Tag Archives: Politics

Biblical Persecution vs. American Persecution

I was initially disappointed to hear the news of Houston’s city attorney filing a subpoena for five pastors’ sermons. Houston was our home for five wonderful years. We love and miss the city. Not only that, but overall I’m a fan of Mayor Parker. I think she has been an exceptional mayor, so this news was troublesome. Based solely on the facts I’ve read online, I have tried to answer the following questions regarding the subpoena of the pastors’ sermons for myself: Is it Overreach? Yes. Is it Unconstitutional? I can only assume, though I claim to be no expert. Is it persecution? Hmmm… You know what, for the time being, let’s just say yes, this is persecution. As followers of Jesus, what’s our response? PERSECUTION 101 I’ve seen Christians on Facebook and Twitter quote from the United States Constitution, the Texas Bill of Rights, and even from America’s founding fathers. What I’ve yet to see is anyone cite the New Testament and its teaching on what we do when faced with persecution. Granted, I’m currently sensitive to this topic and at least one passage is fresh on my mind because I taught about it last Sunday in my series on Hebrews. The passage is from Hebrews chapter 10. In an effort to encourage his church to hold firm in their faith, the Preacher reminds them about “the good old days” and suggests they get back to how things used to be. He says:

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

It’s difficult to teach from a passage like that one – one that reminded the Church of how wonderful it was to be truly persecuted – and then read this week’s comments from those who are aghast at a constitutional infraction. The way American Christians respond to suffering, persecution, and injustice is not consistent with the teachings of scripture. In fact, we’ve got it completely inverted. We have become notorious for looking away from racial, gender, and systemic injustices in society while vehemently defending perceived injustice against us. In scripture, God’s people are told to uphold justice and fight for the oppressed, yet are never told that we are the oppressed. Even in the Hebrew scriptures when the Israelites were captives and slaves, they were never told to see themselves as the victim. When they cried out, their cries were to God, not to Pharaoh, not to Nebuchadnezzar, not to Pilate. They believed God when he said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay.” The people were bound by simple commands, even in the face of persecution and slavery: love God and love your neighbor. Seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. The same was true for the early Church in the New Testament: suffering and oppression and even death were part of the job. They were to be expected. We are never the victims. We are never the oppressed. We are “aliens and strangers” whose citizenship is in heaven. Author and theologian Simon Chan wrote in his book Spiritual Theology:

The cure for worldliness is seeing the world for what it really is: passing away.

Why should we fear those who can only kill the body when we follow the One who can heal the soul? What does it matter if we work much harder, go to prison more frequently, get flogged more severely, and are exposed to death again and again when the power of him who raised Christ from the dead lives also in us? The world and its desire pass away, and if God is for us, then who on earth could be against us? JESUS TAUGHT US HOW TO SUFFER More than anything else, don’t we follow a Savior who walked willingly to the cross, who showed us the way of love as the Suffering Servant, who humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, whose humble posture even won over a hardened Roman soldier who just hours before was flogging him and driving nails through his wrists and feet? We don’t win over the world through power, bombs, money, votes, litigation, or angry Facebook posts. We win over the world by humbly submitting ourselves as servants, even to the point of death. We win over a world that’s given up on us by being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. That’s the way Jesus carved out for us to follow. There are people suffering oppression – real oppression – around the world. There are Christians in the Middle East praying against all odds that ISIS won’t make it to their town, that a masked terrorist won’t knock on their door, that their children won’t be executed in the streets and their wives sold as sex slaves. There are followers of Jesus in Egypt still facing loss of their homes and even death. May we be mindful of them and their suffering, pray with them for peace, and take action when we’re able. And may we not belittle their suffering with cries of injustice in our country of wealth, safety, and comfort. ARE WE THE OPPRESSED OR THE OPPRESSORS? We must also acknowledge the suffering and oppression the Church inflicts and has inflicted on others. Gay teenagers make up one of the largest populations of homeless people in America. Some of them are homeless because they come from Christian homes and their parents refuse to live with a gay child. Historically, the Church has been guilty of excluding, ignoring, or even condemning those who: are divorced, are mixed-race couples, vote for the “wrong” candidate, cannot or do not dress appropriately, cannot or do not show personal responsibility, have been incarcerated, prostitute themselves, dance, drink alcohol, smoke, struggle with addiction, believe in evolution, have had an abortion, are mentally or physically disabled, suffer from depression, etc. etc. etc. May we repent of our own oppression forced upon others. May we repent of the injustices to which we daily turn a blind eye. May we recall those who have suffered before us and joyfully take our place in a long line of sufferers. If this is truly the beginning of the “Liberal-Gay-Media-Muslim-Obama-Democrat” take-down of the American Church as we know it (and I don’t believe it is), may we welcome the suffering and persecution with joy, just as the apostles did in Acts, just as Christians have done for centuries, and just as Jesus himself did when with the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame.     SINCE FINISHING THIS BLOG, I’VE COME ACROSS UPDATED INFORMATION. AS I STATED ABOVE, I THINK IT’S IMPORTANT FOR US AS FOLLOWERS OF JESUS TO SET A PRECEDENT FOR BEING QUICK TO LISTEN, SLOW TO SPEAK, AND SLOW TO BECOME ANGRY. IT’S ALSO HELPFUL TO DO OUR RESEARCH. Here’s an exceptionally helpful article from Vox that details the specifics of the subpoena. The short of it is this: the subpoena’s are in regards to a suit filed by city pastors. They submitted the required number of signatures to have a ballot measure to repeal HERO (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance) that grants all people equal protection under the law. The city attorney, however, ruled the signatures were acquired illegally. So the pastors sued. The city attorney then subpoenaed, among other things, their sermons in order to find out if they explicitly told their churches what to say/do/sign in regards to the petitions, which would be illegal. The subpoena wording is now being revised to more specifically target the HERO repeal signatures, and not the HERO act itself or references to Mayor Parker.

