By Bret Bernhardt
How are we to respond when various threats are made against us as believers?
One such threat was discussed in this space — “TOLERANCE TODAY: Harvard Keynoter Said Jews, Christians Should Be ‘Locked Up’ For Their Views” — regarding a recent symposium in which a speaker previously advocated imprisoning Christians and Jews for their beliefs.
In today’s hyper-charged environment, these type of statements are becoming more frequent. It’s understandable how one would react when hearing something like this. For me, a sense of indignation, fear, and anger are the emotions I typically feel.
There’s no question the exercise of one’s religious belief is protected in America. We would hope there would be little debate about that question – but there is.
For believers, the question remains, how do I respond? The answer is illuminated by knowing the nature of mankind when it comes to confronting one’s own beliefs.
“There is no question the exercise of one’s religious belief is protected in America. We would hope there would be little debate about that question — but there is.”
The apostle Paul, then named Saul, had his beliefs confronted on the road to Damascus. He was asked by the Lord, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Note Saul’s response, he did not answer the Lord’s question. He simply asked, “Who are you, Lord?” In other words, he wanted to know the authenticity of The Voice he was hearing. And, authentic it was.
Interestingly, the same question can and should be asked today — Why are you persecuting me? It’s a loaded question and unpacking it is very important.
If we were to ask that question of the “persecutor of the day,” we would probably get a response along these lines … Christianity instills dangerous beliefs in its adherents that motivate actions which I believe threaten society.
In other words, this is the same thing that motivated Saul to persecute the early church. He saw the emergent church as a threat to his society. This logic of course disregards the centuries of sacrificial love and work by the followers of Jesus.
Sparked by the beatitudes and His teachings, they have spurred the work of Saint Francis in his love for all humanity and creation, William Wilberforce’s abolition of the slave trade and the reformation of manners, to the works in the slums of Calcutta by Mother Teresa. And much, much more across the centuries.
“Why would someone be concerned about something that has produced good in the world that they believe is based on fantasy”
It’s fair to ask, then, why would someone be concerned about something that has produced such profound good in the world that they believe is based on fantasy? More likely, it is their fear that this “fictional belief” would incite action they believe would be harmful to their view of civil society.
Making an intellectual argument about the validity of our belief often seems futile in the hopes of converting others to our way of thinking. But we find God operates outside the norm. He loves the seeming irony of the foremost persecutor of the church becoming its greatest advocate, as with Paul.
Is that possible today?
It’s in exploring this question that we find the hope that God wishes to instill in us — that Saul, who yesterday persecuted me, is now sitting at my table breaking bread, proclaiming the Lord Jesus Christ as his God and King.
Can we imagine the subject of the article last week in the same way? Could he one day be sitting beside me in worship? That would be a modern miracle. One that God stands willing to deliver if we, as His people, simply ask and seek.
Bret Bernhardt served on the Hill as chief of staff to senators Don Nickles of Oklahoma and Jim DeMint of South Carolina. He is now a member of the board of directors of Faith & Law and the Conservative Partnership Institute.