Culture At Large

Persecuted minority or victorious army?

Andy Rau

Ken Brown has a good post over at Signs of the Times on the "persecution complex" that seems so evident on all sides of today's social and political debates. You know how it goes--one "side" of the cultural spectrum frets about the imminent destruction of morality, Christmas, and Christianity by their political opponents; while the other side frets about the imminent establishment of a rabid theocracy that will impose Old Testament justice on the land.

You can't have a cultural "war" in which both sides are a persecuted minority, can you? Brown expresses his frustration with this language of persecution, suggesting that using apocalyptic language to frame cultural debates makes things worse, not better.

I'm inclined to agree, but I remain intrigued by the general sense among evangelicals that Christians are the target of persecution (that is, a concerted effort to impose non-Christian morality on them).

This issue is usually framed as a conservative vs. liberal one. But let's think beyond the political debate here, and think about the theological implications of this "persecution complex." The question beneath it is a big one: what is a Christian's relationship to this world? Are we a persecuted victim, struggling to keep the light of faith alive until Christ's return? Are we the victorious inheritors of Creation, meant to shine the light of faith on all corners of the world?

There seem to be elements of both ideas in the Bible. In 1 Peter 5, the Christian life is depicted with decidedly defensive relationship towards the world:

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

In 2 Corinthians 10, the Christian life is cast with a much more active role; evil is powerless to withstand it:

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Now, I'm not suggesting that these verses are necessarily in opposition to each other, or that they're talking about temporal or political power. But they seem to use quite different metaphors to describe the life of the Christian--one focused on defense, the other on offense.

When you face the world--when you decide how to vote, when you decide where to do business, when you decide what causes to support--which of these verses more closely reflects the way that you make those decisions? Do you understand the Christian's role in culture as a fortress against the everpresent powers of the world? An active champion of righteousness?

Most importantly... does it matter to your everyday faith how you view this issue?

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Theology, News & Politics, Social Trends