Recently, someone complained to me that habits of political correctness and identity politics seemed to be creating an atmosphere where—to this person’s perspective—anyone might claim to be part of a protected class. “It’s open season on Christians, though,” the gentleman groused.
People like to say so, but—given examples of the very real, violent, and costly persecution that John Allen describes in his book The Global War on Christians—I’d suggest that we in America are experiencing something more akin to mild social bullying that is (at least for now) not even terribly widespread.
The day may come when Christians in North America face true persecution. How near or far off that day may be is anyone’s guess, but because genuine persecution is not currently being experienced in the United States, it grates on me when I hear a Christian take up the mantras and mentalities of victimhood that dominate our age.
“The world isn’t being nice to us,” makes me want to call the “whambulance” on Christians. It is a whine entirely of the world, and the antithesis of heroic witness—a single sentence that, uttered publicly, can undo whole lifetimes of evangelical effort. When I hear it, I bristle and say, “Buck up, champ, we didn’t sign on with Christ in order for the world to love us.” After all, “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first,” said Jesus (John 15:18).
The world not being “nice” to us is precisely the gig we signed on for. Pope Benedict XVI said as much to a group of German pilgrims once: “The ways of the Lord are not easy. But we were not created for an easy life, but for great things, for goodness.”
The great thing, the goodness, being God himself. Not, notice, the world or its fickle fashions.
Haters come and go. Zealots (always dangerous, no matter what side they’re on) come and go. But Christ remains, for Christ is eternal. And Christ changes things.
That has been true for two thousand years. The reality of Christ, experienced, changes us. There comes a moment in most lives—in all lives, I believe—when Christ knocks and we open the door and experience a “milk and honey” moment.
Truth be told, it is not a lucky moment. It often comes when we are in the dregs of despair, because that’s the only time we stiff-necked creatures will look outside of ourselves.
But, that moment, it changes us. It turns a ne’er-do-well drunk like Matt Talbot into an ambassador for Christ’s healing.
It turns a political conspirator like Chuck Colson into a prison chaplain.
It saves a wretch like me.
Some argue that the experience of conversion is one-part emotional breakdown and one-part synaptic misfiring, something not dissimilar to an intense drug experience. That would be more convincing if people who’d tripped exceedingly well—or badly—subsequently found their lives, their perceptions, their consciences, their attitudes, habits, and desires to be instantly, immediately, and permanently changed.
A drug experience, though, rarely results in such a radical shift in being.
Conversion is a lifelong process. One does not drink the milk and honey only once. Indeed, we humans are easily distracted and often need to be taken by the arm and steered back toward the reality of Christ, like recalcitrant children. But each sweet and thirst-quenching sip changes us. Each new milk and honey moment—whether drunk in a garden or a desert—serves to refocus our faith, deepen our appreciation for our salvation, and brings about further surrender, and thus further intimacy with Jesus.
And so I am not worried about the world not liking us. I fully expect that the wide dissemination and acceptance of heresies, coupled with the Church’s self-inflicted wounds, portend tough times for Christians, times rife with social ridicule, hatred, suppression, discrimination, and even lawful suppression.
Should we worry? I don’t think so. I don’t believe Cardinal Francis George was worried when he mused, “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.”
Indeed, if fifty years from now Catholics are once again hiding priests and holding Mass underground, if Christians are using signals to direct others to worship, it will not surprise me.
But the Church is always at its most fervent and alive when it is under siege, gaining strength from the blood of martyrs. As we read in 1 Peter, “There is time for rejoicing, here, although for a little while you may have to endure trials.”
Really, all of this comes with the job. Christian fretfulness is unseemly precisely because the job of the Christian is to hold fast in the face of chaos, recalling that Christ is more powerful than any man or medium—that he is alive, and that grace abounds.
When we are secure in what we believe, we need not be brought down by unwelcome words from the world; rather, we must work with what the world hands us. Just as an Abbess or Abbot is entitled to use whatever resources his or her community contains to advance the stability of the abbey, the Holy Spirit has a way of confounding us by using what is out there in the world—sometimes very surprising things and people—to further the purposes and the will of Almighty God.
So engage without resentment. Pray for those who hate us. There is power there. Christians are joint-heirs with the Chosen people; it makes perfect sense that we might taste some of the sting and poison the world keeps offering to them.
There is nothing to fear here. Changing situations in the world are nothing in the face of the Unchanging.
Observation is valuable, but so is reflection. Most valuable of all is prayer and contemplation, and communion.
There are angels and demons in the whirlwind, but we can step away from it, and let them battle it out. Removing ourselves from noise of headlines and chatter helps us maintain perspective and see what it is we are each being called to do, and what matters not.
In that way we can ignore the whirl and leave the wind to the Holy Spirit, who creates no victims, only victors.