FLINT—Christians should anticipate persecution inside and outside the United States, agreed all members of a panel on the topic held Tuesday during the morning session of the SBTC annual meeting at Flint Baptist Church.
Nathan Loudin, pastor of Austin’s Milwood Baptist Church and Texas Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee chair, moderated the panel which included Keisha Russell, an attorney with the First Liberty Institute; Bob Fu, Tiananmen Square survivor and founder of ChinaAid; Juan Sanchez, pastor of Austin’s High Pointe Baptist Church; and Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church Farmersville.
What the Bible says
Asked to provide a biblical perspective on persecution, Fu described Christian persecution as “an organized, deliberate act of harassing, oppressing or even killing … followers of Christ because of their godly lives in Christ and faithfulness to Christ.” Persecution can range from passive to active, Fu noted. He discussed the increasing persecution of believers in China, calling it the “worst in 40 years,” a “second Cultural Revolution” not seen since the first during Mao Zedong’s rule.
Fu offered examples of modern persecution in China: Chinese children forced to sign forms renouncing their faith; pastors imprisoned, churches destroyed and crosses burned.
Sanchez said Christians “are called to suffering” yet “drawn to comfort.” He praised Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and state legislators who support religious freedom. Nonetheless, Sanchez said, pastors must “equip our people with the mindset” to prepare for persecution.
“We see ourselves as Israel in Jerusalem,” Sanchez said. “We are more like Israel in Babylon.”
Russell, likewise, complimented Texas for its stance on religious liberty yet cautioned pastors and churches that their ministries and social services—thrift stores, daycares—are vulnerable to attack. She noted as a positive example the recent Supreme Court case of Fulton v. Philadelphia, where SCOTUS ruled in favor of Catholic Social Services when the city of Philadelphia announced it would no longer contract with CSS because it did not place children with same sex couples, in apparent violation of Health and Human Services regulations.
Russell warned about the “direct targeting” of Christian groups by opponents, adding that “legally things really are hopeful. We do win a lot of these cases.” However, popular opinion is less certain. “We don’t win in terms of the popular option in the media,” Russell said, citing smear campaigns, demonization of Christians by the media and cancel culture. “Take your voice,” Russell urged. “There is nothing more powerful than when the Word of God comes out of our mouths.”
She also described the targeting of Christian groups by agencies such as the IRS, which recently attempted to remove the tax-exempt status of Christians Engaged, an organization promoting civic and voter involvement. The IRS letter informed the group that its biblical platform was aligned with the Republican Party.
“We’ve got to be firm and willing to stand up for ourselves or these things will happen,” Russell said.
Leading into persecution
“Do churches in small towns escape persecution?” Loudin asked Barber.
“I don’t think there’s anywhere you can go where you are isolated from cultural trends,” Barber replied, noting social media and the internet. “We don’t want to be isolated. We want to be connected to the world.”
Barber discussed incidents of persecution he and church members had experienced on mission trips, including the hostile reaction of a refined older woman in Montreal who resented the idea of Christians coming to assist after a flood.
Barber recalled baptizing a young woman in a river in Senegal as a crowd of young men shouted jeers from a nearby bridge, calling her a “fool” and reminding her that she would be staying in Senegal after the missionaries had departed.
The truth is, Barber said, that when we lead people to Christ, we also lead them into persecution. “If your church gives a dime to the Cooperative Program … you are leading people into persecution.” Enduring persecution is part of the Christian walk, and churches must be ready to “stand up [for] and stand behind” new believers.
Recommendations for pastors
When asked by Loudin about recommendations for pastors and churches, Russell urged them to be sure the church’s governing documents and articles of incorporation are in order and that employees sign the statement of faith.
Clarity in terms of beliefs and practices is important. “The law protects the devout, not the wishy-washy,” she said, adding that Firstliberty.org offers examples of governing documents, statements of faith and scripture references. “Everything has to be clear about what you believe and who you are,” she said.
“Membership in the local church matters,” Sanchez added, noting that people sometimes join churches to raise issues. He stressed the importance of vetting new members and having them sign the church covenant and statement of faith.
“Loose membership has turned into serious litigation problems for local churches,” Loudin added, directing the audience to two articles in the Persecution Journal.
How to respond
Fu, who was arrested in 1996 because of his involvement in a house church in China, affirmed the place of forgiveness: “Persecution is not a choice. Persecution is not an exception. It is the norm” according to what the Scripture tells us from Paul to Peter.
Parts of American society have already entered into the active persecution of Christians, Fu said. The “most powerful weapon of resistance is the love of Christ, the forgiveness of Christ,” he added, giving the example of a Chinese Christian school leader sentenced to seven years in prison yet writing poems of praise to God while incarcerated.
“When Jesus was reviled, he did not revile. He entrusted himself to the God who loves justly,” Sanchez reminded all, quoting 1 Peter 2:11-12.
“Smile at your persecutors in the name of Jesus. Have healthy ecclesiology …. Go on mission trips and learn how the international church interacts with persecution,” Barber added, ending with a semi-serious admonition to “have Keisha’s [Russell] number in your Rolodex.”