Persecution of Shame and the Shield of Faith

For those still on the fence concerning what to do with Jesus of Nazareth, I’d be negligent not to highlight a grave warning: he told us himself that committing to him will inevitably bring persecution and hatred from the world (Matt. 5:10-12, John 15:18). Yes, this can involve literal martyrdom, but I believe that in a world of social media and social credit scores, simple outcasting may be even more difficult. If you come to trust in Jesus as who he says he is, are you willing to face being shamed, stereotyped, slandered, stigmatized, or labeled as backwards and ignorant? Can you hold fast to your convictions, submission to God, and love for people even if it means losing approval of or harmony with others, or being portrayed by celebrity idols as in the image above (from Taylor Swift’s music video “You Need to Calm Down”)? We are given a helper in this, the Holy Spirit, as well as God’s strength in our weakness, but Jesus does still warn us to count the cost before following Him, and speaks of the dangers of worldly temptations, pressures, and persecution in plucking the Gospel out of our hearts (Lk. 8:4-15, 14:28).

As Anabaptist Janneken Muntsdorg wrote from prison during the Reformation, “For when we were one with the world and practiced idolatry, and loved all manner of unrighteousness, we could live at peace with the world; but when we desired to fear God and to shun such improper ways…then they did not leave us in peace; then our blood was sought; then we had to be a prey to everyone, and become a spectacle to all the world.”

While we tend to think of persecution as involving violence, criminalization of faith, and martyrdom as the Reformers experienced, it has had to sneak in through subtler spectacles1 and psychosocial avenues in the United States, sitting right alongside the ideas of religious liberty and Christian founding principles. It has come in under the guise of rationality, science, and political correctness, and through the conditioning mechanisms of media, stereotyping,2 and social reinforcement. People are incognizant of their own participation in persecution of Christians because they assume it would look like it does in China or North Korea.

The world is somewhat accepting of a certain kind of Christians – theologically liberal, syncretic, critical of Scripture, involved in social programs but not keen on evangelizing.3 Meanwhile, popular culture and general social norms have made it acceptable to mock, dehumanize, and heap intellectual shame upon groups such as those branded fundamentalists, white evangelicals (a term quickly becoming a code meant to elicit a language association with white supremacists), anti-science, anti-abortion zealots, or armageddon cultists.

The world has been labeling Bible-believers as, or lumping us in with, science-deniers, conspiracy theorists, public health threats, sociopaths, narcissists, far-right extremists, brainwashed goobers, bigots and phobics of all sorts, Trump and Q-Anon cultists, ignorant hillbillies, potential domestic terrorists, propagandists, and radicals.4 We’re accused of seeing everything as the mark of the beast, being paranoid, negative, too heavenly minded to be any earthly good, and a root cause of climate change and natural disasters.5 We’ve been categorized into caricatures, creating an automatic mockery reaction and mental shame flag which keeps people from wanting to be in such groups. This makes it easy to justify ignoring or censoring any information supporting the ideas and decisions people are making that have led to them being viewed through such filters.6 Worse, it keeps people from having an open curiosity about the Bible.

This dynamic is simply the norm for believers living under a world empire, and has been throughout history. The Israelites were looked down upon when they held fast to a God who seemed to be impotent, withholding blessing, or letting them be defeated in war. In turn, the Israelites scoffed at their own prophets who held fast to the LORD’s warnings of coming suffering and destruction. There were plenty of official sycophantic and “positive thinking” prophets who spoke of a future of prosperity and hope, and it seemed self-defeating to follow the minority voices preaching bleakness. They were disbelieved, outcasted, beaten, and murdered, but were later discovered to have spoken the truth.7

In the time of Jesus, the honor/shame Semitic and Greco-Roman cultures made stark the contrast between the expected messianic king and the reality of the shameful but necessary messianic crucifixion. His early followers were shamed for not participating in norms like violent entertainment and pagan temple worship even while being falsely accused of cannibalism and orgies. They were also accused of being atheists, not appeasing the gods who held the power of blessings and punishment, and not supporting the economy or “peace” of the Roman Empire. Later Christians like Bonhoeffer stood up to Hitler when most of their country thought they were insane, paranoid, and deserving of prison or death. Similar accusations (with updated “postmodern wisdom”) are happening today as more believers expose or exit the system, refusing to continue participating in Babylon as it crosses the point of no return leading to a world leader far worse and far more deceptive than Hitler.

