution” (G. W. Bromiley. “Persecution,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 3. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986, p. 771).
Persecution has been around for a long time. Historically, Cain was the first murderer, and Abel was the first martyr. Why did Cain persecute Abel? “Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous” (1 Jn. 3:12).
The Jews’ legacy is one of persecution. Some of them suffered it; some caused it. Jesus reprimanded the instigating kind when he charged, “Therefore, I send you prophets and wise men and scribes ... some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah ...” (Matt. 23:34-35).
A “Who’s Who” list of the persecuted reveals that many immanent Bible personalities suffered at the maliciousness of evil men. Abel, Joseph, David, Jeremiah, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Stephen, Paul, the other apostles, and most of all, Jesus Christ, were persecuted.
In more modern times, those who protested the corruption of Roman Catholicism bore the severest kind of affliction, for which John Paul II offered proxy apologies in recent years.
Persecution has been faced in different ways. Refusing to recant, the three Hebrew youths were resigned to accept their execution, affirming their convictions with boldness and clarity to the end. The Lord sometimes dealt with the persecuting opposition of the Pharisees and Sadducees by exposing their religious hypocrisy. Uniquely, they did not have the power to take his life, but he laid it down of himself.
Paul’s life demonstrates how persecution was handled differently. He fled from Damascus, was run out of Iconium, and quickly left Thessalonica. But he went back to Lystra, shortly after being stoned there, and resolutely headed for Jerusalem, although he knew that “imprisonment and afflictions await me” (Acts 20:23). Paul responded to each persecuting situation based upon what was best for the success of the gospel — not out of interest for his personal comfort or safety (cf. Acts 20:20,24).
Religious oppression, however, is not a thing of the past, and third world or Islamic countries do not have the market cornered. There are many forms of persecution today, although some manifestations are more subtle than “they cast him out of the city and stoned him” (Acts 7:58). The silencing of Christians is of world-wide interest to the devil, and his big following utilizes all means necessary to subjugate and silence the people of God.
But we live in the United States, right? We are protected by the U.S. Constitution against religious discrimination, aren’t we?
“Anti-Christian discrimination occurs in a variety of contexts throughout our culture, from the public sector to the private sector, in the mainstream media and in Hollywood, in the public education system and in our universities. Often the discrimination comes from activist judges misinterpreting the law (the hostility to Christian religious freedom infects our judiciary as much as anywhere else); other times it comes from entities misapplying the law. It also comes from what we call ‘political correctness.’ The discrimination mostly stems from a hostility to Christianity and from rampant disinformation in our society about what the Constitution actually requires in terms of the so-called ‘separation of church and state’” (David Limbaugh, Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity, Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2003, p. ix-x).
Twenty-first century persecution in the U.S. is multi-faceted and is largely ideological. Its manifestations are seen in the advancement of moral decay, the dissemination of secularism, the reconstructionism of Christianity’s role in American history, and the demonizing of Christian values.
Consequently, if you morally object to homosexuality, society labels you as a “homophobe” and a bigot. If you advocate creationism, you are castigated as a back-woods, superstitious individual, who likely was abused at church camp. If you allude to the divine references in the Declaration of Independence, you are characterized as ignorant of the original intent.
The most despised atrocity is intolerance — the “cardinal sin” of Christians. “When Christians are the target group, ‘diversity’ is out the door and different rules apply. Today’s ‘tolerance’ unabashedly excludes them from equal dignity, respect, and treatment” (ibid., p. 116-117).
The children of this generation are growing up in a world that is hostile to Christianity. Rather than safeguarding religious freedom, government often permits an “open season” on Christianity. Reinterpreting Thomas Jefferson’s statement about a “wall of separation between Church and State,” the judiciary has failed to uphold the Constitution consistently, which says in the First Amendment relative to the establishment clause: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...”
Now we see, in state-after-state, that which Jefferson wrote on September 6, 1819 coming to pass: “The Constitution is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please” (“Thomas Jefferson,” America’s God and Country, William J. Federer, ed., Fame Publishing, Inc., 1996, p. 330).
While the assault continues, objecting voices have been heard in the halls of justice. Associate Justice Tom Clark wrote the opinion for a 1963 case in the United States Supreme Court: “The state may not establish a ‘religion of secularism’ in the sense of affirmatively opposing or showing hostility to religion, thus preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe” (ibid., p. 605).
In 1985, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger delivered an opinion of the court:
“There is an unbroken history of official acknowledgement by all three branches of government of the role of religion in American life ... The Constitution does not require a complete separation of church and state. It affirmatively mandates accommodation, not merely tolerance, of all religions and forbids hostility towards any” (ibid., p. 608).
Also in 1985, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, then an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, rendered the Court’s decision in Wallace v. Jefree:
“It is impossible to build sound constitutional doctrine upon a mistaken understanding of constitutional history. . . The establishment clause has been expressly freighted with Jefferson’s misleading metaphor for nearly forty years ... There is simply no historical foundation for the proposition that the framers intended to build a wall of separation [between church and state] ... The recent court decisions are in no way based on either the language or intent of the framers” (ibid., p. 608).
In spite of the religious facts of U.S. history and the Constitution, anti-Christian discrimination and persecution continue. What, therefore, should Christians do?
Just as Paul dealt with persecution in different ways, so the twenty-first century Christian needs to evaluate each situation and respond with wisdom and prayer.
First, we need to recognize the reality of it. We have not tried to prove that the public schools, media, government, etc., often behave with hostility towards Christianity. If one is not convinced of that fact, he is blatantly uninformed or extremely naive. For thorough documentation on our current anti-Christian culture, read David Limbaugh’s book Persecution_:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0895261111/qid=1096304291/sr=8-1/ref=pd_csp1/002-7345708-4865618?v=glance&s=books&n=507846.
Second, we may “appeal to Caesar.” Like Paul, Christians may utilize the government for their own protection and spiritual interests when possible. We are not obligated to serve ourself up on the altar of persecution just because of a societal expectation.
Third, parents, teachers, administrators, and citizens need to let their voices be heard. Silencing Christians is one goal of persecution. Exercise your right of free speech, and speak the truth.
Fourth, Christians need to withhold support from institutions that are plainly anti-Christian: like the NEA, ACLU, and other organizations that support the moral decay of this nation, through advocating homosexuality, abortion, and anti-Christian causes. Claiming to be champions of diversity, they oppress Christians, religiously honoring the so-called separation of church and state.
Fifth, Christians must still evangelize in a hostile world. They must recognize opposition, work through it, and fight it when they can. Ultimately, regardless of religious affliction, they must continue to live faithful lives, looking to evangelize the few in spite of the hatred from the many. And Jesus said, “I will be with you always” (Matt. 28:20).