Blessed are persecuted for righteousness sake

An amazing percentage of the government-sanctioned violence in the world today has a religious element to it. Tribal, racial, and political animosities are intensified by the religious differences that often accompany these cultural ones.

The persecuted don?t fit any easy profile. The persecution in the Darfur region of Sudan is of Muslims by Muslims. Sub-Saharan Africans are being wiped out by Arab Africans. It?s racial. Formerly, the Sudanese government concentrated on wiping out Christian and animist tribes. In Kazakhstan, the persecution focuses on ?foreign? sects (not Orthodox or Muslim) like Baptists because they are associated with Western nations. In China, North Korea, and Vietnam we see persecution of all religious people by atheist governments.

In Iraq, persecution is not currently government sanctioned but it occurs and focuses on Christians?recent bombings there hit five Catholic churches of various types. Our murdered Southern Baptist workers in Iraq were likely killed because they were unarmed Americans. Our murdered hospital workers in Yemen died because they were Christians. What is our interest here? As a knee jerk, you might say anyplace where people are mistreated we have an interest. That?s a little broad in reality. Majorities treating minorities badly is nearly universal?beyond our grasp. Some kinds of mistreatment are more basic and threatening than others, though.

The desire to control the conscience of another has implications beyond the practice of any particular religion. Thus, several reasons make religious persecution a matter of concern for Christian Americans.

First, we are moved by mercy. Even if we do not admire the beliefs of a religion, efforts to destroy a belief by violence are universally evil. In fact you cannot destroy a belief by force, you can only kill or intimidate its adherents?people. That should move us to compassion. Religious freedom (and responsibility) is given by God and is no less basic to our humanity than are food and water. It transcends culture, type of government, race, and epoch.

We also have a degree of self-interest in religious freedom. Baptists were born from persecution. As a minority Christian sect in Eastern Europe and South America, we have seen attempts to abridge our freedom during this generation. Baptists are late in a long, episodic stream of persecuted reformers. The drama of earlier times is replayed in Eastern Europe and South America when liturgical Christianity treats Baptist beliefs as heretical and cultic. In some places we face the same persecution as our forefathers.

As a more pedestrian concern, peace and security are enhanced by religious freedom. Richard Land notes a link between global security and religious freedom.

?Representative governments that respond to the needs of their people, governments that protect everyone?s right to practice their faith as they wish to practice it, are not societies that are active breeding grounds for terrorists. To the degree that societies suppress such impulses, they breed terrorism,? he claimed during a June speech at Rice University. If we are interested in peace and freedom for anyone, religious freedom is foundational.

Because religious persecution is hard to maintain without at least tacit government support, we should be interested in how such repressive states will get along with their neighbors. It is not just the repressed people who might endanger the security of other nations by terrorist acts aimed at their own government and its allies. The offending government may also threaten the peace of other nations. Rarely will an oppressive nation to be content to upset the well-being of its own residents. A tyrant is a tyrant in more than one context.

In those nations that adopt an official state religion, the problem is compounded. A nuanced persecution of sects, heretics and backsliders multiplies the victims. Not all religious states are evil but most are in their treatment of religious minorities.

We should also be interested in religious freedom for other nations because our nation has influence. America can help and we should. We can encourage persecuted peoples by standing for freedom. We can withhold support from tyrannical governments. We encourage international bodies toward greater courage in the face of evil. Our nation has so many kinds of strength that other nations count on. We rule our nation. America should not lend its strength to those who will use it to oppress the innocent.

Some have suggested that religion itself, or at least a serious practice of religion, is the problem. This antireligious view ignores the universality of faith. Everyone asks ultimate questions about life and purpose. Some create a god to answer these questions and some worship creation itself. Even secular materialism is a faith. It shows itself so when the state seeks to stifle those who answer eternal questions another way.

If you accept my contention that this is our business, what should we do?

I begin with prayer. It helps that I have met some who continue to live in danger and persecution. These are real, individual brothers in Christ that I pray for as if they were in my Sunday School class. They are involved in spiritual warfare with a demonic religion. I have no doubt that some men and women I have taught and eaten with and prayed with are now dead for practicing their faith. That?s hard to take lightly.

We can also keep this matter before our leaders. Various alliances we make as a nation will affect the freedom of others. Our lawmakers may not be attuned to these implications and we can help them in this way. When our nation provides aid that empowers the evil, we should speak up for the sake of mercy at least. If America conducts her affairs mindless of the oppressed, it?s because God?s people here have been mindless themselves.

The information you need is easy to find. Look at the international pages of your newspaper. Go to the website of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Read Baptist Press and the TEXAN. If you want to see more, use your Internet search engine to find articles on religious persecution. You?ll get more information than you have time to read. It?s there for anyone who wants to know. A final thought: Seek God?s perspective on this even as you do for your own walk. Physical death, even physical mistreatment is not ultimate for Christians. We should pray for more than life and safety when we think of persecution.

One man I often remember was arrested and beaten for days when he was 25 years old because he taught Christianity. We met him during a visit to one of the worst countries on Earth. His prayer request to us was for courage and faithfulness, not protection. He couldn?t imagine safety in this life apart from compromise. I can. I often wonder if that is a blessing or a temptation, or a delusion.

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