When I was a new Christian, reading through the New Testament for the first time, I was quite fascinated with – and frightened by – the various gospel accounts of forthcoming persecution. Passages such as John 16:2-4 and Mark 13:9 spoke about being dragged before magistrates, and having to give an account of your Christian faith. They warned of hardships and being put to death for one’s beliefs. They even warned that some will think they are doing God a favour when they put you to death.
I wondered hard and long about those passages. Maybe they were describing life in communist countries. But surely they have no relevance for modern Western nations. However, having been involved in the culture wars here in Australia for over a decade, as one trying to take a stand for faith and family values, I can see one clear way in which these passages are being realised in the modern West.
I refer to various bits of new legislation – both Federal and state – that have been passed (and will continue to be passed). Specifically, I refer to the different equal opportunity laws and tribunals that have been set up; the various pieces of anti-discrimination legislation and related boards that have been established; and the numerous anti-vilification laws and courts being initiated.
These sorts of laws and governing bodies have been set up for various reasons, and in theory they were established to protect various people and groups. But the effect of many of these boards and acts of Parliament is to make it very hard to be a vocal, evangelical Christian.
How so? Mainly by clamping down on those who seek to stand up for biblical truth and moral absolutes. This is because in an age which above all else values tolerance, pluralism and inclusivism, anyone who appears to be the opposite – intolerant, particular, exclusive – will increasingly become targets of these various discrimination and vilification laws.
Christians who proclaim absolute truth, who hold fast to biblical morality, and who proclaim Jesus Christ as the only way to God, simply do not fare well in a culture that abhors absolutes, denies truth and teaches moral relativism.
Biblical Christians, in other words, have become the new trouble makers in a society that wants to pretend it is right with God while living like the devil. Thus modern secular societies have no quarrels with New Age thinking, or various Eastern religions that say all roads lead to God. But they do detest the Christian religion which makes exclusivist claims about truth and salvation, and does argue for moral absolutes.
Secular, pluralistic society is happy to tolerate almost anyone and everything, including deviant lifestyles and bizarre belief systems. But that tolerance wears thin real quick when it comes to Biblical Christianity.
Therefore we are beginning to see a fulfillment of these passages. More and more Christian leaders are afraid to speak out on controversial moral and social issues. More and more Christian preachers are choosing not to “offend” their listeners and are watering down their sermons and avoiding remarks that might be deemed too absolutist or discriminatory.
And those who do seek to remain faithful to the gospel calling are starting to feel the heat. Already it is getting difficult to speak out on certain things, such as homosexuality, for fear of violating some anti-discrimination legislation. And some states, because of their legislation on religious vilification, are already hearing cases where Christians have been accused of breaking the law. These kinds of situations can only get worse, and increase in number, if present trends continue.
Christians in twenty-first century Australia may not fear being thrown to the lions for not worshipping Caesar, but increasingly they will be fined or imprisoned for simply proclaiming biblical truth, and standing up for biblical morality. That is the bad news. The good news is Jesus promised he would be with us in such circumstances, and his Spirit would guide us as we speak.
The question then is not whether we will face persecution, but when. And the more important question is, are we willing to pay the price of remaining faithful to our Lord in a hostile society?