We are being dehumanized by the rhetoric, assumptions, and misunderstandings of a society that has simply fallen away from putting any credence in the Bible and has instead embraced syncretism.8 Christians stubbornly holding to the truth of Scripture will eventually be accused of being a stumbling block to oneness and world peace.9 Not submitting to a melting-pot religion and its counterfeit utopic solutions will come to be seen by most of the world as indefensibly backward, narrow-minded, misinformed, antisocial, selfish, or masochistic. Nonconformists may be ridiculed for seemingly needlessly suffering unemployment, homelessness, hunger, cold, separation, loneliness, violence and death. Shame will be heaped upon those who resist the supernaturally brilliant and “too big to fail” solutions offered by the antichrist system, and it will seem to be a rational, well-deserved shame, reserved for social deviants who simply can’t be reasoned with. It will appear self-evident that we stand against peace, prosperity, love, tolerance, and unity, because the world has redefined these things to mean something different than their original meanings given by the very God who created them.

Adam and Eve became ashamed after eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and shame has been used against us in the fallen world ever since. It’s a strong force, driving us away from questioning and thinking outside the accepted norms in order to avoid outcasting, shunning, and exile from the tribe. I believe this is why the Bible has so much to say about shame. You can find passage after passage about shame in the Old Testament, though this post focuses on the New as it relates to faith in Christ.

According to Ephesians 6:16, faith is our shield, and this faith is in one who scorned the shame on the cross10 and who will not leave us in shame, even though the world may have its season of mockery and persecution. As implied above, crucifying was the ultimate act of shaming someone in the Roman empire, but Jesus “endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). His glorification and victory came right at the time the world thought he was defeated (John 8:28, Eph. 2:16).

Similarly, we can respond to the world’s shame by glorifying God: “Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf” (1 Pet. 4:16). The apostle Paul was “not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). He admonished his mentee Timothy not to be ashamed of the Word, the Gospel, or Paul’s imprisonment for its sake, but to be willing to likewise be afflicted for the sake of faith, love, and the hope of eternal life (2 Tim. 2:15, 1:8-13).

Likewise, we are to not be ashamed of Christ and his words, or He will be ashamed of us (Mark 8:38). As Dwight Moody asserted, “If God puts anyone within our influence, let’s tell them about Christ and heaven. The world may rise up and say we are mad, but in my opinion no one is fit for God’s service until he is willing to be considered mad by the world.11I ask my current and potential brothers and sisters in Christ: are we willing to be seen as mad? To be told that we are making people uncomfortable, disobeying the social norms, or even being immoral by arguing against the normative ideas of subjective truth, moral relativity, and the right to subscribe to one’s own reality? Are we willing to be shamed by the world for the sake of being unashamed of Christ?

Further, according to Paul, what we are to be ashamed of is the former life of slavery to the flesh: “For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death” (Rom. 6:20-21). We’re also to be ashamed of our current sins with Godly sorrow which leads to repentance, rather than shamelessly pounding people over the head with condemnation disguised as the Gospel, while hypocritically falling into sins ourselves while we do so.12

We have a heavy responsibility, before God first and foremost, to try to resist giving true reasons for the world to persecute us (in God’s eyes, no matter how the world may market its own ever-changing brand of truth).13 We have to let our suffering be for the sake of righteousness and faith rather than deserved punishment for sinful behavior, speech, or attitudes (Ps. 119:6, 1 Pet. 4:15). We are also to respond to persecution and enmity with blessing, prayer, forgiveness, and love, just as Jesus did from the cross (Mark 11:25, Matt. 5:44, Luke 23:34, Rom. 12:14).

This shield of faith not only overrides shame, but brings blessing in the kingdom which is not of this world: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matt. 5:10-12)

And even if we experience shame in this world, we have been promised that it’s not our final dwelling place: “For the Scripture says, Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame” (Rom. 10:11).

1. And some not-so-subtle spectacles, such as the Scopes Monkey Trial…

2. Of course, I realize that stereotypes aren’t created in a vacuum, and that plenty of professing Christians have given excellent fodder for mockery, resentment, and dismissal. But their behaviors or beliefs are generally a distortion of the Gospel, misrepresenting Jesus Christ and contradicting His commands (which explicitly rule out such behaviors as racism, bigotry, homophobia, etc.). I think a large segment of Christian leaders are teaching man-made doctrines and politics rather than the Gospel, just as the religious leaders were doing in the time of Jesus (and they were those he most harshly rebuked). But sadly, it’s not a surprise; it’s a foundational element of biblical prophecy.

3. Evangelism has even been re-dubbed as “doing colonialism,” a false equivalence, yet intertwined through historical evils and false doctrines to the point that even Evangelical seminarians in my classes accepted this accusation as fact. And we can’t deny the current intersection of Western Christianity with nationalism, Eurocentrism (even in seemingly harmless doctrines like KJV-only), and the temporal doctrine of dominionism. We would have a LOT to learn from missionaries from the “third world” (I realize there are now phrases with more neutral connotations, but used this one to emphasize how secular language itself has long had colonialist assumptions embedded within it).

