Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Some thoughts on persecution

"You let them cut you? You let them hurt you?"

I heard those words in 1996 from a then-retired, now-deceased African-American pastor who was attending my largely-white church. He was infuriated when I told him that, when I was a student at a mostly-white Catholic prep school, the N-word was directed toward me on a daily basis and I didn't react. Part of that was because I acted as though I was one of them and simply didn't cower the way other African-Americans likely might.

In light of the recent celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it's important to remember that, when you stick your neck out for the sake of truth, you might very well pay a price. And it was one I -- and he -- was willing to pay for the sake of racial reconciliation.

In his case, in the South it meant being arrested on trumped-up charges, irritants such as the cancellation of insurance and, ultimately, threats to his life. In mine, in the North it also meant rejection by "my side" of the relational fence -- being considered an "Oreo," a "race traitor."

The bigger picture, however, is not about the abuse we had to take; rather, we both kept our eyes on the prize in that we truly believed that reconciliation was the right way to go. Dr. King has not lived to see the fruit of his labors; I'm blessed in that I have -- today I'm even friendly with some of the people who tormented me in those days because I think they finally understood what I was about.

I would say that we American evangelical Christians who complain about "persecution" at the drop of a hat really should chill out. For openers, Jesus said that such would happen -- "if they hate you, remember that that hated Me first" -- and we don't want to make Jesus into a liar, don't we? That said, we need to ask ourselves if we're deliberately picking fights to make ourselves look like martyrs; trouble is, the only thing we do in the process is look codependent. Lose friends, families and jobs? That's what you signed up for when you began following Him. There is a time to fight, but there is also a time to suffer. I understood the difference.

It was in understanding that larger picture that I was able to respond to the minister: "They didn't hurt me!"

1 comment:

Mark said...

You were right to not respond to the N word because they were talking to the mirror, not to you. It is an old British word meaning ignorant. And having known you for 40+ years, you are the polar opposite of ignorant. Will Black or White Christians who bruise when they are presecuted with bad names run when it's life or death; I truly hope not?... Mark David Madden