How Do You Know You’re Persecuted or Just a Terrible Person?

illuminirk asked a question:

how do you differentiate when you’re being persecuted for christ and being slammed for… for lack of a better word, for being a shitty person? for instance, i see a lot of american christians claiming persecution when really people are mad that they’re racist or homophobic or etc. how do you navigate that? how do you know?

Perhaps the simplest way is this:

Look around. Do you live in the West? You’re probably free to express your faith. So most likely you’re not being persecuted, but you’ve picked the wrong battle.

Look around. Do you live in the East? You’re probably not free to express your faith. So most likely you’re being persecuted, because you’re in the battle at all.

The thing is, early first century Christians were being persecuted simply for existing. Their faith was not primarily about self-improvement (though that’s in there), but about enduring the suffering of a cruel world. They didn’t have much room for political rallies or fighting for moral issues. They were in survival mode. They saw Christianity as the good news of a God who walked with them, rather than some kind of behavioral improvement tool. So while they did care about self-improvement, their first priority was merely survival.

Many Christians in the West today don’t experience the same kind of cultural suffering. They’re not in survival mode, so they’re focused more on self-improvement. I include me in this. It’s not a bad thing. I actually have space to think about how to better my own life and live like Christ. So sometimes Christians have too much idle time and pick the wrong fights in a free society. 

And really, when you have the chance to self-improve, it’s easier instead to stand up for some policy outside yourself. It’s a way to offload responsibility for your own actions: by trying to change laws or take the “moral high ground,” you then don’t have to look at changing yourself. Christians find it hard to follow Scripture, so they pick a path of lesser resistance (I include me here, too). It’s easier for Christians to shout really loudly in a free society than actually change their own self-destructive habits and live a useful, meaningful life.

I don’t mean that a person who experiences physical pain for their faith is necessarily a “real Christian.” Sometimes that’s just self-imposed martyrdom, and that’s selfish too. I mean that real persecution is about a cultural baseline of restricted freedom. If you’re free to express yourself, you’re not persecuted. If you express yourself and some people complain, you’re not persecuted. If you express yourself and some people call you mean names and avoid you at work, sorry, but you’re not persecuted.

Whether you identify as Christian or not: we’re all tempted to go into a persecution complex. It’s because in a free society, you can pick any slice of identity, accessorize it, and demonize the opposition by yelling “haters” and “oppressors” and “the enemy.” We easily fall into binary dichotomies because it energizes our deep instinct for in-group identification. While some of this is necessary, Westerners get easily confused about what they’re supposed to fight for, or they over-emphasize first-world priorities at the exclusion of seemingly unfixable needs.

But I think one simple thing needs to be said. We simply need self-awareness. Am I crying foul more than crying for my neighbor’s pain? Am I standing up for stuff in my basement on a blog rather than standing with people who are under injustice and violence? Maybe your weirdness is being the genuine salt and light of the earth, a true counter-cultural force for good, or maybe your weirdness is just weird, like you’re out of touch with reality because you think everything is so “secular” and “worldly.” Maybe your so-called persecution is just self-pity or blame-shifting. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism so you don’t have to see the ugliness in your own heart that you need help for. Maybe it’s for an agenda to terrorize others and elevate yourself.

If you are being persecuted, for real, I’m sorry. I am over-privileged and over-resourced and I admit that I haven’t helped you as much as I could have. I’m sorry for those of us who have so much and have helped so little. I promise, I am trying.


Photo from Unsplash

4 thoughts on “How Do You Know You’re Persecuted or Just a Terrible Person?

  1. I agree with everything you’re saying and I believe many Americans are snowflakes who try to turn every miscommunication and relational issue into persecution. I am not sure where I fit into the persecuted category measuring line, but my family and I have unjustly, unscripturally excommunicated twice from American churches when we have sought to point to the scriptures and confront sin and error. I never take on a victim mentality because I never see Paul do that and he went through much more suffering than I ever have at the hands of both brothers and unbelievers. But I honestly believe that, as the Bible says “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Everyone. Every single one of us who earnestly and honestly desires to follow Christ and applies the gospel to our lives WILL BE PERSECUTED. Maybe it won’t be prison and martyrdom like in the east. But it will be malicious and it will still hurt. Alot. I would rather radicals from the government or another religion hate me than my own brothers and sisters hate me when I speak the truth they profess to believe. No, I wouldn’t rather be physically abused or go to jail, but betrayal is among the worst of this fallen world’s evils. Maybe emotional trauma and spiritual abuse isn’t as dramatic as physical abuse or imprisonment, but I think that this is what genuine Christians are suffering everyday in the United States for their faith. Be careful not to discount it as a non issue or as petty. It really isn’t. It is part of carrying the cross and being faithful, no matter how small the Lord chooses to use us in this way. I know you don’t because I know you have experienced this as well. Blessings to you, brother.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Absolutely 100% right, Lori. I’m sorry you went through that. Thank you for bringing up this important point too. I went through similar things at least twice.

      I wonder if there’s a different term for persecution when it comes to the church. Paul talks about “wolves in sheep’s clothing” and “godless chatter” and infighting. Maybe that’s splitting hairs though. But I agree that any time we live out the Christian faith, we will to some degree be ridiculed. Peter talks about suffering for doing what is right. Jesus mentions the same sort of thing in the Beatitudes. I guess the word “persecution” can be over-used for things that it was never supposed to, so my concern is that it loses meaning, but at the same time you’re right: it shouldn’t be reserved for only the worst kind of cruelty. It does happen in smaller ways that need to be validated.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. It’s funny that the history taught about the puritans was that they were escaping religious persecution, when the fact was they were an extremist Christian terrorist group that led an incredible reign of brutality across Britain.
    So much for this fact in the face of claims of religious persecution!


  3. Well put. Not sure the westerners who continually whine about being persecuted will get it, but it helps conceptualize for me why I find them so aggravating. Strangely, it even helps me to forgive them. Hmmm. Wonder why? Eh. No matter. Thank you for the help!


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