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Persecution: A Complex Issue

3 months ago written by
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This is the final issue of Light + Life Magazine’s Beatitudes series, and it may also be the most complicated issue in the series. In each monthly issue, several writers have provided their perspectives about a beatitude from Matthew 5. I was filled with uncertainty and a bit of dread as I initially began planning for this month’s issue, which focuses on: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).

One reason for my concern was that some Christians — particularly in the United States — seem to suffer from a persecution complex, which Merriam-Webster defines as “the feeling of being persecuted especially without basis in reality.” I’m not saying that some U.S. Christians are not being persecuted for living out their beliefs, but the threat of persecution in the United States is mild in comparison to what followers of Jesus Christ experience in other nations. I checked the Open Doors World Watch List 2018, which tracks “the 50 countries where it is most dangerous to follow Jesus,” and the United States didn’t make the list.

On the other hand, I don’t want Light + Life to minimize the threat of persecution. This magazine isn’t just read in the United States. In addition to some print subscribers in other countries, Light + Life increasingly reaches an international audience visiting lightandlifemagazine.com and following our social media accounts. Some of these readers reside in countries on Open Doors’ list. My colleagues and I try to be sensitive to the reality that reporting on Christians in these countries may endanger them. This summer, the Pew Research Center released a report on the “global uptick in government restrictions on religion.”

Persecution doesn’t have to come from the government. Righteous actions could lead to persecution in a wide variety of circumstances. For example, what if you’re being pressured by your boss or another co-worker to provide false documentation or to mislead a client? Your colleague might even identify as a Christian, but if you refuse to comply, you might be overlooked for a promotion, demoted or maybe even fired.

Sometimes Christians persecute other Christians over relatively minor theological differences; history provides many sad examples of this. Other persecution may come specifically because a person identifies as a follower of Jesus, who added, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matthew 5:11).

This does not mean we should try to provoke people to insult or treat us badly. In the words of philosopher and theologian Jean Vanier, “When we are rebels at heart and like to shock people, we can create a fight in order to be in the limelight. We can do some of these things unconsciously, experience rejection and then think that we are being persecuted like Jesus was” (fmchr.ch/jeanv).

My trepidation about this month’s issue disappeared after I received the articles from Bishop David Kendall, who helps us understand how persecution can be a blessing; Soo Ji Alvarez, who reveals how to be a sharp Christian rather than a safe one who’s too dull to attract persecution; Ephram Wilkoff, who explains the right way to “pursue persecution”; and Erik Anderson, who connects superhero Black Panther to this beatitude. In the World section, you’ll find a “Go Global” book excerpt in which International Child Care Ministries Director Linda Adams discusses how God favors “the oaks of righteousness.”

As the Light + Life team planned for this issue, we decided to include a focus on “reconciliation of relationships” because, without compromising our righteousness, Christians should try to reconcile with people who have problems with us. If we are able to reconcile, we may prevent further insults and false accusations. After all, the preceding beatitude is: “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9). In our Action section, Martha Picinich uses Scripture and her professional expertise in industrial-organizational psychology to provide excellent advice for pursuing reconciliation.

I shared several of the articles with artist Trent Thompson, who found inspiration in them and created the illustration in the center of this issue. Thompson’s artwork echoes Alvarez’s challenge “to actually drive or walk down the streets where the prostitutes and pimps hang out and talk to them.” His illustration references the threats faced by early Christians, and it encourages us to leave our comfort zones and show God’s love to people in difficult circumstances.

When we live righteously despite the risks, we may be “persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:9).

Jeff Finley is the executive editor of Light + Life, which he joined in 2011 after working as a reporter and editor for Sun-Times Media.

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[Openers] · L + L September 2018 · Magazine