Many people these days believe themselves persecuted. Unfortunately, actual persecution often gets lumped in with perceived offences, overly sensitive personalities, and simple disagreements. In the process, the meaning of persecution has been diminished and the hardship of those persecuted undercut. A more precise definition of persecution will help the term retain its power, while helping us not overreact to the little things.
Religious persecution involves the subjugation of a person or group due to their religious commitments. Christians receive persecution, then, when outsiders victimise us because of our commitment to following Jesus Christ. Christians suffering imprisonment for their faith constitutes persecution; Christian customers hearing store employees wish them “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas” does not.
Persecution comes to all kinds of people who are different in the world. Persecution comes to Christians when we are different for Christ in the world. We lack persecution for one of two primary reasons: 1) we are living in the world as those without Christ, or 2) we have removed ourselves from the world.
The first reason exposes a commitment problem on our part—we’ve chosen to live according to the ways of the world instead of the ways of Christ. When we act as the world does, fostering conflict, failing to show compassion to the suffering, and engaging in hypocritical behaviour among other things, we blend in to such a degree that no one feels the need to bother with persecution.
The second reason is less often discussed yet probably more insidious in the Christian community. Christians have taken to removing ourselves from the world, severing our connections with it, and thereby, removing the possibility of persecution. If we don’t risk being in the presence of nonbelievers, we close off ourselves from the potential for persecution.
But Jesus expects His followers to be persecuted, meaning that He expects us to be the peacemakers, the compassionate, and the pure. He doesn’t want us to cut ourselves off from nonbelievers the way that so many have. Instead, His expectation that His followers will be persecuted indicates that He wants us to live in the world, engaging with our neighbours and friends as we seek to make our communities better places.