Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Culture War: Persecution

I’ve written before about how Christians in this country suffer a persecution complex. A good example of this is the book Persecution by David Limbaugh, where he opens with a very well-written summary of the role religion played in this country’s early years but then spends the second half of his book listing anecdotes of trivial cases of persecution. The example that always comes to mind is of a public librarian who was reprimanded for wearing a Cross on her necklace. You see, the public library is an institution of the State and I guess the librarian is an authority figure so had to leave the Cross at the door. I'm sure that's the exception, not the rule. Compare that with the physical life-threatening persecution Christians suffer across the globe. Remember, when Jesus sent his disciples out to evangelize, he instructed them to shake the sand of their feet if they were rejected and walk away (Mt 10:14). Hardly the example of the legal, political and media retaliation we see today.

But sometimes persecution in this country can turn violent. Take the case of the recent "riot" in the Castro District of San Francisco. If you haven't seen the video or heard Bill O'Reilly rant on about it, the story goes that a group of Christians who weekly reach out in the Castro District were "assaulted" by a larger group of gays about a month ago. The girl heading it up was hit with her own Bible, knocked down and kicked repeatedly, and I guess hot coffee was also poured on others. The videos don't capture the incident, but instead follow the group as they're being led out of the area by police escort.

So is this what the Culture War has become? Should we expect violence in response to the Gospel of Jesus? Instead of asking, "what would Jesus do?" in this circumstance, I ask "what would you do?" How would you go about sharing the Gospel in a predominantly gay community right after the passage of Proposition 8? How would you fight on this front in the Culture War?

The girl, Christine Cloud, was on a local talk station recently and the host opened it up for calls of encouragement and support or questions about the incident. One gentleman called and asked exactly what their form of evangelism was there, since in the video it doesn't look like they're acting Christ-like. I'm not sure what he was talking about since I don't see any actual interactions with the Christian group. But the host turned the question around by asking what he'd do, if he was a Christian at all. Pretty insulting if you ask me. But the gentleman responded much like I would.

He encouraged those reaching out in such an area to live there and let their light shine, not to street-preach or cause confrontation, but to invite others into their homes and practice hospitality, express love instead of condemnation, and let their lives reflect the Gospel. Sound doctrine if you ask me, and this group did just that. They were singing Amazing Grace when they were assaulted, not street preaching and the girl lives near the area, has friends there, and frequents the coffee place where this all happened.

So in this battle, it sounds like the Christian group was fighting fair, so to speak. But the other side? Police were required to get the group out of the area. The mob repeatedly tried to push past the police, disrespecting their authority, and hundreds followed the group out chanting, "shame on you!" Shame on them? Really? If you watch the full video, you even see someone trying to overturn a car. Shame on who?

On this particular front in the Culture War, the only effective weapon is the love of Jesus. The video bears out the hostile party. Could things have been handled differently? Hard to say without being there, but the Christians handled the aftermath correctly. They turned the other cheek. The girl even refused to press charges and offered forgiveness. Contrast that with the curses from the mob.

Truth is, something like this is unlikely to happen to Average Joe Christian (no relation to Joe the Plumber). But we should look at it as an example of a compassionate ministry turning the other cheek.

For the "official" story from the ministry, you can go here.

No comments: