Last week there was yet another shooting on the Umpqua Community College in Oregon. On June 17, a shooter targeted a Bible study at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston. In both shootings there were 9 victims killed. In both shootings, Christians were targeted. Reports share that the shooter in Oregon asked if people were Christians before he shot them, leaving those who were with worse wounds.
The easy question to ask is, “Why are Christians being targeted?” We could dismiss both of these shooters as mentally unstable and dismiss these shootings as abnormal and uncommon. Yet these are only the two mass shootings we have seen this year in national news in America. If we open our worldview, we find that Christians are being targeted around the globe. For example, in Egypt Christians, who used to make up 10% of the population, have had their churches burned, as in 2013, and have had numerous kinds of persecution. The Coptic Christian Church has existed since the very beginning of the early church, yet these Christians have experienced increased persecution since the Arab Spring arose 2010.
Many of the refugees fleeing Syria are Christians, some who are being ousted from ancient villages by ISIS where Christians have lived for many centuries. Some of these villages still speak Aramaic, the common tongue of Jesus. The living history of our church that has survived 2000 years is being lost due to the current political climate that is so hostile to the Christian faith. But why?
We do not need to look any farther than Scripture to get an answer. In John 16 Jesus tells his disciples he is leaving them to go to the Father soon. He tells them this in verse 33. “I’ve said these things to you so that you will have peace in me. In the world you have distress. But be encouraged! I have conquered the world.” We know that the world will give us trouble. In John 15:18 Jesus tells us that the world may hate us. We know we can expect opposition from the world. We know that when we have faith in Jesus and oppose the sin in the world we will have trouble, persecution, and trials. We know we should have hope. Yet, in all of this, why now are we facing mass killings in our schools and churches? Why are Christians being persecuted so much?
Look at Acts 8. Saul, who later became Paul, approved of the killing of Christians. The persecution of the church occurred from the very beginning. Here is what we must realize: if we are to actually be the church and do what Christ commanded us to do, we should face opposition at some point. In truth, it was this scattering of Christians that spread the gospel from Jerusalem into into the Roman Empire. Without the persecution, the church may never have spread as fast as it did with Saul. The early church finally did what Christ told them to do. “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” Acts 1:8b.
The Christian message is incompatible with the world. We cannot call ourselves Christians and still live like the world. We live in the world, but we are not of the world. When we see the sin of the world, we stand firm. When the world tells us that sin is accepted, and what has always been known to be sinful is now fine, we anchor ourselves in our relationship with Jesus and each other in the church. When the world sees that we do not bend and are not swayed with every argument, they will oppose us. Some occasionally may pursue us. They may kill us. They may scatter us.
In America and much of the west we are now in a post-Christian world. We now see African and Asian countries sending missionaries to America. America is now a mission field. It is no longer popular to be called a Christian, so we will find instances of Christians being targeted may only increase with time. We are not alone in our persecution. The American church is only beginning to understand what our brothers and sisters in Christ face every day in other countries.
Our war is not a cultural one. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” Ephesians 6:12. We must remember we cannot demonize someone else simply due to their religion, ethnicity, politics, race, or appearance. As Christians, we must respond by putting on the full armor of God. We must anchor our lives in Christ. We must live out our faith not only in the sanctuary but in the home, the office, the field, and the school. When we see opposition, know our greatest weapon is the love of Christ.
Have hope. I peeked at the end of the Bible. Guess what? We win. In fact, when Jesus rose from the grave on Easter morning he conquered the grave. If we have faith in Him, we already have the victory. So we do not need to fight the world. We only need to be faithful to Christ. Keep our eyes on Him. The world may rage against us. They may even kill us. “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.” Job 19:25.