My title is “Top 50 Countries With Persecution Of Christians”. The headline in Christianity Today was “Asia Rising: The Top 50 Countries Where It’s Hardest to Follow Jesus”. The CT headline made me wonder, why didn’t they use the word “persecution”. Why did they instead write “where it’s hardest to follow Jesus”? Furthermore, did they use the word persecution anywhere in the article at all? In fact, “persecution” appeared 64 times in a series of five articles that appeared on the web page. All five of them had titles about “hardest”, “most dangerous”, or “most difficult” to be a Christian. None of them used the word “persecution”. BTW, the one article I’m focusing on contained the word “persecution” 19 times.
Nineteen times – but persecution isn’t in the title. Here’s how dictionary.com defines persecution:
- the act of persecuting.
- the state of being persecuted.
- a program or campaign to exterminate, drive away, or subjugate people based on their membership in a religious, ethnic, social, or racial group.
Sounds like a typical dictionary definition. Circular. So let’s see how persecute is defined.
- to pursue with harassing or oppressive treatment, especially because of religious or political beliefs, ethnic or racial origin, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
- to annoy or trouble persistently.
Harass. Oppress. Annoy.
“Hard to follow Jesus” or “Persecution of Christians”?
Let’s switch to a Biblical definition. This is from the Dictionary of biblical imagery.
Persecution is aggressive and injurious behavior carried out in a hostile, antagonistic spirit, normally by a group. Persecutors are known especially for their fiery zeal (Phil 3:6), a zeal that is described elsewhere as “not based on knowledge” (Rom 10:2 NIV). Persecution itself is a terror, more or less inevitable in the biblical world, especially the NT.
Even this first paragraph paints a different picture that the dictionary.com definition. Now, we read hostile, antagonistic and terror. But it gets worse.
Persecution and its attendant spirit of animosity are set against the backdrop of the Bible’s dramatic portrayal of Satan’s great enmity against God and his people. It is concretely expressed in the antagonism of the wicked (described as the children of the devil, Jn 8:44) toward the righteous (the children of God, Rev 12:17). It is thus no surprise that the image of persecution is so pervasive in the Bible, for it falls upon God’s people by virtue of their relationship to him (Jn 15:18–21). This sense of solidarity and union with Christ and his people is movingly described in Acts 9:4, where the risen Jesus asks Saul, persecutor of followers of the Way, “Why do you persecute me?” In fact, persecution serves as a sign of the authenticity of one’s relationship to Jesus (Mt 5:10, 12; Phil 1:29) and one’s response as a veritable litmus test to determine that authenticity (Mt 13:20–21). Disciples can count on persecution. Those who respond in faith will be counted as righteous; however, “many will turn away from the faith” (see Mt 24:9–11 NIV).
Now, we see the reason for the hostile and antagonistic acts. None other than Satan.
In light of the above, persecution in the Bible is primarily of a religious nature (although ethnic persecution occurs, as in Esther). In this spiritual context it assumes a number of different forms: physical (beatings, Is 50:6; stonings, Acts 14:19), verbal (mocking, Lk 23:11; insults, Ps 69:9; slander, Rev 2:9), social (excommunication or ostracism, Jn 9:22) or mental (intimidation, Lk 13:31; threats, Acts 4:21, 29). Persecution also involves or can lead to imprisonment (Mk 6:17), banishment (Rev 1:9; see Outcast), even death (2 Chron 24:21; Rev 2:10). <fn>Ryken, L., Wilhoit, J., Longman, T., Duriez, C., Penney, D., & Reid, D. G. (2000). In Dictionary of biblical imagery (electronic ed., pp. 635–636). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
And finally, we see the kinds of things that are done. Physical beatings, prison, banishment, and even stoning /death.
And so, from a Biblical definition, persecution is a far cry from “being hard” to follow Jesus.
Truth is, it can be really hard to follow Jesus – and I mean really follow Jesus – even in the U.S., Europe and other places where death isn’t usually the means of persecution. It does happen, to be sure, even here in the U.S – but not like in some places in the world. But it does happen, Most of the time here though, it’s about culture, indifference, being too busy, or various other reasons. Normally, fear isn’t one of them.
That’s why I question the use of the phrase “hard to follow Jesus” – rather than the much stronger word “persecution”. In countries like the U.S. – it’s not necessarily easy. But even though persecution does happen, it’s not the norm.
In any case, after reading the article, persecution really should be the operative word.
There were a number of surprises in the list. At least to me. Also surprising was that the United States wasn’t on the list. Even with the Biblical meaning of the word persecution – with the ultimate being death – it seems like we should be there.
Apparently this list of church shootings isn’t enough? It’s from factsandtrends.net – dated May 21, 2018.
- 1999 Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas
- 2001 Greater Oak Missionary Baptist Church in Hopkinsville, Kentucky
- 2002 Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in Lynbrook, New York
- 2003 Turner Monumental AME Church in Kirkwood, Georgia
- 2005 Living Church of God in Brookfield, Wisconsin
- 2005 World Changers Church in College Park, Georgia
- 2006 Zion Hope Missionary Baptist in Detroit, Michigan
- 2006 Ministry of Jesus Christ Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
- 2007 First Presbyterian Church in Moscow, Idaho
- 2007 First Congregational Church in Neosho, Missouri
- 2007 New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado
- 2008 First Baptist Church in Maryville, Illinois
- 2009 Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas
- 2012 World Changers Church in College Park, Georgia
- 2015 Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina
- 2017 Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee
- 2017 First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas
- 2017 St. Alphonsus Church in Fresno, Texas
Since April 20, 1999, there have been 18 fatal church shootings. The deadliest was the 2017 shooting at First Baptist Sutherland Springs in Texas, with 26 deaths including an unborn child.
So we, the U.S., aren’t there. Even though I wrote earlier that persecution isn’t the norm, I also pointed out that it does happen. And I do wonder why we’re not on the list at all.
I’ll probably look up more on why not. The annual Open Doors map that you’ll see later in this series normally doesn’t even include the U.S. In fact, North and South America aren’t usually even shown. It’s only because Mexico and Colombia made the list that these two continents are on the map for 2019. Mexico, surprising (to me), even showed up in the “very high” range.
As such, they’ll be the first country examined. The write-up is nearly complete and should be published a couple days from this writing – January 22, 2019.
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