Some verses that the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4 were running through my mind this morning when I first woke up. The specific verses are found in Philippians 4:4-9 (NKJV):
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.
I was also reminded of the fact that Paul was in prison in Rome at the time he wrote his letter to the Philippians (which is the Book of Philippians in the New Testament). He was in prison because of his faith in Jesus Christ. GotQuestions.org provides the following background on Paul:
The apostle Paul was probably about 60 years old when he died. By first-century standards, he lived a rather long life.
Paul was born in the Greek city of Tarsus likely around AD 6, and he probably died sometime around AD 64, which means he would have been nearing age 60. Considering the hardships he endured and the times in which he lived, Paul would have been considered an old man at his death.
Initially, the Roman government treated Christianity as a sect of Judaism and thus usually afforded it a measure of religious liberty. But by AD 64, Emperor Nero was aggressively persecuting and killing Christians, blaming them for setting a disastrous fire that destroyed Rome in that year. Paul may have been one of many Christians who were falsely arrested and brutally executed at that time. It is also possible that Paul was arrested in the ensuing years, “chained like a criminal” (2 Timothy 2:9), and sentenced to death for his heroic faith and tireless efforts in advancing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
According to tradition, Paul was executed by beheading in Rome, although the exact circumstances of his trial and death were never written down. (Quote source and the rest of the article available here.)
Living in America where Christianity has flourished for a couple of centuries and religious freedom is written into our Constitution, we do not read accounts occurring here in America of the brutal types of persecution like Paul endured during his lifetime or that Christians in other parts of the world today are enduring. However, the landscape of religious freedom and attitudes towards Christianity here in America appears to be changing and waning.
In an article published on September 14, 2022, titled, “Christianity in the U.S. is quickly shrinking and may no longer be the majority religion within just a few decades, research finds,” by Li Cohen, social media producer and trending reporter for CBS News, she opens her article with the following:
Christianity has remained at the forefront of the nation’s political and social conversations for centuries—but new research shows that could be changing.
A new report by Pew Research Center and the General Social Survey published on Tuesday found that the large numbers of people in the U.S who practice Christianity are declining. The religion’s demographic has been dwindling since the 1990s, the report said, as many adults transition to an identity of atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.”
In the early ’90s, about 90% of people in the U.S. identified as Christians, the report said. In 2020, Christians accounted for about 64% of the U.S. population, including children. Meanwhile, those who are not affiliated with a religion has grown from 16% in 2007 to 30% in 2020, according to the research. All other religions, including Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, accounted for about 6% in 2020. (Quote source and the rest of the article available here.)
Let’s compare Paul’s time, as stated above in this quote– “Initially, the Roman government treated Christianity as a sect of Judaism and thus usually afforded it a measure of religious liberty. But by AD 64, Emperor Nero was aggressively persecuting and killing Christians.” –with our own. Here in America we also have a measure of religious liberty at this time, but that is not to say it will always be so, especially as Christianity in America continues to decline.
George Yancey, sociologist and professor of sociology at Baylor University, has written an article published on August 19, 2019, titled, “Is There Really Anti-Christian Discrimination in America?” on GospelCoalition.org. He is also the author of “Beyond Racial Gridlock: Embracing Mutual Responsibility” (IVP, 2006), “Hostile Environment: Understanding and Responding to Anti-Christian Bias” (IVP, 2015), and “Beyond Racial Division: A Unifying Alternative to Colorblindness and Antiracism” (IVP, 2022), and coauthor of “One Faith No Longer: The Transformation of Christianity in Red and Blue America” (NYU Press, 2021).
In Yancey’s article, “Is There Really Anti-Christian Discrimination in America?” he writes:
According to a recent survey, about half of all Americans believe that evangelicals face discrimination. Some have even talked about them facing persecution. Others argue that Christians are merely mistaking their loss of privilege for persecution. We are clearly living in a post-Christian society where Christian faith is no longer automatically respected. But does a post-Christian world mean that Christians are subject to discrimination?
Having studied Christianophobia—or the unreasonable hatred and fear of Christians—I can answer that question. First, I’ll look to see if Christianophobia exists to any meaningful degree. Then, I’ll examine the nature of Christianophobia to assess if it does represent unreasonable hatred of Christians. Finally, I’ll explore evidence of anti-Christian discrimination in one place in our society: academia.
Are anti-Christian attitudes widespread, or are we talking about a couple of nutcases? In my book “So Many Christians, So Few Lions,” I document that about 32 percent of all Americans like conservative Christians significantly less than other social groups. In comparison, about 31 percent of all Americans like Muslims significantly less than other social groups. So it’s fair to say that if we’re concerned about anti-Muslim prejudice, then we should also be concerned about anti-Christian prejudice—at least prejudice against conservative Christians.
