In the wake of bombings at Egyptian Coptic Churches almost two weeks ago, several news outlets began a series of articles on Christian persecution in the world. One article went so far as to claim that Christians were now the most persecuted group in the world. This may be so; there is much evidence to support this claim. However, there exists a need to be cautious about how the word persecuted is used.
In the United States in particular, people groups (whether Christian or other) are quick to throw out the word and claim persecution at the slightest of disagreement of views. Such a broad use of the word does fit one dictionary’s claim that persecution is hostility and ill treatment, even describing persecution as annoyance. However, the etymology of the word suggests something deeper and worse. Persecution comes from a root word meaning to pursue or follow, specially with the idea of prosecution. Specifically, the word has come to mean pursuing and prosecuting an individual for holding a belief or opinion. The context within which it has been used over the years conveys a meaning of suppression and maltreatment for following a particular set of beliefs, notably those based upon the inspired Word of God.
Recent years has seen the limitation of Christian practices. The filing of lawsuits and institution of regulations is forcefully driven forward in such a way to demand conformity of Christians. However, the freedom with which Christians are able to resist, and even oppose these actions though does not indicate persecution. Certainly oppression is transpiring more and more, an oppression that demands a response (that is inline with Christ’s example).
Being relatively free from harm (not just physically, but in a broad use of the word as well) I want to urge caution in how we use the word persecution. When the term is used to described Christians in the United States, we do several things:
- We minimize the gravity of persecution.
- We minimize the danger of the persecuted.
Such a loose use of the word minimizes just how serious the concept of persecution is. All of sudden everyone can be defined as persecuted, which means that nobody is really persecuted at all. Secondly, to equate our plight with that of others minimizes the traumatic experiences that Christians around the world. There are those who find themselves needing to been the defense always out of a constant fear.
Both persecution and oppression are concerns for the Christian. They require attention and activity that come from those who are firmly rooted in their faith. However, we must be careful not to call everything persecution and instead recognize the difference. A right distinction between the two will determine a right response and reaction to each while also assuring a right respect of those who are on the receiving end of both.
Photo “Persecution” courtesy of user ben hedgspeth and Flickr.