Some claim that Christianity is a “religion of the powerful.” But try telling that to persecuted Christians!
In America, increasing numbers of people in our colleges and in the media are worried about various “micro-aggressions” and “insensitivities.” So those who find themselves so offended by the words of others can retire to a designated “safe space,” where they can work out their distress with hugs and perhaps coloring books. They probably never heard that saying about sticks and stones.
Meanwhile, these delicate flowers are missing out on the biggest story of injustice in the world. According to multiple agencies, adherents of Christianity—supposedly the religion of the powerful—face far more persecution than followers of any other religion.
Let me give you a few data points about what this means for our brothers and sisters worldwide before telling you what it all means for us. For the second straight year, according to a study from the Italian-based Center for Studies on New Religions, up to 600 million followers of Jesus worldwide are being prevented from practicing their faith, with untold numbers paying the price of martyrdom. While much of the persecution comes from the Islamic State and similar radical Muslim groups, Christians face discrimination from many sources. The Pew Research Center counts 145 countries where Christians face harassment or worse—145!
In Iraq, with the breakdown in order since the Gulf War, the number of Christians has evaporated from about 1.5 million in 2003 to somewhere around 275,000 today. Many were killed; many more have been driven out as refugees. In Pakistan, India, and Myanmar, nationalist religious movements—whether Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist—have falsely tagged Christians as agents of Western powers and seek to restrict their freedoms.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom notes that China has increased its level of persecution against Christians. Many church buildings have been bulldozed. Pastor Bao Guohua and his wife were sentenced to 14 and 12 years in prison for opposing a government campaign to remove crosses from churches.
It’s no wonder that Robert Nicholson of the Philos Project says, “There are many places on earth where being a Christian is the most dangerous thing you can be.”
We know that the default setting for the daily lives of many fellow believers around the world is not power, but persecution. But what does this mean for those of us here in the still relatively protected West? Well, of course first and foremost we should pray for our persecuted brethren. And yes, we should speak up for them, with our government, in the media, with our neighbors, and we should support organizations that aid the persecuted. We know that when one member of the Body suffers, we all suffer.
But let me also suggest that a focus on persecuted Christians helps us develop a biblical worldview and a solid Christian discipleship. The Bible says that we battle not against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12), and that our adversary, the devil, goes about like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Pet 5:8). Persecution reminds us we are in a spiritual battle—all of us—and that we all must face the possibility that standing for Jesus could prove costly indeed.
Persecution, as the struggles of our fellow believers attest, is a normal part of the Christian life. 1 Timothy 3:12 reminds us that all who want to live a godly life for Jesus will face it. There are no “safe spaces” for Christ-followers in this world. Martyrdom can be expected. The church historian Eusebius said that the early martyrs “wove a crown to offer to the Father; … and having triumphed gloriously should win the mighty crown of immortality.”
A Christian worldview reminds us we are in a spiritual battle, one that requires courage—and not safe spaces. Are we ready to don the full armor of God?
Eric Metaxas is the host of the “Eric Metaxas Show,” a co-host of “BreakPoint” radio and a New York Times #1 best-selling author whose works have been translated into more than twenty languages.