I was very encouraged at the recent California Southern Baptist Convention to hear pastors address the reality of Christian persecution in their sermons. Both Kevin Hsu and Mike Nolen mentioned the reality of persecution for Americans who obey Jesus Christ. As I have noted many times before, persecution is a concern for American Christians as much as it is for Christians in other parts of the world.
While it may be true that Christians in Nigeria, Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia face a degree of persecution not expected in the USA, it is not the case that persecution belongs only to Christians who live “over there,” in Muslim countries or in violent, “non-civilized” places. Persecution belongs to all Christians. Paul makes plain that all who desire godliness in Christ will be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12). The question is not whether Christians will face persecution in America; rather, the question is to what degree will Christians face persecution.
As it turns out, Christians face persecution to a fairly harsh degree, even in America; it simply never gets reported as persecution. Unfortunately, even Christians are often unaware of persecution happening in the USA. A few years ago, two street preachers in Florida were shot at point-blank range a few minutes after witnessing to Jeriah Woody. Tite Sufra and William Ocean were killed by then 18 year-old Jeriah Woody. (Woody was arrested, but I am not sure whether he has been convicted).
More recently, just this past Sunday, Rev. Norman Hayes at Bridge Community Church in North Hampton, OH, was severely beaten following his sermon. James Maxie, a 28 year-old man who describes himself as a militant atheist, has been arrested in the assault. According to reports, Maxie became irate when Rev. Hayes began asking Maxie’s girlfriend about her safety. Rev. Hayes had been counseling the two prior to this event.
It seems clear (from the limited facts reported so far) that Rev. Hayes was attempting to maintain righteousness, while preaching, teaching, and counseling with redemptive love in view. Additionally, early reports also indicate that Hayes has attempted to bless Maxie, rather than curse him. The Dayton Daily News reports that Hayes feared for his life during the beating, yet he is still holding out hope that Maxie might find the peace of Christ.
If a news agency reported two street preachers being killed in Pakistan, or a pastor being beaten after his Sunday sermon in Nigeria, then people would immediately place such hostility in the category of Christian persecution—and rightly so. I think it’s time we do the same for our brothers and sisters in the USA. No one doubts the degree of persecution in Nigeria and other places is more severe than it is in the USA. Nevertheless, persecution is of the same kind here as elsewhere.
My two fellow preachers at the California SBC meeting were correct to note that persecution is on the rise in the USA. Christians in the USA need to understand the reality that Christ will not be any more welcome today than he was in his own day. If they hated him then, they will hate you now (John 15). Neither the resurrected Christ nor the fallen world has changed. It’s time for American Christians to understand.