Obligatory Political Blog

This election season I’ve mostly kept quiet about politics (which, as some of you may know, is a miracle). So this morning I thought I’d share some thoughts from a discussion we had recently at CrossWalk concerning Christians’ role in politics.

1. There are more than two ways

In my opinion, much of our division stems from the idea that there are only two ways to see one issue. For instance, a common theme on my Facebook feed has been that half the country wants to quit working and force the other half to support their lavish lifestyle. If you lean to the Right, this makes sense because your idea of government probably tells you that individual responsibility outweighs all else. So the only reason someone would vote against you is if they think individual responsibility doesn’t matter, or that it’s acceptable to mooch off the hard-working.

That’s not true.

I cannot speak for everyone, but every person I know who voted for Obama is very hard-working, believes in personal responsibility, and carries a different view of government than their Republican friends. Just because they opposed the Republican platform, it doesn’t mean they believe the opposite. Their views are independent of Republican views.

On the other end of the spectrum, it is equally destructive to say those who voted for Romney care nothing for the poor.

That’s not true, either.

If you lean to the Left, you probably believe in a big government that helps its citizens, especially the poor. I do not know everyone who voted Republican, but most Republicans that I know care about the poor and they do their part to help. Just because they opposed the Democratic platform, it doesn’t mean they believe the opposite. Their views are independent of Democrat views.

We have to stop looking at the opposition’s views through our own lens. Doing so is like wearing glasses with the wrong prescription: it won’t look right. It will only lead to name-calling and extreme, untrue labeling.

Which leads me to point 2…

2. Assume people have good intentions

It helps when we stop saying things like, “That person wants to destroy our country,” or “That politician hates women!” I don’t know any politicians personally, but I would be very surprised if these were true. I genuinely believe people want to see our country – and everyone in it – succeed, but have different ways of going about it. They are not disingenuous simply because their way is not my way. When we find ourselves in disagreement with someone, we should start with the assumption that they have the country’s best interest in mind and go from there.

Which leads me to point 3…

3. If you must talk politics, do so face-to-face.

This does a couple things:

1) Most people are much kinder in person than on the screen. You will save yourself from sounding like an angry, egotistical hag by speaking directly to people rather than online (Sadly, I say this from experience. I’ve been rather haggish in the past).

2) Speaking face-to-face allows both parties to communicate more effectively without irrelevant words being twisted or taken to extremes. Typically when engaged in online debate, both sides scrutinize their opponents words and latch onto the language that best opens the door for a counter-attack. Much of the time, that language wasn’t the original person’s point at all.

3) You will see your opponent as a person who is not terribly different from  yourself. (i.e. If you have strong political convictions, it’s reasonable to believe that others do as well).

Which leads me to my fourth and final point…

4. The rules don’t change just because it’s politics

Here are a few scriptures we tend to neglect during election season:

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This doesn’t disappear in the political arena. It still applies. If you want to be respected for your beliefs, show some respect. If you don’t want to be called names like “ignorant,” “stupid,” “racist,” “unpatriotic,” or “sexist,” then don’t use those words to describe anyone else. Ever.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up...” This verse doesn’t get set aside during election season. As followers of Jesus we still hold ourselves to a higher standard, especially when the whole world is watching. We have a great opportunity to be the light of Jesus during election time, and I’m afraid we squander it with our “unwholesome talk.”

“Do not consider yourself more highly than you ought, but in humility, consider others better than yourselves,” You guessed it, this isn’t a principle for non-political life; it covers politics too. We should be fully convinced of our beliefs and vote accordingly. We should also, like Jesus, allow people the freedom to choose for themselves without humiliating, name-calling, or ostracizing. We should be sympathetic to the fact that people will vote based on their convictions, especially religious convictions. To belittle someone because they didn’t vote like you is essentially saying you are right and they are wrong. But, as Paul says in Romans 14, “who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” It is arrogance.

Stop it.

So…

As Tony Campolo said in our video Sunday morning, you must earn the right to be heard. Owning a Facebook account does not give you the right to spew hate, twist words, or set your friends against your enemies. It gives you an opportunity to choose how your friends see you. Sadly many of us – myself included – haven’t always handled this properly. But we have at least three years to prepare ourselves for 2016.

We have three years to prepare ourselves to influence, to encourage, and to show love.

We have three years to earn the right to speak.

We have three years to learn to accept those who think differently without posting hate-filled garbage.

We have three years to forgive and be forgiven.

We have three years to figure out how to do it right next time.

Let’s not squander it. Let’s set the tone for next election right now, this second, with words of love and celebration of diversity.

And if you have a really snarky comment, save it.