Persecution Near and Far

Dozens of Christians were sitting in attendance at their local church, unconcerned about what was happening outside their four walls. They were focused on worshipping their Lord, a brief respite from the turmoil that otherwise swirls around them. For a brief period each week, these Christians gave their attention to the Prince of Peace, who could fill them with solace, purpose, and hope.

Into the sanctuary burst a shooter, who sprayed the room with bullets. The shooter did not concentrate on any single worshipper, but was merely trying to kill or maim as many Christians as possible. After several moments of destruction, the shooter exits, leaving several dead and wounded, as well as many physically untouched but emotionally shaken.

I’m not describing the shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas on November 6, 2017. But the description is similar to other church shootings around the world. Across the globe, there are many church attacks, often in areas where Christians are a minority. The attacks are not always shootings. Sometimes they are stabbings or bombings. But their intention is to kill as many Christians as possible.

Most people are unaware of it, but the attack on Sunday was horrendously ironic. It was the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. It was a day for American Christians to become aware of, and pray for, Christians in other countries who are suffering for their faith. It rarely dawns on us that we also need to pray for persecution within our own country.

There is one thing that domestic church shootings have in common with foreign church shootings. All of those locations were targeted precisely because they were churches. They wanted to kill the people there precisely because they were inhabited by Christians.

We American Christians are familiar with being marginalized. The media, a large segment of the political elite, and many in academia frequently misrepresent us and vilify us. What we have not become used to is the possibility of physical harm.

For several years, I have noticed the presence of security personnel in churches. These are not paid security officers. They are volunteers who are serving that function. When I have asked them, they would not tell me whether they were armed or not. My guess is that most of them are. Recently, I began attending a new church where a security volunteer stood on the side of the church, somewhat between the congregation and the podium. He continuously scanned the sanctuary. After looking at him, I noticed that he began to focus on me, probably because I was new.

All of this happened after the 2012 shooting at the Family Research Council offices in the District of Columbia. The shooter was a gay rights activist who wanted to kill as many Christians as possible before he was stopped by an alert security. Since that shooting, church security teams have become much more prominent.

Christians in third world countries have experienced much more marginalization. Coptic Christians in Egypt are unable to get building permits even when their numbers necessitate it. Pakistani Christians often face prison when they are falsely charged with blaspheming Islam. Indonesian Christians often face the same. Yet, they also face beatings, loss of homes and businesses, and even death.

In America, conditions are much better, so we should be helping our persecuted brethren. Even as conditions begin to worsen for us. It may be that we will need their help in the not too distant future.

It has been reported that the Sutherland Springs shooter was an outspoken atheist. Although his motive is still under investigation, at this point, it seems that he was eager to turn his disbelief into violence against believers. Although we American believers are used to opposition, we are used to some respect as well. Rarely do we see the opposition turn grim and dark.

But that may be changing. In the light of the Sutherland Springs shooting, there have been a number of disturbing tweets that disparaged the victims of the shooting, belittling their faith. As we Christians pray for persecuted Christians in other countries, we should also turn our prayers to those who persecute us within our own borders. And we also pray that our unbelieving neighbors will join with us to stay the hands of those who would turn disbelieving debate into violence.

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