I've been attending City Council meetings recently. At my first meeting, it surprised me when they began with a lengthy, detailed prayer. Not just any prayer, but one that ended with the words, "In Jesus name, Amen." As I looked around the Council chambers wide-eyed with disbelief, I saw that almost everyone had their head bowed and eyes closed, murmuring or nodding along.
As a Christian, I have no problem with prayer, and definitely no problem with Jesus' name. But as someone who's studied both religion and government, I was concerned. Many wise leaders, both secular and religious, have pointed out how dangerous it can be to mix the power of government, with the force of religion. Even a religion like Christianity, led by a man who was firm in His apathy toward the government.
Though many expected him to overthrow the government and become the rightful King, Jesus instructed His followers that they should not concern themselves with "this world." He told them His kingdom was in "another place." Instead of taking the seat they thought belonged to Him, He did the opposite. He let Pilate turn him over to the religious rulers of the day who ultimately executed him.
It's understandable why the Jews who followed Jesus wanted him to takeover the Roman government. They'd been persecuted, enslaved, exiled and killed because of their religion and culture. From Pharaoh's killing of the first borns to the mistreatment by the Roman government of Jesus day, all that His followers had known was hatred and intolerance. Yet still, Jesus reminded these early Christian converts that the government wasn't His or their concern. What He told them to focus on instead was loving the Lord, and their neighbors. To focus on the eternal, not the fleeting life they were living.
More than 2,000 years later, some Christians seem to have completely forgotten this essential teaching of Jesus. Even worse, they seem to have forgotten what it really means to be persecuted.
Beatings, stonings, imprisonment, these were some of the "lighter" things early Christians faced because they refused to deny their faith. Death by wild animal attack, while listening to cheers in a packed coliseum, was one of the worst. In some places in the world today -- like Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, North Korea or Saudia Arabia -- Christians can still be imprisoned or killed because of their beliefs.
What is important to note is what these Christians were, or are, being persecuted for -- their faith and belief in Jesus Christ, and Christ alone.
Understanding that, it is reprehensible how many American Christians have recently claimed that they too are being "persecuted." Not for proclaiming a faith in Jesus Christ, but for supporting causes and issues that Jesus never said a word on. Specifically, some Christians are claiming that their religious freedom is being infringed, and they're facing persecution, because they aren't able to vocally support oppression toward homosexuals without facing opposition.
Not opposition from the government -- no one is threatening to remove the tax exemption of every church who urges it's congregation to vote against gay marriage -- but opposition from "the world." The same world that Jesus said Christians were not be focused on, since they were not a part of it.
These are the same Christians who, led by Mike Huckabee, flocked in droves to Chick-fil-A a couple weeks ago to "support" a man they claimed was being persecuted for using his first amendment right to free speech. It's important to note that Dan Cathy didn't use this right to speak only about his faith in Christ, or his reasons for closing his business on Sundays, but to warn people what would happen if we didn't stand up for "biblical marriage." The words that inspired thousands of Christians to get out and do something weren't words about Christ at all, they were words meant to oppress a group of people long discriminated against by Christians. But the ones claiming persecution the loudest weren't the LGBT people Cathy had spoken against, but the Christians who were doing the oppression.
That shows just how much is wrong with Christianity today.
Christians have gone from a group of believers willing to die for a man that preached loving your enemies, to people who are known more for who they are against, than who they love. Yet if anyone points that out, instead of humbly asking forgiveness, they cross their arms across their chests, plug their fingers in their ears and claim persecution. Ignoring the fact that when 75 percent of all Americans call themselves Christians, and city council meetings start with prayers in Jesus' name, to claim persecution is to lie boldly, without shame.
We've transformed from a group of radical lovers, to a bunch of whiners who bully around other people, then claim they were the ones who started it first.
Even though we live in a country where a church is on almost every block, and government officials are sworn in on Bibles, some Christians still claim they're not being treated fairly. Perhaps that is because they're far too focused on how their being treated, then how they're treating others.
Until Christians endure the same threats, mocking and ostracization that their LGBT brothers and sisters face every day, they can't claim they're being persecuted. Especially since those threats, the mocking and the ostracizing that LGBT people face almost always comes from Christians themselves.