A couple of weeks ago, few news media, Facebook status, and Twitter feeds had failed to report on Phil Robertson’s comments about homosexuality in an interview with GQ magazine. This was in part due to the outraged response from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (or GLAAD) and other LGBT proponents who felt that Mr. Robertson’s remarks were inexcusable. Wilson Cruz, a representative of GLAAD, was quoted by the Chicago Tribune saying, “Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil’s lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe…” Mr. Robertson is the patriarch of the family on A&E’s popular show “Duck Dynasty.” A&E had officially suspended Phil from being a part of the show, though because of backlash from viewers the TV network has decided to continue “Duck Dynasty” with the entire family.
What is interesting about all of this to me is not that Phil and his family were facing heat for their beliefs. Celebrities who are conservative politically or religiously are almost always the target for some slander or jokes in today’s culture. No what is surprising is the attention Phil and his family received even though many business men and women around the country have and are facing similar trials. Earlier this spring, Barronelle Stutzman from Washington was being sued by the state attorney general for refusing to do the floral arrangements for the wedding of a same sex couple. On December 9th, Jack Phillips of Colorado was told by a judge that he can no longer refuse to serve homosexual couples after declining to bake a wedding cake for two men. Examples can go on and on, yet it is rare for these incidents to get the same coverage especially among Christians.
Think about it. Unless you fervently follow the news or read up on Christian websites like christianitytoday.com or cbn.com, you most likely never talked about the problems Stutzman and Phillips are undergoing. A friend of yours who is obsessed with the “culture wars” might have posted it on FB or mentioned it in a chain e-mail, but you never gave it a second thought. “Things like this happen” or “Someone will eventually stop this from going too far” were thoughts that may have even gone through your head. But what if it was something different? What if someone had been raped after making a public declaration of faith? What if someone’s business or home was burned for being a Christian? Chances are good that you’d be paying attention to the TV and praying for the persecuted believers. You might event try to organize or join a grassroots movement to get politicians to address the issue. And I don’t get that.
I guess part of the problem lies with how we as believers tend to define persecution. The Church in America seems to think of believers in a 3rd world environment with their faces burned to a crisp, their legs misshaped from beatings, or women pregnant with the children of their rapists as the persecuted. A man or woman going to a US court for refusing to give service on the basis of faith is shrugged off as unlucky, a minor exception, or even an idiot. The same goes for students who are told not to pray or do book reports on the Bible at school. If you dare to call them persecuted, you are often met with rolled-eyes or even a reprimand for comparing the sufferings of one believer to the inconveniences of another. And there is some logic to that. The hardships of the underground Church around the world terrify even the most intrepid of American believers. Yet does that mean we in the first world don’t have to worry about trials and tribulations for being followers of Christ?
The answer is no. “It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!” (Matt. 10:25, NIV). Therefore, we as believers who live in America can expect our own form of persecution for the faith. Now some might say that this is out of context because the verse belongs to a passage which includes martyrdom which we in the US have yet to truly experience. Others would say that this passage was only meant for the disciples. However, I believe these claims take away the power of Christ’s words and his ability to comfort his followers. If the verse can only be applied to those who give up their lives for Christ in a violent death, then we who don’t will have no place in heaven. For the Lord said that this would happen to the members of his household. But if the members are those who are martyred, then John 3:16, Romans 3:23-24, and similar passages are meaningless words and a waste of paper and ink. But since God has affirmed the authority of his word on multiple occasions (Matt. 5:18-19, II Tim. 3:16), we know that these words of Christ are meant for us all. So whatever form of persecution we face, it can be no greater than what Christ himself experienced. And it can be no less than the disrespectful “inconveniences” that he endured.
So what? Why does this matter? Because it seems only times Western Christians take notice of persecution is when it hits the news like with “Duck Dynasty”. And I guess it makes sense because Mr. Robertson does have an advantage of being a household name and TV icon making it easier to keep up with him. Yet, why are we prioritizing the suffering of our Christian brothers and sisters on how well they’re broadcasted? Consider that three days after A&E had announced its decision to suspend Phil, it was reported that 45 Syrian Christians in the town of Sadat (the same town in Numbers 34:8) had been martyred by Syrian rebels. Almost no news agencies covered the story and it was largely ignored on FB, including myself, as status continued discussing whether or not the comments made by the patriarch of the Duck Commanders was acceptable or not. While Stutzman and Phillips did receive some coverage, they didn’t get the notice and support like Phil did in the last few days.
As Christians, we need to be paying attention to what is happening in the world and at home. We need to stop believing that we are in a perfect bubble where any attack on our faith is simply a matter of inconvenience or bad luck. We should be grateful that we don’t have to worry about terrorists bombing our churches and homes. We should be thankful that we have freedom of religion, speech, and the right to vote. But we need to remember these are our God-given rights. If we fail take notice of what happens in Syria or to our neighbors in America like Stutzman and Phillips, then we run the risk of losing those rights.
For more information about the Syrian church and other persecuted brothers and sisters, please visit the following websites:
To learn more about Stutzman’s and Phillips’s stories:
Duck Dynasty controversy: