“We were in the hands of our persecutors, when my father, out of the affection he bore me, made new efforts to shake my resolution. I said to him: ‘Can that vessel, which you see, change its name?’ He said: ‘No.’ I replied: ‘Nor can I call myself any other than I am, that is to say, a Christian.’” Perpetua link
Today, I want to have debate as to whether or not the Oregon shooter is an example of legitimate Christian persecution. Also, I want to explore how would we respond to a person in that situation who lied and said they were not a Christian in order to avoid death? Then, to make it more personal, let's throw in how each of us might respond in a similar situation.
I do not want to discuss gun laws in this post.There are people of good faith on both sides of this political issue. Instead, this post should revolve round the issue of serious mental illness and what that means to Christians caught in such a situation. This is an issue that I have contemplated since the Columbine shooting and decided it would be great to bring it to our readers and see what they think. My guess is that all of you have considered this issue and I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts.
Government sponsorship of Christian persecution
There is no question that Christians have suffered true persecution throughout the last two millennia. Let me hasten to add that other groups have been persecuted as well. Today, though, we are focusing on Christians. One example of such oppression was the Roman persecution of the early Christians. The following link will take you to a site that outlines the persecutions that occurred under each Emperor of Rome.
From A.D. 30 to A.D. 311, a period in which 54 emperors ruled the Empire, only about a dozen took the trouble to harass Christians. Furthermore, not until Decius (249–251) did any deliberately attempt an Empire-wide persecution. Until then, persecution came mainly at the instigation of local rulers, albeit with Rome’s approval. Nonetheless, a few emperors did have direct and, for Christians, unpleasant dealings with this faith.
Early Christians judged those Christians who compromised their witness during these persecutions.
During the reign of Decius, Christians were required to sacrifice and burn incense to the Emperor. It is important to understand that Julius Caesar declared himself to be the son of God and this belief carried over to subsequent emperors. Therefore, this took on a spiritual meaning for Christians that went far beyond mere patriotism. Those who refused to do so were sentenced to death and/or prison. Many Christian died, others went into hiding, and still others caved under the pressure.
This synopsis from Wikipedia is a quick overview of the matter link (Quotes below are from Wikipedia.) For a more in depth look at the issue, read this post on Persecution in the Early Church Part 2 in Christian History Magazine.
The edict ordered that everyone in the Empire, with the exception of Jews, must sacrifice and burn incense to the gods and to the well-being of the Emperor in the presence of a Roman magistrate, and get a written certificate, called a libellus, that this had been done, signed by the magistrate and witnesses.
…Christians were prohibited by their faith from worshipping the Roman gods or burning incense before an image of the Emperor. Refusal resulted in the deaths of some notable Christians, including Pope Fabian, Babylas of Antioch and Alexander of Jerusalem. It is not known how much of an effort was made by the authorities to check that everyone in the Empire had a ticket certifying that they had sacrificed but it is known that numerous Christians, including Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, went into hiding. The numbers of people put to death for refusing to obtain a certificate is unknown. Large numbers of Christians performed the sacrifices as required, so much so that authorities at Carthage were overwhelmed by the numbers seeking a certificate and were forced to issue a notice requesting people to come back the next day.
Those who went into hiding or performed the sacrifices and received the libellus were held in suspicion by the church. After the persecutions died down, Christians who had not compromised debated as to whether or not those that had should be welcomed back into the church.
…The effects of the edict on Christian communities, many of which had until then lived peacefully and undisturbed, was traumatic. Christians such as Cyprian who had fled rather than face death, or who had performed the sacrifices, faced hostility from other Christians. By 251, efforts to enforce the edict had died down, and although short-lived, the “Decian persecution” became in the collective memory of the church an episode of monstrous tyranny.
It is important to note that this sort of persecution was a state sponsored, deliberate act of the Roman government.
The relevant Biblical verses which were used to in this debate.
Here are the oft quoted verses dealing this subject Luke 12:8-12. NIV (Bible Gateway)
“I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”
Was last week's shooting in Oregon an example of a cohesive strategy to target Christians?
Before we look at one such claim, there is a caveat. This tragedy is still being investigated, so we need to approach the anecdotal reports with a grain of salt. You may remember Cassie Bernall who was killed at Columbine. A whole industry was born around "She Said Yes" due to an anecdotal report that she said she was a Christian to the shooters who then killed her. Those reports have been discredited.
However, determining what was said or what wasn't said is not the focus of this post. Instead, let's debate "What if it were true? Then would it be Christian persecution?"
Todd Starnes says "Yes."
