Basically, there are 2 kinds of persecution: Institutional and Incidental. In biblical terms, an institutional example of persecution can be found in the execution of James, the brother of John, in Acts 12. There, Herod used the power of the sword, which is rightly possessed by the government, in a manner that demonstrated how wrongly that power can be abused. James was either beheaded by the sword or simply run through with it.
Either way, he was targeted by a legitimate governing authority and summarily executed. This is an example of institutional persecution. The institution of government was utilized systematically to target a Christian for persecution. Other examples of institutional persecution would include Nazi officials pursuing Christian pastors; Communist leaders in China razing church buildings; or college admissions counselors systematically discriminating against Christians in admissions selections.
David Limbaugh, in his book Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity, details instances of institutional persecution against Christians in America. Specifically, Limbaugh details cases involving the institutions of government, public schools, and media outlets. These are examples of institution-wide practices of hostility toward Christians and Christianity.
Institutional persecution can be seen in the way the official courts in Saudi Arabia treat Christians (and even those who aid Christians). In the story I have linked here, a Saudi court sentenced a man to 300 lashes and 6 years in prison because he helped a Saudi woman convert to Christianity. This is clearly institutional persecution.
The other kind of persecution is incidental. Biblically, an example of incidental persecution is found in the Passion of Christ. Several soldiers individually mocked Jesus, and some spat upon Him. They were not ordered by anyone to do this. They instinctively responded to their situation by letting out in the open the immeasurable deposit of curses bound in their own sinful hearts.
More practically for our day, incidental persecution happens when a supervisor takes offense at a Bible verse on the cubicle wall of a Christian employee and, thus, relegates to that employee menial tasks and menial opportunities for advancement. Or, a family member curses you and will no longer speak to you after you attempt to share the love of Christ.
Now, it is important to note that families are institutions. Families can commit institutional persecution against an individual believer. This happens whenever the entire family isolates and ostracizes a single Christian member. At least some honor killings fall into this gruesome category of Christian persecution.
More often, however, persecution within a family happens incidentally. One family member takes offense at the gospel being on display and, rather than repenting and surrendering in allegiance to Christ, the family member takes out his emotional rage—either verbally or physically—on the individual Christian witness. An example of familial, incidental persecution would be that of a Sudanese woman who was nearly buried alive by her Islamic family when she converted to Christ (Full Story Here).
Both institutional and incidental persecution exists among Christians in America. Indeed, as Limbaugh’s book points out, institutional persecution is clearly on the increase in our once free land. The point to remember is that persecution now, as always, can take different forms and use different authorities, but it remains very much alive in America and everywhere Christ is claimed.
I consider all the atheist billboards that are going up everywhere as “incidental” not to mention annoying 🙂
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