4. A small sampling of recent articles on these topics: https://www.snopes.com/news/2021/02/04/why-creationism-bears-all-the-hallmarks-of-a-conspiracy-theory/, https://www.icr.org/article/the-tyranny-of-consensus-thinking, https://pjmedia.com/trending/aoc-aligned-climate-group-demands-media-silence-climate-deniers/, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-12-23/christian-churches-fertile-ground-qanon-conspiracy-theories/13006868, WHO: “Ten threats to global health in 2019,” https://www.technocracy.news/mercola-digital-anti-hate-group-labels-vaccine-skeptics-as-national-security-threat/, https://thetruthiswhere.wordpress.com/2021/04/12/klaus-schwab-declares-unvaccinated-people-to-be-a-threat-to-humanity, https://news.yahoo.com/cuomo-says-unvaccinated-people-could-200045033.html, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/anti-vaccine-extremism-is-akin-to-domestic-terrorism/2021/02/26/736aee22-787e-11eb-8115-9ad5e9c02117_story.html, https://www.reuters.com/world/india/skull-crossbones-sign-given-unvaccinated-rural-india-2021-06-10/, https://summit.news/2019/12/09/never-trumper-rick-wilson-suggests-putting-anti-vaxxers-in-re-education-camps, https://psyarxiv.com/chgkn/, https://www.theglobaldispatch.com/richard-rorty-warned-parents-about-the-schools-teachers-and-attacks-on-christians-62068/, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1948550620936439, https://www.newsweek.com/sociopaths-more-likely-refuse-wear-masks-1526985, https://www.technocracy.news/christian-purge-envisioned-during-biden-harris-administration/, https://www.sbs.com.au/news/far-right-extremists-in-the-us-move-from-stop-the-steal-to-stop-the-vaccine, https://www.reuters.com/technology/facebook-asks-are-your-friends-becoming-extremists-2021-07-01/, https://www.theglobaldispatch.com/richard-rorty-warned-parents-about-the-schools-teachers-and-attacks-on-christians-62068/, https://www.christianpost.com/news/calif-ethnic-studies-plan-teaches-kids-to-chant-to-aztec-gods.html, https://www.christianpost.com/news/youtube-censors-video-testimony-former-transgender-calls-it-hate-speech.html, http://thetruthwins.com/archives/72-types-of-americans-that-are-considered-potential-terrorists-in-official-government-documents,https://thefreethoughtproject.com/politicians-and-msm-compare-those-who-question-vaccine-safety-to-domestic-terrorists/, https://www.theorganicprepper.com/domestic-terrorism-act-2021/, https://thehill.com/policy/national-security/fbi/455770-fbi-me, https://childrenshealthdefense.org/defender/cyber-war-declared-u-s-u-k-vaccine-hesitancy-prepare-mass-inoculations/, https://eu.usatoday.com/story/life/health-wellness/2021/01/14/capitol-riot-radicalization-what-know-de-radicalization-how-to-help/4160249001/, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/05/us/covid-vaccine-evangelicals.html, https://off-guardian.org/2021/07/17/the-demonization-of-the-unvaxxed/, https://edition.cnn.com/2020/10/15/us/qanon-religion-churches/index.html, https://msmagazine.com/2021/03/02/christian-schools-homeschooling-supremacist-conspiracies-qanon, https://unlimitedhangout.com/2020/11/reports/us-uk-intel-agencies-declare-cyber-war-on-independent-media/, https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/canadian-pastor-tracked-down-by-police-helicopter-arrested-for-violating-covid-rules
Note: I’m not assuming that Christians need to land on any particular side of the vaccine issue (or asserting that any side is correct in the way the debate is being framed); this isn’t what the Gospel is about (though experimental gene therapy has some startling connections to both biblical history and prophecy). But, in referencing several articles on this topic I’m noting the link between how the world portrays and deals with people holding to unpopular beliefs.This comes especially as religious liberties are increasingly trampled in the name of perceived public health, and war rhetoric (along with military manpower) is being used regarding people who question the official narrative both in health policy and in where it could lead in terms of world governments, authoritarianism, control of who can buy and sell, and relation to biblical prophecy.
Besides having an awareness of the unprecedented censorship happening in the public square of the internet and beyond, it’s always helpful to question what has influenced our current way of thinking. Remember what the “Father of Propaganda” Edward Bernays asserted: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, and our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of…. It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind” (Propaganda, 1928)

5. www.technocracy.news/oregon-professor-blames-white-christians-for-west-coast-wildfires/,

