"Persecution? Really? Since I never hear about it, I thought it stopped a long time ago."
People who are living comfortably in a Western country that has laws to protect freedom of religion are often blissfully unaware of mounting persecution in the rest of the world. Virtually every religion suffers some persecution, but Christians are suffering the most. A recent study reported that 75 out of every 100 people that are killed for religious hatred are Christian. In 2010, Open Doors, a mission supporting persecuted Christians in more than 45 countries, estimated that 100 million Christians were being persecuted.
We need to be informed about this tragedy for several reasons.
In numerous countries, like Iran, Saudi Arabia and North Korea, intolerance and oppression of Christians is state policy. Many other state governments mostly ignore religious discrimination and violence against minorities, offering virtually no protection.
Ironically, the fall of a corrupt secular dictator, like President Mubarak of Egypt, is often bad news for Christians. Where Islam predominates, the overthrow of a secular dictator often allows the government to become controlled by Muslim extremists who are determined to establish Sharia law as the law of the nation. And Sharia forbids everyone from practicing any religion other than Islam!
Radical Islam isn't the only culprit—many Christians in India are suffering persecution from Hindu groups as well. Indian Christians are in a particularly bad spot because they are at risk from both radical Hindus and Muslims.
Persecution began with the founder of Christianity!
We shouldn't be surprised by ongoing persecution of Christians. It began immediately—with relentless slander and threats against the Perfect Man, Jesus Christ. Then His enemies managed to torture and kill Him in the most horrible way, by crucifixion.
Jesus warned His followers: "If the world hates you, realize that it hated me before it hated you…If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:18, 20). He added, "Yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service" (John 16:2).
In fact, there are many Bible prophecies of severe persecution of God's people in the end time.
Many forms of persecution
Persecution ranges from mild to severe. Keep in mind that when people can get away with minor forms of persecution, they often turn to more violent forms.
Even milder forms of persecution are obviously hurtful and scary: ridiculing, teasing, humiliating, ostracizing or speaking derogatorily or nastily of a Christian; schools not permitting students to write or speak about their Christian beliefs; employers discriminating against a Christian; and Christian political candidates putting up with scathing ridicule and slander.
These milder forms are increasingly prevalent in the United States, an indicator of much worse to come. We must make sure that each of us is prepared with strong faith and strong courage!
Should we be concerned for those who are suffering persecution in other nations?
It's easy to be apathetic about people in faraway places when we are extremely busy with our day-to-day activities. But there is no excuse for being selfish, self-centered and self-righteous. Jesus set the bar very high, commanding us to love everyone, even our enemies (Luke 6:27-38).
Many of these men and women are risking their lives to do what they consider to be God's work. Many end up being imprisoned, tortured and martyred for their beliefs. For all this, they deserve our deep respect.
We need to feel deep compassion and sympathy for these dedicated people—and pray for them.
Pastor Martin Neimoller, a survivor of Nazi concentration camps, said this: "First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up, because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me."
Let's be reminded of the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:29-37. The Samaritan, who had less scriptural knowledge, was the one who pleased God because he felt and showed compassion. Scriptural knowledge is wonderful, but if we want God to show us compassion when we are persecuted, we must feel and express compassion toward others who are being persecuted.
Let's remember these words of Jesus: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7).