When I was a pastor, a man came into my office one day on the verge of tears and said, “Pastor, I don’t think I can take it anymore.”
“Take what anymore?” I asked.
“The persecution,” he said. “Everybody at work hates me because I am a Christian, and I am trying to do my best to preach the Gospel and stand up for Jesus, but now it has gotten so bad that nobody wants to work with me and even my boss is threatening to fire me.”
I was alarmed to hear such a thing, for we live in a country where religious discrimination is illegal. But something about the situation didn’t seem quite right, and I knew a little bit about this man, so I decided to dig a little deeper.
It turned out that he would show up at work in the morning, and spend the first 30-40 minutes at work sitting at his desk, reading his Bible and praying. Then, everywhere he went all day, he would sing Gospel songs and quote verses to co-workers. Furthermore, whenever he saw a co-worker “fudging” a little bit on their work, he felt it was his responsibility to report that person to the office manager, and when the office manager refused to do anything about it, he reported the office manager as well.
All of this, of course, was done in the name of “ethics, truth, honesty, integrity, and being salt and light.”
And the more this man got shunned and bad-mouthed by his co-workers, the more convinced he became that he was being persecuted at work, which was further proof to him that he was doing the right thing. He quoted John 15:18 to me, saying that since he was following Jesus, it was to be expected that the world would hate him also.
Near the end of our conversation, I tried to gently tell the man that he was probably not getting “persecuted for being a Christian” but was probably getting reprimanded for being a bad employee. There are different ways of living for Jesus than taking time on the company payroll to read the Bible and pray, and then annoy all the coworkers by singing Gospel songs and quoting Scripture verses at them all day.
It might have been the way I made the suggestion, or maybe I didn’t listen to him enough, but he got very upset and accused me of trying to silence his witness at work, and said that I was not much of a pastor if I couldn’t see that he was getting persecuted for his faith. He stormed out of the office and I heard the next Sunday that he had called several people in the church to complain about my lack of spiritual leadership and how he was not sure I was fit to be a pastor.
I thought it somewhat ironic that when people at his job threatened his employment, it was “persecution” and “proof” that he was doing the right thing, but he felt no qualms whatsoever for trying to cause me to lose my job.
Since that time, I have continued to see similar behaviors and activities crop up in the lives of some Christians. They act rudely at work, irresponsibly in their neighborhood, arrogantly with their family, and when people react negatively to their behavior, the Christian chalks it up to “persecution.”
So with that in mind, here are three things that do not qualify as persecution.
1. It is not persecution when people disagree with your interpretation of Scripture.
Look, we all read the Bible differently. This clearly means that some of us are right and some of us are wrong. But if we condemn those who disagree with us as “heretics,” or if we smugly think that their disagreement with us is “persecution for our faith” which therefore proves our view is correct, we will never grow in unity with one another, and we will never learn to see our own doctrinal and theological missteps.
When people disagree, it is not because they haven’t studied Scripture, or are heretics, reprobates, and tools of Satan. They just see things differently. So you can either listen to them and try to understand their perspective, or not. But whichever route you choose, don’t see their disagreement as some twisted way of proving your view is correct. That’s just foolishness.
2. It is not persecution when your boss and coworkers ask you to “Tone it down” a bit.
By far the best way to be salt and light at work is not by quoting Bible verses, singing Gospel songs, pointing out other people’s sins, and reading your Bible when you should be working. If you get disciplined for not doing your job because you were doing something “Christian,” that is not persecution, that is getting disciplined for being a bad employee.
As followers of Jesus, we do not point people to Jesus by being lazy and annoying, or by reading our Bible when the company is paying us to work. No, we point people to Jesus by being honest, hard-working, reliable, dependable, joyful, and the best employee the company has.
3. It is not persecution when family, friends, neighbors, or strangers are rude.
I hear this one all the time from Christians. When you are driving to work and someone cuts you off, it is not because you have a Jesus bumper sticker on your car and are getting persecuted for it. No, maybe you were driving too slow, or maybe the other person was just in a hurry, or maybe they are an aggressive driver. But don’t immediately jump to conclusions thinking that you are getting persecuted.
The same goes for when the waiter at the restaurant messes up your ticket. It is not because you prayed over your meal. They are not persecuting you; they probably just made a mistake. Heck, maybe you were a rude customer! (I served tables for a while, and in my experience, the worst tables to have were always the ones that prayed over their meals.)
When the stranger in the supermarket uses curse words around you, this is not some form of Satanically-inspired persecution to ruin your day. That person probably just has a foul mouth. Shrug your shoulders and move on.
If your car doesn’t start on Sunday morning when you are late for church, it is not because you have a car-demon that needs to get exorcised. No, you left the lights on the night before, or you haven’t been keeping up with car maintenance, or the car is just plain old. It is not some grand cosmic scheme to keep you from going to church.
The point is that sometimes we Christians are way too eager to pull out “the persecution card” when life doesn’t go our way, when we don’t get what we want, or when people don’t treat us the way we think they should.
Sometimes, the bad things that happen are natural consequences of our own bad behavior, but other times, the bad things that happen are just life. But whatever the case, we shouldn’t take smug satisfaction that these things are some some sort of perverted proof that we are living right for God.
What is persecution?
Persecution is what is happening to Christians in China, Africa, and the Middle-East.
Simply for reading the Bible in their homes, or attending a worship service with other believers, they get killed, arrested, or imprisoned. It’s not because they are annoying at work. They are some of the best employees. It’s not because they are the thought police or the ethics patrol among their neighbors. Often, they are the most loving, kind, and generous neighbors around. No, simply for identifying themselves as followers of Jesus, they and their family members get killed, arrested, tortured, or imprisoned. That’s persecution.
So until true persecution hits, let’s stop justifying our bad Christian behavior and just start loving and serving others in quietness and respect.
Here is a little comic strip that makes the point perfectly:
What are your thoughts on Christian persecution? In what other areas do some Christians pull “the persecution card”? Do Christians really get persecuted in the United States? I mean really? Let us know in the comments below!