It’s also worth noting who tends to have this type of animosity. My research indicates that those with anti-Christian attitudes are more likely to be white, male, wealthy, highly educated, politically progressive, and irreligious. Those first four markers indicate individuals who have quite a bit of per-capita social power.
Mild Disgust or Irrational Hatred?
On to the second question, about the nature of those who don’t like Christians. Do they merely feel mild disgust, or is it irrational hatred that can lead to discrimination? I sent a questionnaire with open-ended questions to a group of progressive activists who tended to be white, male, wealthy, educated, and irreligious. They were the type of people one would expect to exhibit Christianophobia. And they did. Here are just a few of the answers I received on my survey:
Kill them all, let their god sort them out.
A torturous death would be too good for them.
I’d be a bit giddy, certainly grateful, if everyone who saw himself or herself in that category were snatched permanently from our societal peripheries, whether by holocaust or rapture or plague.
I am only too well aware of their horrific attitudes and beliefs—and those are enough to make me see them as subhuman.
Clearly we are seeing the type of hatred that is unreasonable and can lead to discrimination. It is the type of dehumanization one expects to precede unfair treatment. But does it? Is it possible that values of tolerance and fairness among secular progressives inhibit their willingness to mistreat Christians?
Discrimination in America Today
To examine that question I looked at academia, an area where one expects to find the type of highly educated progressive secularists likely to have anti-Christian animosity. I asked academics if they would be less willing to hire someone who is either a fundamentalist or an evangelical. I found that more than half would be less willing to hire a fundamentalist, and almost two in five would be less willing to hire an evangelical. The academics answering my survey explicitly stated they would discriminate against a job candidate who is a conservative Protestant. (You can read about this research in my book “Compromising Scholarship.”)
There is other research indicating that conservative Christians face discrimination in academia. Stanley Rothman and Robert Lichter find that academics with socially conservative perspectives wind up with lower-status academic positions even when controlling for their productivity. Albert Gunn and George Zenner show evidence of religious discrimination against Christian medical students.
Some will argue that Christians still have advantages in America, such as political power. I don’t dispute that there are benefits to being a Christian in the United States. However, such advantages don’t negate the fact that among powerful individuals who tend to be politically progressive and irreligious, unfair treatment of Christians is possible, and perhaps even likely.
For example, my recent book looks at the media. My co-author and I find evidence that media are less sympathetic to stories where Christians face hate speech or violence than identical stories where other groups are victimized. Social institutions such as academia, media, entertainment, and the arts are likely to be places where anti-Christian prejudice and discrimination take place. Those institutions greatly shape our cultural values, and thus those with anti-Christian attitudes are in a position to create and sustain anti-Christian perspectives.
There is evidence that anti-Christian hate can lead to discrimination. Is it persecution? This is a complex question I recently struggled with. By a clinical definition of persecution, yes, Christians are persecuted in the United States. But I still discourage Christians in the United States from saying they are persecuted, since what we face today isn’t what most people envision when they think of persecution.
However, as Christians we should be aware that anti-Christian discrimination is real. Further, those likely to engage in such discrimination have an ability to shape larger societal values. Thus, anti-Christian discrimination isn’t going away any time soon.
How should we deal with this reality? (Click here for quote source and to read the rest of his article.)
In an article titled, “Is There Persecution in America?” by Megan Bailey, former Social Media Specialist and Content Producer for Beliefnet.com, she opens her article with the following:
Today, just like in the book of Acts, Christians are persecuted all over the world for following Jesus. While Christian persecution takes many forms, it is defined as any hostility experienced as a result of identification with Christ.
Trends show that countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East are intensifying persecution against Christians, and perhaps the most vulnerable are Christian women, who often face double persecution for faith and gender. North Korea was ranked #1 for the 17th consecutive year as the most dangerous country for Christians on the World Watch List.
These trends make sense for many American Christians. Persecution of their religion only happens in faraway countries, right? Wrong. Christian persecution is happening right here at home, on our own soil. Many here are attacked for their faith too. While it might not be at the level of beheadings or burned down churches as seen in other places of the world, it still is a problem that is growing. Traditional Christians are facing increasing intolerance in this country through the fines, the lawsuits, the jobs lost, and the public disdain felt.
Here are some of the ways that you might be experiencing Christian persecution in America, without even realizing it. (Quote source here along with the rest of her article where she discusses persecution in politics, on college campuses, and in public schools.)
So let’s now head back to the verses at the start of this post, specifically those words found in Philippians 4:8: “…whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” Paul was in prison when he wrote those words. They remind me of some other words Paul wrote in Romans 12:18. While persecution is done by others and we have no control over it, we can pray, stand in faith, and remember the words of Paul in Romans 12:18: If it is possible…
As far as it depends on you . . .
Live at peace . . .
With everyone . . . .
YouTube Video: “Stand in Faith” by Danny Gokey: