Persecution Upside Down
Questions about the morality and acceptability of homosexual, transgender, bisexual and lesbian life-styles is causing divisions within church institutions and amongst people who identify with Christianity. This much is obvious. What intrigues me is those who engage in and champion the cause of legitimizing and “Christianizing” these behaviors think of themselves as being ‘persecuted’ by those who believe these behaviors are immoral, unbiblical, and worthy of God’s wrath. This sort of thing has happened before. The Jews persecuted the early Christians and then, later on, Christians persecuted the Jews. The Roman state persecuted the Christians and later Christians persecuted people involved in what were once the official Roman ‘state’ religions. Then Christians persecuted other Christians for deviating from the ‘official’ doctrines promulgated by those in ecclesiastical power. Other examples are plentiful throughout history.
The point is this: the only real justification for crying ‘persecution’ amongst those calling themselves ‘Christians’ is if and only if Jesus Himself is the reason for the persecution. Being persecuted for being His disciple, believing Him to be the Incarnate Word, believing He is the One and only Savior against all other ‘pretenders’, believing that everything He said is true, and proclaiming these truths openly are examples of appropriate ‘reasons’.
Consider these verses from Matthew’s gospel:
10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.
12 “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
And these from John:
20 “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.
21 “But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.
22 “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.
23 “He who hates Me hates My Father also.
24 “If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well.
Now, these words from both Matthew and John show a correlation, what we might call a dialectical relationship, between Jesus and His disciples regarding His person and the truth He embodied and proclaimed. In these verses, the correlation is persecution; i.e. because His Sonship and the words He spoke from the Father provoked persecution against Him, so shall it be amongst His followers. Furthermore, this correlation is stated in such a way that persecution because of Him should be expected; just saying His Name with praise and reverence is enough to provoke violence against his people in some parts of the world today and, I might add, with ever increasing frequency.
The verses from Matthew’s record Jesus saying that all who are “persecuted for the sake of righteousness” are blessed. This means, among other things, that being persecuted for any other reasons than Jesus Himself, His Words or the righteousness He proclaimed and demanded isn’t really persecution at all. So, those living in sin, overtly practicing sin and demanding to be accepted while doing so, encouraging others to do the same, and demanding they not be criticized or censored because this constitutes ‘persecution’(along with its close cousin ‘intolerance’) is clearly a condition of unrighteousness.
Now some will say “But we are being persecuted this way because Jesus loves us and accepts us as we are, deviant lifestyles and all.” “Besides”, others say, “we are in love and expressing our love sexually, what can be wrong with that?” This is an appeal to a “lovey dovey Jesus”, a unbiblical Jesus who because of this so-called love is portrayed as having never spoken of moral obligation, sin, ‘holiness’, righteousness, judgment and obedience to God. It is sloppy agape writ large and anyone who dares question such a Jesus is obviously unloving, judgmental, and simply not in touch with 21st century theological progressivism, social and political correctness, and that much ballyhooed word ‘tolerant’.
Here’s the hard part: “speaking the truth in love…” As much as we might despise the promiscuity all around and the flagrant displays of idolatry in our culture, we are called to love those trapped by their own evil practices. Speaking the truth carries within its own structure the judgment of God; we don’t need to add anything.
The fact is that whenever sin is brought into the light of God’s truth four general responses are evoked: denial, hostility, indifference or repentance. Denouncing sin, resisting it, and remaining steadfast against those who encourage it is not persecution but faithful, uncompromised proclamation; i.e. “speaking the truth”. On the other hand, when anger and harm are leveled against those doing the proclaiming, that is persecution. The difference is clear. All true prophets in the Old Testament regarded the will and word of Yahweh above all else and, as Jesus points out, many paid for their commitment with their lives. It was the false prophet who culled favor with the wayward by speaking smooth words and assuring them that God was not angry with their conduct. And, more often than not, it was the false prophet that led the persecution against God’s truly appointed representatives.