An Irony in Persecution
It is hard to sit silent when you feel you are misrepresented. Reading some of the coverage concerning the Sri Lanka bombings was, at times, a frustrating exercise in misrepresentation. Some of the coverage focused on the harm done to the small Muslim community in Sri Lanka, seemingly at the expense of focusing on the physical harm done to the small Christian community. Others on facebook are up in arms about the supposed media labeling the victims "Easter Worshipers" instead of "Christians" as evidence of a liberal conspiracy to devalue our faith. However, in fairness, NPR had a great series of segments concerning the role Christians played in Sri Lanka's recent ethnic civil war. I understand the frustration that comes with feeling misrepresented, but I have a hard time understanding the social media outrage. Let me outline some simple reasons why I think this outrage is misplaced.
First, misrepresentation of our faith should be expected. The Word of God makes it clear that some matters of are "spiritually discerned," so when others don't seem to get it, that should come as no surprise. In the early second century, the Roman governor Pliny wrote a letter to the Emperor Trajan asking for clarification on how Christians should be treated within the Roman Empire. In this fascinating letter, Pliny outlined the accusations made against this small Jewish sect: atheism, incest, and cannibalism. Romans considered Christians to be atheists because we did not have a physical statue of the God we worshiped, which to Roman pagans looked like no god at all. Similarly, Christians claimed to greet their brothers and sisters with a holy kiss, which, to Romans, smacked of incest. Most hilariously, Romans thought the Christian practice of the Eucharist had something to do with eating flesh and blood. It is as easy to see how these misrepresentations arose as it is for us to see how misguided these accusations were. There are many things that cannot be understood apart from faith.
Second, it is good to remind ourselves that we are not the ones being misrepresented. We are representatives of Christ, so it is not us the world rejects, but Christ. Jesus himself stated in John 15 that the world will hate Christians because it hated Christ first. This was a part of the deal and no one should be able to say they weren't warned. When we resort to sharp rhetoric to defend our faith, we are in danger of placing ourselves at the center of the faith, as if the offense was against us. When the Pharisees and Romans hurled all manner of accusations at Christ, he stood mute. Christ himself was content to allow his sacrifice to answer unfounded accusations. Can we do better through a facebook post?
Finally, I see an uncomfortable irony with the outrage I read on social media. The terrorist attacks killed over 350 people whose only crime was to worship Jesus on Easter Sunday. That is a fear unknown to Americans. So when I read vitriolic outrage that the American media used a term like "Easter Worshipers" instead of "Christians," I have a hard time pretending that American Christians are the ones being persecuted. It seems almost unthinkable to the gospel writers that the most serious consequence one would face for publicly following Jesus would be name calling and "Easter worshiper" doesn't compare to terms like "atheist," "incestuous," or "cannibal."
Can we develop the habit of letting our sacrifices speak for who we are instead of our social media?
Yet this is exactly what Christ did when all manner of accusations were thrown at him