Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But anyone who endures to the end will be saved.
- Matthew 24:9-13
In the early years of Christianity, when the Roman Empire still controlled much of the known world, Christians often faced persecution because of their refusal to bow to earthly powers. Today, some American Christians feel they are facing similar persecution.
In the same week in which Abdul Rahman of Afghanistan faced possible execution for his trust in Christ, the War on Christians Conference looks like a pale imitation, a cheapening of the word 'persecution'. The conference was nothing more than a gathering of 400 people who have the freedom and the means to travel across the country to spend a couple days whining about their lack of influence. That they can even claim to be persecuted shows how far we are removed from the culture in which Christianity was born.
One of the great ironies of the War on Christians Conference is that, included among the speakers were Representative Tom DeLay and Senator Sam Brownback. Surely they don't fear persecution by those in power: They are the ones in power.
In theory, putting power in the hands of followers of the Prince of Peace should make for a better world. In practice, it has not always been so. The Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition are just two examples of Christian leaders embracing the corruption influence of power.
Today's oppressive Christian leaders take a more subtle approach. They keep poor people poor by tweaking tax policies and labor laws to benefit the wealthy elite, who provide campaign contributions to keep the powerful in power.
Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage is at a historic low. And while millionaires are getting huge tax breaks, the working poor are getting shafted.
By the most conservative estimate, the cost of living has risen 18% since 1997. During that time the minimum wage has risen 0%. A job that didn't quite cover living expenses back then does not even come close today. Meanwhile, Congress has made it more difficult to file for bankruptcy.
Furthermore, in the summer of 2003 when Congress passed a child tax credit increase to $1000 per child, the final form of the bill specifically excluded the lowest income families. When this became public knowledge, many representatives had an attack of conscience, and drafted a bill to make the tax break available to all. But Tom DeLay announced, "Ain't gonna happen," and used his influence to prevent the bill from coming to a vote. This same Tom DeLay, now indicted on money laundering charges, has the gall to claim that he is being oppressed. The truth is, Tom DeLay is the oppressor.
Jesus said his followers would experience opposition and even persecution, not because they favored capital gains tax cuts and opposed gay marriages, but because of the radical message of the kingdom of God:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
- Luke 4:18-19
Jesus' mission was to take care of those who are marginalized and/or vulnerable, and he expects the same from his followers.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
- Matthew 25:34-40
And when Jesus warned his followers about the world's hatred, it was in contrast with the love his disciples were to show:
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you.
- John 15:12-19
As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.
- Matthew 10:7-22
Do Tom DeLay and Sam Brownback really believe they are being persecuted? If so, God help their delusional souls. If, on the other hand, the War on Christians Conference is just a diversionary tactic to scare voters into giving these folks even more power, then God help us all.