The Romans did not get the early Christians. Thanks to Ryan Reeves\’ excellent videos, we get the picture that the Romans, through the Greeks and other influences, saw the point of religion as the currying of favor. You do this for your god and you\’ll get blessed: stuff, money, victory in battle, et al. Now what is this bizarre, new cult that glorifies martyrdom and defeat? Who won\’t even play along and bow before the god-emperor? It didn\’t jive with their worldview, and so we have periods of early Christian history in the Roman empire of great persecution, periods that we remember today and draw inspiration from. If some dude would face dismemberment for his love of the Lord, I think I can set aside some time to pray.

The idea of persecution has taken a hilarious turn, though, in contemporary America. What follows are some thoughts on that. I cite no evidence and provide no references; it\’s mostly anecdotal because, really, we all know someone who thinks this way and I don\’t have time to cut and paste a bunch of tweets in here.

Within the paradoxical perception of a culture war, \”Happy Holidays\” substituted for \”Merry Christmas\” is a persecution of the majority faith of the country. Coffee cups are the means of persecution. The secular government making moves against some people\’s interpretation of biblical morality is now a case for martyrdom. Her emails are persecution.

And yet no one, to my knowledge, in this country, is being dragged from their homes and publicly executed for faith in the Bible and Jesus Christ. The worst you\’ll get is a rude stare-down-the-nose from liberal-leaning passersby, or possibly a combative Facebook post. No one is making you die for your faith.

Or, maybe they are.

Christians who emphasize the need for the public to conform to their definitions of moral, Biblical behavior are being asked to die to that god, that god who stands ready to smite those who endorse anything contrary to his designs. Christians who stand in public to condemn people for living as they see fit to live are being asked to die to the god who does the same, who sends hurricanes to punish the sodomites. I see it as a call to increase faith and works and to decrease judgement.

The Desert Fathers and Mothers went to near comical pains to avoid judging one another. There are stories of Fathers who bore penance under false accusations to avoid shaming their brothers (who, in shame, confessed the error anyway); Fathers who held their tongues, knowing that it was God\’s job to amend the wrong-thinking of others. They took very seriously Matthew 7:5 and did their damndest to avoid hypocrisy.

Even if we disagree with the direction culture is going, even if we see ourselves as soldiers in a war that\’s being waged against \”traditional values\”, we are all called to death, plain and simple. Only in death do we find the Life required to act as Christ to those in our paths, to affect real change. When the persecutions ended, the Desert Fathers & Mothers created their own persecutions, dying to the world for Christ\’s sake by spending most of waking life \”entombed\” in their cells, tiny caves or huts containing little more than some scripture, a little bread and salt, perhaps an icon or two. Some fled ordination when the laity came to make them Priests. I think their model is one worth considering.

Certainly there are times to speak up and teach or correct with genuine love (though this is different from some folks\’ interpretation of \”speaking the truth in love\”). That time is mostly none of the time. It\’s a tricky balance, but my feeling (and I\’m always ready to be wrong) is that Christians in this part of the world are working on too grand a scale. The early church didn\’t seek to change the Empire; they pursued Christ and left the heresy-fighting to the professionals. We are now all about public speaking, rather than focusing on Prayer. We are expected to politicize what is not a political thing, instead of drilling down into the immediate relationships we have. We (at least I) neglect our neighbors for the sake of the public arena.

It\’s a tricky balance and the accusations I\’m throwing out belie the very idea of this post. Lord have mercy.

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