Tag Archives: Scripture

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.

What a Recovering Fundamentalist Learned at Subverting the Norm 2

Last weekend Ian – our worship minister – and I drove four hours north to Springfield, MO for Subverting the Norm 2, a conference about radical theology. “What is radical theology,” you ask?

I have no idea.

In fact, most presenters spent the opening six or seven minutes of their presentations explaining what they mean when they say “post-modern,” and the rest of the time explaining what radical theology means to them. This was not the premise of their speech, per se, but it was at the heart of each message.

Radical theology is primarily about making room for doubt. It begins with the assumption that God is not real and works up from there. I would say most of the people at the conference call themselves “Christian,” and most believe God exists. The question of radical theology, though, is essentially, “Can we know who or what God really is and, if so, what is God?”

The question posed by Subverting the Norm 2 was, “Can radical theology exist in churches?”

It was far different from the conferences I’m used to attending, which usually involve three things:

1. The most popular speaker/author/blogger the conference can wrangle in

2. The most popular band/worship leader the conference can wrangle in

3. T-shirt canons and various other gimmicks.

That’s not to say these conferences are shallow or fruitless; I usually end up feeling very filled and encouraged by the end. But Subverting the Norm 2 (henceforth “STN2”) was very, very different.

The primary difference for me rested in what was and was not assumed. At your typical conference (say Catalyst or Youth Specialties) every speaker, band, presenter, vendor, and sponsor operate with one common assumption: we all believe God exists.

Which, one would think, is good for a Christian conference!

What sets STN2 apart is that God’s existence – and the Bible’s accuracy and the Church’s authority, among other things – is never a given. At the heart of radical theology is room for doubt, room for really, really hard questions, and room to say things like, “Gee, what if God isn’t there? And, if he is there, what if he’s not at all like I’ve always thought?”

While this might frighten some in the non-radical theological world, it invigorates me. I believe God exists. I love scripture. And I love the Church. But there’s something freeing about stripping away the veneer of certainty on which most mainline churches build their buildings. There’s something real about unearthing the Trees of Tradition to see if the roots are actually deep and pure and binding or if, beneath the dirt, lies something else altogether.

As I explained to our Bible class Sunday morning, I’m a “Talk-About-the-Elephant-in-the-Room”-type person and preacher. When I encounter a text that challenges a traditional belief or tradition, I enjoy being confronted with its truth and challenging our church with it. So at STN2 I found an entire conference dedicated to addressing some of our biggest elephants.

The moment that defined the spirit of the conference best for me was when Namsoon Kang honestly asked at the outset of her presentation, “Why do we want to subvert the norm?”

See! Nothing is assumed. Nothing is taken for granted. Nothing is exempt from intense scrutiny.

To put it simply, STN2 forced me to be honest on a level I’ve never before experienced. Even in my undergraduate Christian education, no one ever challenged me to ask if God is actually there. Or if the way I think about God and Jesus and the Church is real or just a representation of the culture in which I learned about God, Jesus and the Church. Questions like that were written off as heretical, threatening, dangerous. However, after having experienced this sort of challenge, I am convinced that if I were a layperson in a church, I would expect my pastor(s) to be wrestling with these questions of doubt. How can a church know they are hearing Truth when some questions aren’t allowed to be asked?

I hope my doctor pauses to ask if a medication actually works before prescribing it. Sure brand name drugs bring the biggest bucks to the practice and the drug companies, but what kind of doctor prescribes something without ever having asked if it’ll cure what ails ya’?

Many pastors have never paused to ask, “Is God really there?” We are afraid to doubt. We are afraid to confront the hard truth that we might be wrong. We are afraid to disrupt the lucrative practice of selling Jesus as a brand name drug, so we continue prescribing something we’ve never examined deeply, intently, or personally.

But think of the power that comes from a pastor seeking the truth about God, Jesus, the Church, and existence as a whole. Think of MLK asking, “Is every person really created equal?” then beginning a movement from what grew out of that question. How much greater the fruit of those who take the time to dig deeper, to be honest, and to trust their doubts!