Friday, July 4, 2014

In Mortal Danger

Yesterday, my daughter told me a lesson she has learned over the years from her best friend's mother. My daughter and her best friend tend to scream. A bit. 

Lest you think this is annoying but innocuous because you are imagining junior high girls squealing and giggling--no. My daughter is trained in musical theater. When she screams, the neighbors head to the basement convinced it's the tornado siren. These girls are loud. 

So to retain her sanity, said friend's mother has a refrain. When she hears screaming commence, she calls out: "When do we scream? Only when we are . . . "

And the girls must answer: "In mortal danger!"
See her belt that song?
Yeah, the girl can scream.

So far, I'm not sure of the progress. But I like the idea. 

By now you may be wondering how far afield from the 4th of July I'm going with this. OK, bringing it back.

I think American Christians are guilty of screaming a tad too much. When the danger is not mortal.

Today, we celebrate the founding of a country based on a difficult and dangerous decision to separate from a government that "has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people."

In other words, a government that had committed atrocities against its own people and denied them the right to be heard. Their endeavor was to create a new country where  "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." It was a revolution--unlike any before. 

It would be disrespectful at best to trivialize the sacrifice of those men and women by forgetting the seriousness of their struggle. It would be unforgivable to equate lesser struggles with what they fought against and sacrificed. 

Yet, too often, this is the precise parallel many Christians make. We cry tyranny and persecution, appropriating for ourselves the terms our founders gave their lives, property, and liberty to stand against. Unjust treatment. The end of Western Civilization. Why? Because store clerks don't say Merry Christmas and schools teach evolution and Duck Dynasty might lose its elder stateman. 

 Compared to those men and women? We're screaming when we're only in moderate danger, at best. 

I would like to see a revolution, too. A revolution in evangelicalism of choosing our battles, meeting anger with love, and refusing to scream unless the very Kingdom of God is at risk. Because if we refuse to understand the difference between what is mortal danger and what is not, we're in real danger of becoming the whiny kid that mom automatically tunes out because she's heard this tune before.

Persecution is defined as: a program or campaign to exterminate, drive away, or subjugate a people because of their religion, race, or beliefs.

It's a deliberate plan to wholesale silence a group of people, in whatever way necessary.  Unless you are Meriam Ibrahim or Pastor Saeed, you are probably not being persecuted. To use the refrain, you have to be . . . in mortal danger.

Yes, there are many forces in the US allied against traditional Christian beliefs. Yes, we find ourselves insulted and our point of view minimized or ridiculed. I don't want to make light of the reality that the culture has shifted, and it is quite acceptable to call Christians as a group a host of degrading names. It is becoming acceptable to tell us we have no right to do business or hold office because of our beliefs. These are things of which we should be wary.

But it would help further the legitimate conversation if we did not scream over the trivial. If every time we felt our rights threatened we did not cry wolf. If whenever our comfort or status quo is challenged we didn't complain of persecution. If when our ego is insulted, we didn't holler that it was only because of our faith. If when another opinion in a pluralistic society wins the day we would not claim that the end of the world is near. 

--A negative Huff Post article is not persecution.

--A bad book review by an unbeliever is not persecution.
--An insulting Facebook post is not persecution.
--Being asked not to mention God in a graduation speech is not persecution. (Though a student can and perhaps should disobey. It is a legal right.)
--A boycott of Duck Dynasty or Hobby Lobby is not persecution. 
--A court ruling for gays or Muslims or abortionists is not persecution.

The problem is, we too often mistake insult for intentional assault. Our comfort is in danger. But it's not worth screaming.

We are in danger of being that proverbial boy who cried wolf when in fact, mortal danger did not exist. When it does, who is going to listen? Not the villagers, who have heard it too many time before. Do we really want that?

On July 4th, I want to remember why our country was founded. I want to remember the sacrifices people made to give us a beginning for a country that has more freedoms than the vast majority of the other 196 out there. I want to be grateful to them and to God. Because I know it could be completely different. 

I'll save my screaming for when it matters. That's not really a revolution. It's what Jesus told us to do. 

"You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike." (Matthew 5.45)

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