I attend a lunchtime Bible study at my office, sitting around a conference table with 10-20 co-workers to pray and read the scriptures.
This month, we began studying Revelation. And in the early chapters, our discussions turned to this question: Are we today, as Christians in the United States, persecuted like the early churches in Revelation? Nearly everyone in the room said yes.
But I said no.
Not because I don’t see the problems they do. Today in the United States, talking about Christ or praying at work will be met with odd looks at the very least—sometimes from other Christians. More broadly, public discourse in America now strongly favors progressive social views, to the point that common Christian views on public issues are declared illegitimate.
A recent case in point came just this month when U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand said appointing pro-life judges and passing anti-abortion laws are as illegitimate as appointing racist judges or passing racist laws.
“I think there’s some issues that have such moral clarity that we have as a society decided that the other side is not acceptable. Imagine saying that it’s okay to appoint a judge who’s racist or anti-Semitic or homophobic,” Gillibrand told the Des Moines Register, and then added, “There is no moral equivalency when you come to racism, and I do not believe there is a moral equivalency when it comes to changing laws that deny women reproductive freedom.”
But even when powerful people—or powerful mobs on social media—say common Christian viewpoints should be unacceptable in public life, I’m reluctant to call that persecution. They’re not saying you can’t be a Christian or practice as a Christian, just that you shouldn’t convert your Christian faith into public policies or a Tweet.
That’s wrong-headed, since Christians contribute enormously to the public good. And, yes, it could lead to worse things. But calling it the same thing as the murderous persecution faced by the early church feeds a dangerous mentality that, I fear, is far too common among American Christians.
It’s the “siege mentality” described by New York Times columnist David Brooks. Brooks wrote, “The siege mentality starts with a sense of collective victimhood. It’s not just that our group has opponents. The whole ‘culture’ or the whole world is irredeemably hostile. From this flows a deep sense of pessimism. Things are bad now. Our enemies are growing stronger. And things are about to get worse. The world our children inherit will be horrific. The siege mentality floats on apocalyptic fear.”
Brooks finds the siege mentality among liberals and conservatives, the religious and the irreligious.
When we as Christians adopt it, we are putting too much faith in the public standing of Christianity and too little faith in the reality that Christ is ruling right now on earth.
Because Christ, as Redeemer King, has been given all power on earth in order to bless and grow His church, (Eph. 1:22) it means that the members of His church don’t need earthly power. Not that we can’t have earthly power or that earthly power is never a means Christ gives to accomplish His work through us. But He doesn’t need us to preserve our earthly power.
This truth, instead of fear about the future, gives us hope in the present. No matter what happens, Christ has promised that He will build His church and it will overcome all its enemies. (Matt. 16:18). That victory isn’t right now, but the certainty of it means we need not despair right now about the future.
What we can do instead is thank God for the remarkable religious freedoms we continue to enjoy in the United States—so much so that I can go to church, tell my neighbor about Christ and study the Bible with my co-workers in a corporate conference room—all without anyone batting an eye.
The way to break the siege mentality is to adopt the kingdom mentality—knowing that Christ is controlling everything for our benefit and His ultimate victory.
When we or other Christians face trouble for expressing our faith in public—in words or actions or even a refusal of action—we should do what the Apostle Paul did: gently but firmly assert what rights our culture gives us and use the opportunity to winsomely present the gospel to those giving us trouble (Acts 24).
We can do this, with hope instead of fear, because we know Christ is really the one with the power.