6. www.themostimportantnews.com/in-order-to-have-a-tolerant-society-the-elite-believe-they-must-be-intolerant-of-all-dissenting-views, https://www.change.org/p/amazon-com-reverse-amazon-s-decision-to-censor-alternative-views-on-homosexuality, https://onenewsnow.com/national-security2019/06/23/un-poised-to-launch-global-ban-on-all-criticism-of-islam, https://www.theorganicprepper.com/crazy-conspiracy-theories-2020/, https://www.foxnews.com/media/rand-paul-anthony-fauci-intimidates-scientists, https://www.aier.org/article/canadian-doctors-are-being-censored/, https://gbdeclaration.org, https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2021/07/06/mrna-vaccine-inventor-erased-from-history-books.aspx

7. I’ll share an excerpt from a piece of writing, “The Watchman Upon the Wall (Or Watchwoman)” for which I cannot find the original source, but it speaks soberingly of the similar situation of the prophetic voices of today: “The proverbial watchmen upon the wall have been entrusted with a unique stewardship. They have been uniquely called to speak to their generation. . . . They come to speak inconvenient truths few want to hear. They come with a prophetic unction to sound the alarm, to warn of danger, to watch, to expose, to reprove, to point the way . . . It’s a thankless job. They wear the label of oddball, wacko, and religious nutcase. They’ve been scorned, mocked, ridiculed, dismissed, condemned and rejected. You don’t choose to be a watchman; God chooses you to be a watchman. Most have tried at various times and seasons to turn their backs upon the burden but they never succeed. It’s a divine summons they can’t cut loose. It’s a divine imperative which drives them to speak, to stand and to write. It is an irresistible force they cannot long abandon. Theirs is an unthankful job. . . . Like the prophets of old they are condemned, ostracized and persecuted. Few want to listen to their incessant ravings. Their message is not appealing to the flesh, convenient or comfortable to hear. They don’t care about popularity, publicity or a following. They don’t lust fo fame or fortune. They know how to stand alone. They will never be ‘yes men,’ apple polishers, court toadies, people pleasers or best sellers. They don’t care about ratings, censorship or the praises of men. They call people to repentance, to discipleship, to sacrifice and to devotion. They sound the alarm to the soon coming of Jesus Christ.”
Not to undermine my point, but I need to mention a couple of related things: (1) I don’t mean to associate with any movements such as the NAR or celebrity prophets by speaking about the idea of prophetic calling or voice, and (2) While words like these can be a comfort to those experiencing such things, the experience of outcasting and persecution themselves can also be used in error, with people who are not holding to God’s commands actually using the pushback against them to prove that they must in fact be doing right by God and are simply being persecuted. A stark example would be Westboro Baptist Church.

8. https://www.christianheadlines.com/contributors/milton-quintanilla/only-6-percent-of-americans-hold-to-a-biblical-worldview-study.html, https://www.arizonachristian.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/CRC_AWVI2021_Release01_Digital_01_20210413.pdf

9. https://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=15611

10. I believe that one reason people were angry at Jesus was due to feeling ashamed in his presence by conviction of their sins and that same awareness of nakedness and wretchedness before God that Adam and Eve discovered. In seeking to deny and reject that feeling, they turned it around and projected it onto him.

11. From A Life for Christ: What the Normal Christian Life Should Look Like

12. To bring this point home on a personal level, writing posts like this one and reading articles about the world’s perspectives can stir me to anger, despair, impatience, and frustration with people and hopelessness about being heard and taken seriously. Then shame arises at the sins and the lusts of the flesh which war against the fruits of the spirit (e.g. love, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, self-control…). As James wrote, “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (1:20). Rather than justifying or dwelling in these reactions, I’m compelled to keep repenting and praying for God to cleanse my heart and let my motives be continually purified. Thankfully, the continual struggle with this keeps reminding me of my need for the savior (keeping my focus on the Gospel, which is the entire heart of the matter in the first place).

I hope this post is received with the gentleness and respect intended (as commanded in 1 Pet. 3:15); I’ve been working on it for several months but have had to pause for periods of time to be in prayer about presenting such a difficult topic without bitterness or malice.

13. I keep praying to be a good witness for Christ and not put a stumbling block or to do something to further repel people. But ultimately it is sometimes not possible, and we need to do what is pleasing to God rather than man, even though they may see this as a bad witness in their minds, hopefully only for a time, and later come to a new perspective. I realize this post in itself could seem to be a stumbling block, but I’m trying to emphasize things in Scripture itself which tend to get de-emphasized in the prosperity gospel and New Age influenced culture of today. I also hope to show that even though these difficulties and sacrifices are the reality of the situation, the truth and the God who defines it are worth it.

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