Countercultural

Look Deeper, See Clearer, Run Harder

Is There Persecution in America?

Last month I shared hard facts about the persecution of Christians around the world. But in the back of my mind lingers a question maybe you’ve wondered at, too. If America is so Christian, where’s our persecution?

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Often we think of persecution as people being driven out of their home or ostracized by their community. These are real examples of persecution—but they’re not the only examples.

Persecution in All Shades

Recently I completed the book God’s Smuggler, a story about Brother Andrew, a missionary who smuggled Bibles behind the Iron Curtain. (It was written by the same authors who wrote the popular books The Hiding Place and The Cross and the Switchblade.)

In the book, Brother Andrew describes his experiences in different Communist countries. In one country, he may not have been allowed to preach, but he could share “greetings from the Lord.” In another country, the church leaders may talk about not having any need for outside assistance, but often what they didn’t say revealed more than what they did say.

Brother Andrew saw persecution manifest itself in many ways over his years of ministry. But even he was surprised when he crossed the Berlin Wall into East Berlin.

Below is an enlightening excerpt from the book:

“Well I’m glad you’ve come,” [the pastor] said. He stopped to cough—a deep, dry cough that wracked his whole frame. “We need all the encouragement we can find.”

“Do you need Bibles, for instance?” I asked him. “I have some German Bibles with me.”

“Oh, we have plenty of Bibles.” I had heard this before and was waiting for the slow admission that there were in fact very few Bibles. He took me into the little study, and I felt as though I could have been at the study at home. There were a dozen Bibles on the shelves. I picked one up and looked at the East German imprint.

“Let me tell you about some other freedoms,” he said. “We have seminaries here that do not turn out politicians; they turn out Christians. We have evangelical campaigns that draw thousands. We have a move within the Lutheran church that is as forceful, I would venture, as anything you can find in Holland.”

“But—you said you needed encouragement?”

Suddenly his fists clenched. I saw the knuckles go white. “We’re fighting one of the most important battles in Europe. Here in Germany, the Communists are trying out a new kind of persuasion, in my mind far more dangerous than outright persecution….

In the car he went back to his subject. “It would be we Germans who caught on first,” he said. “You can’t use strong arm tactics against the Church without strengthening it. It’s always been that way. Under persecution a man looks at his faith to see if it’s worth fighting for, and this is a scrutiny Christianity can always withstand. The real danger comes with an indirect attack, when a person is lured away from the church before he has a chance to become strong.”

“The Real Danger Comes with an Indirect Attack.”

“Wow.” The word fell out of my mouth as I listened to these words via audiobook in my car. A light had turned on, and persecution stopped being something only experienced by Christians in hostile nations.

Christianity can always withstand the scrutiny brought on by direct persecution. What it can’t stand is never getting a chance to prove its worth. “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting,” G.K. Chesterton said, “it has been found difficult and not tried.”

Let me ask you: How do we see indirect persecution manifested in America (and much of the West) today? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, but here are a few of my thoughts:

1. We see it in failure to equip young adults with a self-sustaining relationship with God before the independence of adulthood (which is ultimately a lie we’re believing about what’s most important). As a result, as many as 59% of Millennials raised in church drop out at some point (some come back; others don’t).

2. We see it when churches rely more on marketing techniques than on the Word of God to compel people to follow Christ. If you try to compete with every major brand for the attention of a generation, you will fail. The message of Christ is compelling enough to be our focus.

3. We see it in modern day half-truths, ideas that sound good but compromise God’s Word for the sake of social relevance. If you follow Jesus, know that He made it pretty clear that at some point you’ll be met with opposition.

(I share five more ways I believe we miss the countercultural life in the American church in this post.)

In the land of wealth and opportunity, why would Satan waste his time to promote direct attacks against the church when he can draw us away from God slowly, before our faith has a chance to take root?

If there was any doubt before, put it to rest.

Persecution is real here, too.

Our response to subtle persecution

So what do we do about it? What is our response to modern day, indirect attacks on Christianity in the West?

RelevantTruthFirst, recognize the attack. I hope the examples here alert you to persecution around you.

Second, strive for substance over relevance. This might sound wrong, but hear me out. Nothing is more relevant than truth. It seems to me that every time I try being relevant, I end up with a weaker message. But every time I strive to be true, I come closer to an eternally relevant nerve in others.

Third, don’t wait to get serious about God. If the devil’s tactic is to draw us away before we have a chance to experience the goodness of God, then fight him by doing everything you can to delight yourself in God now. Test Jesus. Find Him to be the Rock of Ages.

Persecution is real in America, but we don’t have to be afraid. We must be awake and alert, but never afraid.

Psalm 46:1-2
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear….

  • Zechariah Jack Putney

    I think of Brother Yun. He faced violent persecution in China, then came to America only to have his ministry publicly criticized by all sorts of ministers. His interpreter told him that persecution in America comes by words of other Christians. Yun also said, “On many occasions I have been asked if I think persecution will come to the Western church. My answer might surprise you. I believe that if you find yourself enslaved inside a controlling church structure of legalism and bondage, then you are already being persecuted! So many Christians seem impossible America comes distracted from hearing God’s voice. Instead of listening to that still, small voice that brings true peace and joy, they blindly follow the voices of mainstream religion. The worst kind of persecution for a Christian is when you are separated from the joy and presence of the Holy Spirit.”

    • Thanks for sharing this! I thought of Brother Yun as I was writing this as well. I love that response, because I think it’s so true. We’ve fallen for a lie that says persecution has to look a certain way, but in America it seems far more ideological, about the lies we believe rather than the threats we face.