Monsignor Charles Pope wrote an article back in 2012 about his observations regarding religious persecution. While studying religious history and observing modern trends, he noted there are five stages of religious persecution: stereotyping, vilifying, marginalizing, criminalizing, and persecution. For the sake of clarity, let’s briefly dwell on each.
Stereotyping is when the actions of a few are used as an example for an entire group of people. This has happened in our country where Christians are stereotyped by the media and liberal thinkers of our days as blind and ignorant followers of an “antiquated” book. They will often accuse Christians of being biased believers who only believe because they do not know any better. They assumed a lack of intelligence on the part of the Christian and claim that those who would believe in God would believe in any outlandish idea. They will often, especially on news reports, choose a toothless, yammering wacko to represent the Christian populace and present whatever twaddle that emits from the toothless mouth as representative of the whole of Christian beliefs. This happens often.
Vilifying is when stereotyping escalates to the point of grouping the whole of the Christian people under certain pejorative titles. Haven’t you heard in our modern culture that Christians are bigots? It is claimed that all Christians are homophobic, judgmental, ignorant windbags. It is touted that Christians are robbing others of their freedoms, tramping on the American way, and nullifying the shed blood of American soldiers who died to give us the freedom of licentious, godless living. Soldiers, according to this viewpoint, didn’t die to give us “freedom of religion,” but rather “freedom from God.” Christians are the worst of all possible superlative evils—they are un-American. This happens often.
Marginalizing is when a group of people is shoved to the outskirts of accepted society. If a group of people is as villainous as culture has been led to believe, of course the culture should isolate them and regard them as dangerous. They can believe what they want in their own privacy but these beliefs cannot be displayed or allowed to influence society as a whole. God cannot be brought to the public market. Prayer cannot be offered in school. Scripture cannot be referenced in public or displayed as authoritative. Standards of right and wrong cannot be based on an “antiquated” book because it is the authority of public opinion that should win in modern legal cases. As God’s people are being increasingly marginalized, Christians are shoved out of influential roles in secondary education and service positions. A quick search of news reports from the past several years will prove that this happens often. The goal of marginalization is to quiet Christians and their belief system.
Criminalizing is the next step towards open persecution. Society has often sought to eliminate the freedoms of Christians. Christians are forced to support abortions and other pro-choice procedures through modern health care laws. Christian business owners are forced by law to give services in support of homosexual marriage. Christian adoption agencies are sued for not providing infants for homosexuals couples to adopt. Christian private schools and colleges are losing federal (and corporate) funding and support because they will not violate their standards and allow activities on their campuses contrary to the very religion on which they are based. While denying financial support for Christian organizations, the government uses the financial support of Christians in the form of taxes to provide support for many anti-Christian organization, like Planned Parenthood. Recently, a student named Jennifer Keeton, attending Augusta State University was expelled from her graduate program for having religious views opposed to “same-sex” relationships and told that she would have to undergo a remediation plan, including tolerance training, attendance at gay pride parades, and other acceptance-based studies. All of these have come as a result of litigation, which result on Christians being treated as criminals for the mere desire to stand by their belief system. This is happening more and more often.
The final stage, which we are getting close to, is open persecution. Is this possible, even in our own country? Brothers and sisters, the only country in which Christians will be exempt from persecution is the country for which we expectantly yearn. “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3.20). We are a part of another world, and therefore this world does not accept us. Jesus warned us that this world would hate His followers because this world hated Him first (John 15.18). The reality is that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3.12). This should not come as a surprise to God’s people.
This is not a cause for complaint, though. It is merely reality. “This world is not our home. We’re just a passing through.” If we see persecution as the Bible teaches it, it gives us cause for rejoicing and laughter. Consider this:
God has promised blessings on those who suffer. Not only will the persecuted be comforted, they will be blessed. They will get to share in the same sufferings the prophets from history were allowed to suffer. They will share in the sufferings of Jesus Himself. When we love Jesus, we will want to experience a small piece of what He suffered so we can better relate to His grace and gift (cf. Matthew 5.10-12; 1 Peter 4.13).
Persecution keeps us disconnected from a dying world. This world is passing away. This world is temporary at best. It is not where we, as Christians, place our hope. It is difficult to get attached to a place that doesn’t accept you or want you present. When we are persecuted and marginalized, we keep ourselves from getting entangled in a world that only brings pain and destruction (cf. 2 Timothy 2.4).
Persecution reminds us that better things are coming. Because we have heaven, sitting on our spiritual horizon, we can look forward to something to come. Our hope is eternal life, not temporary life. God promises eternal life to His children, and we who belong to Him look there for our fulfillment and belonging. Persecution reminds us of the fact that we are merely pilgrims and sojouners (cf. 1 Peter 2.11-12; Titus 1.2). May we all repeat the words of John, spoken at the end of our “antiquated” book, “Lord, come quickly!”