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Later this month, I'll be visiting Uganda. So a recent WND story about anti-Christian persecution there caught my eye. It made me wonder how much longer Christ-followers in the United States, or anywhere else in the world, will be able peacefully to proclaim the central tenets of our faith without facing violent, murderous attacks for doing so. The story reported on "recent developments in Uganda where, according to a Washington Times report, Muslims are now considering 'any public statement of the Christian faith' to be an insult to Muslims."
In June, a group of Muslims attacked Christian preachers in eastern Uganda during a "crusade" where Christians publicly profess their faith and invite others to join. Muslims in the town accused Christians of mocking Islam by publicly saying Jesus was the son of God.
Long before the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, could have had anything to say about it, the Evangelist wrote of the words the angel Gabriel said to Mary:
And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High. … The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.
According to the Evangelist (John 1:34), John the Baptist said of Christ, "I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God." So, too, St. Paul refers to "the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you," and in the epistle (1 John 4:13) writes, "By this, we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the World. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God."
Thus, to know in faith that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, sent by the love of God to save humanity from sin, and by the power of God resurrected from the dead — this is the heart of our faith, the heart that trusts in the love and truth of God-in-Christ, even unto death. It makes no sense of anyone on earth to claim that Christians espouse this knowledge out of enmity toward Islam.
Yet Christians are being assaulted and killed on account of this profession of faith, by Muslims who claim that we intend it as an insult to Islam. Though it takes place on another continent, in a nation seemly distant from their own, every Christian who hears of this reason for persecution should ponder its import. In a world where such antagonism prevails against the essential doctrine of our Christian faith, what prayer or public worship is safe from violent repression?
In the past, people in the United States may have had reason to believe that their profession of Christian belief was safe from such dangers. The notion that it insulted the faith of others, or that such insult justified repression, would have been dismissed as inaccurate, as well as contrary to our laws and mores. Within the limits of God's natural law and justice, people felt secure that the Constitution of our self-government secured the right to acknowledge God in Jesus Christ.
People were supposed to understand that part of the discipline of being a citizen of the United States involved constraining, within bounds of civil deportment, what was often mutual discomfort at the religious beliefs of others. We were required to practice that discipline, and we expected others to do the same.
This practice of mutual toleration was one of the special hallmarks of the regime of liberty Americans seeded and sought to develop, from the very earliest days of our republic. Now it is not only discarded but disparaged on our university campuses, and increasingly being abandoned as well in our businesses and workplaces. In effect, the notion of religious coexistence is being replaced by the oppressive enforcement of uniformity — ostensibly non-religious, yet seeking to impose practices recognized throughout human experience as subject to religious emotional and moral tenets.
The adamant violence some Muslims are directing against the profession of core Christian beliefs may be an aberration. Yet the history of nations dominated by Islam is replete with instances in which Christian beliefs and practices were ostracized by law and repressed by periods of violent persecution. People can say all they like that professedly Christian nations were not at all free of such patterns of repression and persecution. And they have much historical evidence to back up what they say. But given the contents of the Scripture, they have little or no evidence that traces the use of government or mobocratic power to force people to accept Christ. Such practices were the delusions of prideful ambition or angrily vengeful and mistaken zeal.
When His Apostles approached Him seeking permission to move against someone, not among the disciples, but who purported work miracles in Jesus' name, Christ restrained them.
John said to him, "Teacher we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us." But Jesus said, "Do not forbid him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us."
If Christ thus counseled toleration of those who evoked His name, what grounds can be imagined for pretending to convert people to Christ with oppressive violence? Christ and the Apostles are seen preaching persuasively and suffering violence themselves, in order to bear powerful witness to Christ's truth. But they are never seen forcing conversion upon others.
Indeed, people converted by violence, as they are not transformed in heart, do not come to know and accept the love of Christ within them, nor the joy of working to bring others, through Christ's presence, to salvation.
Terrorist episodes in which attackers evoke Allah's name have extended the shadow of anti-Christian violence to America. But with the Lord as our help and our salvation, of whom should we be afraid? If we go about the world seeking the salvation of souls, the only thing we have to fear — if that witness brings us to persecution and death — is the knowledge that we will, that very day, be with our Christ in paradise.
Perhaps that's why, in past ages, Christians did not shrink from a martyr's doom — rather they saw in it a cause for celebration and praise — because the example of Christ inspired them with such courage that they could perfectly fulfill the ministry of love God entrusted to their care.