Should Christians Flee Persecution?


In June of 1982, The Clash released (on Cassette) their only song to reach #1, the punk rock classic, “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” The song was neither toward nor about anyone in particular. Its staying power rests on its ability to speak to so many situations in general. It even speaks (in general) to a question that Christians must answer in relation to persecution: When should the persecuted stay, and when should they go?

Persecution Stay or GoIn one instance, the Apostle Paul agreed to be hidden in a basket and clandestinely lowered out of the city in order to escape the persecution awaiting him (2 Cor 11:31-33), while, in yet another instance, this same Paul refused to leave prison even after the guards told him he was being released (Acts 16:35ff).  How did he know when to stay and when to go?

This question plagues ministries today who seek to help our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. In the latest issues of Christianity Today, Kate Tracy explores this very question in relation to the work of Barnabas Fund in Sudan. Since 2012, Barnabas Fund (a non-profit ministry based in the UK which helps persecuted Christians) has committed a sizable portion of their budget to helping suffering Christians escape intense persecution in Sudan. Presently, they are working to free 3,400 Christians from Islamic Sudan.

The article notes the problem which arises through such extraction efforts. Lisa Jones, executive director of Christian Freedom International, says, “History has demonstrated that sometimes you end up creating a market for the problem.” Her point is that paying others to help Christians escape builds a market for holding Christians captive to the point that they want to escape. Christians become a commodity to be traded. While those who are redeemed obviously benefit by gaining their freedom, those not redeemed suffer a worse fate than before, as opportunists will always kidnap, torture, and oppress more Christians in the hopes of getting more money for their release. It makes for a difficult dilemma.

As The Clash note in their song,

If I go there will be trouble,

And if I stay it will be double.

There is no easy way to make the call. Should the Christians stay or should they go? Should Christian ministries help them leave or implore them to stay? The Bible gives no direct, one-size-fits-all solution. In Matthew 10:23, Jesus tells His followers to flee to the next city when they are persecuted at home. Yet, in many other contexts, He teaches that His followers must endure persecution—and are even blessed when they do so—on account of Him (cf. Matthew 5:10-12; Matthew 24:9-14).  The point seems to be that a Christian may either stay (to endure as a witness) or flee (to spread the gospel, as in Acts 8), but whichever decision is made, it must be made by faith, not fear. It must be made out of love for Christ, not fear of torment.  There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). Fear cannot be the motivator because cowards have no place in the kingdom of God (Rev. 21:8).

Gloriously, Christians past and present have displayed an invincible faith in the face of terrible suffering. It is not our place to judge the motives of those who flee by faith. As Todd Daniels says, “It’s not our decision as American Christians whether Christians in persecution choose to remain or flee.” Instead, we must remember both those who stay and those who flee to the next city, ministering at least through our prayers so that they will endure to the end.

The CT article closes with this powerful image from a Christian in Egypt who struggles with whether to stay or to go:

“We live in Egypt today with hearts full of peace and joy, realizing that even as we are on that boat, in the middle of the dark night in the middle of the high waves, Jesus will…show up walking on the waves.”

 

 

If You Don’t Judge Others, You Are Dumb


No Scripture is quoted more often than the proverbial, “judge not” passage of Matthew 7:1. Whatever its iteration, this statement appears welcome in every college classroom and any political conversation. It’s probably the only Bible verse with universal appeal. The sayings, “We mustn’t judge” or “I try not to judge others,” are threatening to overtake the frequency of expressions like “How are you?” on the list popular parlance.

At the risk of being a fish out of water, I baldly proclaim, “Refusing to judge others is the height of stupidity and a Judge Not But Judgevacuous absence of love.” There, I said it. The rest of my time will be an attempt to persuade my good readers to avoid this stupidity and, of course, be more encouraged to love.

It is a stupid thought to say that you mustn’t judge others.  If you fail to judge rightly between those who tell the truth and those who tell lies, you will end up believing lies and living an illusion. You will be a Yo-Yo for every fool who cries “Wolf!”  You will also be very poor, as you will believe every TV ad which commands you to act now on an offer you cannot refuse.  Failing to judge the veracity of others’ speech is simply stupid. You must judge others.

Typically, the judgment in question relates only to moral judgments. So, when people say “Don’t judge,” they mean don’t judge the morality of others—particularly their sexual morals. More often than not, quoting the verse “Judge not” refers to not telling others that their sexual preferences are wrong.  This refusal to judge is—in my humble opinion—vacuously unloving.  Here is what I mean.

Knowing what is known now about Jerry Sandusky (the former football coach at Penn State who has been convicted of serial child molestation) and Kevin Clash (the creator and voice of Elmo on Sesame Street), a parent would be criminally negligent to allow his son to be alone with either of these men. While Kevin Clash has not yet been convicted of any crime, he has been credibly accused by at least two men of having sex with boys under the age of 18.  Clash has not yet denied the charges. He only says that he is working to resolve his “personal matters privately.”

Sexual sins (as we learned in the case of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky) are supposed to be private matters and should not be any of the public’s business.  So, Clash is hoping to resolve his “private” sexual matters privately.  Any parent who buys that claptrap is foolishly unloving toward his child. Would you send your son off for a visit with someone about whom there is credible evidence of sexual exploitation? Sex is no longer a private matter when it threatens your son or daughter.

Lady Justice Judge othersWhile it is true that we must not judge Kevin Clash guilty of all the crimes he is being charged with until after a trial has brought forth all the evidence, it is also true that some measure of judgment is required already when it comes to protecting children. Clash himself understands this and, so, has resigned for now from Sesame Street.  Unfortunately, Sesame Street’s on statement is (again in my opinion) culpably weak, stating only that this is “a sad day for them.”  A sad day for them?  What about concern for the safety of children who may be targeted for sexual exploitation?

If you have any intelligence whatsoever, you will in fact judge the statements and actions of others. If you have any love in your heart for your children, you absolutely must make judgments about the sexual practices of your neighbors and about whether or not you want your children to spend time with them.  Matthew 7:1—like the rest of Scripture—speaks about how to judge rightly (from God’s perspective) rather than persisting in judging wrongly (from a self-righteous perspective). Maybe we would be helped by quoting John 7:24 more often: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”