I remember seeing a movie when I was about 4 or 5 years old. The title of the movie was “The boy with green hair.” I don’t remember a lot about the movie, but what stuck in my mind was that the boy somehow ended up with green hair, and the people of the town began to persecute him, even to the point where many of them wanted to shave his head.
The boy was different; He didn’t fit in. It seems that people want people to fit in and to conform.
Things haven’t changed much, or I should say, people haven’t changed much. Having brightly colored hair or even multi-colored hair is not unusual today. Even if you notice someone with that look, you probably don’t think much about it anymore. They are just part of our diverse human landscape. Yet, people still find ways to pick on or persecute those who seem different, and even more, won’t conform. This is no less true in the realm of religion.
During the early part of the first century, Christians began to be persecuted in Jerusalem and that persecution has continued. As Christianity spread outward, persecution has spiraled outward with it, sometimes lesser so, and sometimes exponentially so. Right now, those who track such things tell us that Christianity is clearly the most persecuted religion in the world, according to opendoorsusa.org and persecution.org.
As Christians, we shouldn’t be surprised by that, nor should we let it unsettle us. Jesus made it very clear that if they persecuted Him, they will certainly persecute us. (John 15:20)
What did the Christians do in the early church when they were persecuted? They went where the persecution led them, and they took the message of Jesus and salvation with them. (Acts 8:1-4) They turned persecution into opportunity.
That didn’t make the persecution right or easy — it never is — but they did not allow it to change what God has saved us for, and sends us out to do: to tell others about our great need to repent of sin, and to put our faith in Jesus Christ, the only One who can redeem us of our sin.
The other day something in the news caught my eye. Hollywood actors and actresses who are Christians are coming under increasing persecution, especially if they go to a church that boldly proclaims the Word of God without allowing it to be filtered by the demands of the surrounding culture.
In other words, if they go to a church that teaches that sin is to a large degree a social construct, and that we need to reinterpret sin as our culture changes, then that is an OK way to be a Christian. But if you go to a church that stands firmly on the Bible and continues to teach that adultery is wrong, and homosexuality is wrong, and sleeping around is wrong, and lying is wrong, then you are a horrible bigoted person who deserves to be ostracized and persecuted until you are willing to capitulate.
Although Hollywood says that homosexuals and others in the LGBTQ community are not welcome in those churches, and thus persecution is deserved, they are wrong. Bible-based churches welcome all people. It doesn’t matter if you are LGBTQ, or an adulterer, or a fornicator, or a liar, or any other kind of sinner (We are all sinners, are we not?). Churches that stand on the Word of God acknowledge we are all sinners. They invite all to come hear the Word of God in hope we would see how much Jesus loves us, and how He alone provides the way of forgiveness and salvation to all who are willing to repent and believe.
Sadly, this public treatment of Christians by Hollywood is not an isolated case. In the past two years, we have seen a number of U.S. senators publicly declare in senate hearings that federal nominees they were interviewing were unfit for those positions because they lived a life openly modeled after their Christian faith. Those senators decried that such a lifestyle made the nominees unfit and ineligible for federal positions. Sadly that view is in direct contradiction with Article Six of our U.S. Constitution, but the Senate seemed to let its breach of oath be ignored.
But again, the questions must be asked of us: “What should we do about persecution? How should we respond?” We are to respond the same way the early church responded — we are to go where the persecution leads us, taking the unadulterated Word of God with us.
In Romans 12:9-21, God speaks about how we should live and respond to such treatment. The end of that passage is very clear: “Do not be overcome by evil, instead overcome evil with good.” We are to love our enemies with Christ’s love, and pray that they will someday turn to Christ in faith.
It doesn’t matter if we live and work in Hollywood or in Washington D.C. or in Tooele. We are to live our lives for Christ with integrity, and if that leads to persecution, so be it. It must not change how you do your job, treat your family, or reach out to your community.
Christians in Iran, China and Indonesia know how you feel. They can tell you that things may never change this side of heaven, but they will persevere for the glory and gospel of Jesus Christ. We must do the same.
Jon McCartney is pastor of First Baptist Church of Tooele.