The day Christians were martyred on American soil by Todd Starnes
Kortney Moore was inside the classroom. She told the Roseburg News-Review that the shooter ordered students to get on the ground — and then told them to stand up and state their religion.
“And they would stand up and he said, ‘Good, because you’re a Christian, you’re going to see God in just about one second,” Stacy Boylan said in a televised report. “And then he shot and killed them.”
His 18-year-old daughter was struck in the back by a bullet – that traveled down her spine. She survived. Miss Moore, too, survived.
Davis Jaques, publisher of the Roseburg Beacon News, said he received a text message from a student who said she was inside the classroom.
“The shooter was lining people up and asking if they were Christians,” the message read. “If they said yes, then they were shot in the head. If they said no or didn’t answer, they were shot in the leg.”
Christians were martyred for their faith — on American soil —
Tennessee's Lt. Governor says "yes' and calls for Christian to arm themselves.
…“While this is not the time for widespread panic, it is a time to prepare,” Ramsey suggested, reacting to the 294th mass shooting in America this year.
…“Whether the perpetrators are motivated by aggressive secularism, jihadist extremism or racial supremacy, their targets remain the same: Christians and defenders of the West,” he declared.
…Ramsey then urged Christians to get serious about their faith and “think about getting a handgun carry permit.”
“Our enemies are armed. We must do likewise,” he concluded.
Was this possibly the act of a seriously mentally ill man who was delusional and not actually persecution of Christians?
Chris Harper Mercer, the man who killed nine people in Oregon yesterday, was almost certainly profoundly mentally ill. According to neighbors, Mercer isolated himself from others, communicated largely through the Internet and lived in the basement of his mother’s house in Torrance, California before moving to Oregon.
He was frequently seen wearing camouflage pants and combat boots. And he reportedly left a note at the scene of his rampage yesterday stating he had no girlfriend and no life and would be welcomed in Hell and embraced by the devil.
I certainly never examined Mr. Mercer, but these details, if true, may point to conditions like schizoid personality disorder, Asperberger’s syndrome or even schizophrenia, any of which can dramatically limit the ability to socialize and empathize with others, contribute to feelings of emptiness and isolation and spawn anything from intense depression to paranoid delusions.
Given the fact that Mercer lived for a time with his mother during his adult years, was noticed to be peculiar by neighbors and had acquaintances online, I would venture that more than one person knew he was not well.
Here is another statement by Ablow from Raw Story.
(Once again, I hasten to add that I do not want to get into a discussion on gun control.)
Ablow said that he never questioned why shootings happened because he worked as a psychiatrist.
He added: “And I see and get these calls from ERs where they say, ‘We want to send this person home, he threatened his mother and his family last night. But now he’s promising he’s fine. And we’ve got to get him out of here because the insurance company is on our back.’ That’s our system. That’s why this is happening.”
Should Christians always confess to being a Christian if it means being put to death, etc.?
I am going to go out on a limb and let you know where I am at. Throughout my Christian life, I have heard sermon after sermon praising those martyrs who have died for Christ. I admire so many of them. Perpetua is one of my heroes. I have often wondered, however, if there were instances in which it would be prudent, and even honoring to the life God gave me, to not blurt out my faith in some circumstances. With that in mind, here are a few of my thougts.(Always subject to change without advanced notice!)
- I would hope that I would be brave in the face of true Christian persecution, Ala the Roman Empire, to stand for my faith and be willing to go to the Coliseum as did Perpetua. I believe that those were true persecutions, premeditated by the government and carried out systematically. The Emperors knew exactly what the were doing. There is no question that Romans considered their Emperors to be gods.
- Sitting in my comfortable kitchen in America, I can say I would stand my ground. But what if I chickened out and didn't?
- I think of Peter who denied Jesus three times during the trial. He became a leader in the faith and went on to be an actual martyr. He was forgiven for denying Christ.
- In my reading of the persecution of the early Christians, Roman soldiers used terrible tactics to get people to recognize the Emperor as god. The children of Christians were occasionally tortured in front of their parents. Could I stand up under that? Let me be honest. I don't know.
- I see nothing in Scripture that would prevent a Christian from going into hiding to prevent being martyred. In fact, one of the ways the Christian faith spread was due to Christians fleeing the persecutions in Rome.
- I most likely would have encouraged the early church to welcome those who caved under the realities of torture and death in the Coliseum yet would understand the feelings of those whose loved ones had been martyred.
- I believe that the Oregon shooter was desperately mentally ill and agree that he could have been a schizophrenic. He was most certainly delusional. Let me put it this way. Suppose he came into the school and said he would shoot all people who had dogs. My guess is that everyone would lie about that one. This man was not thinking clearly and should never have been out on the street.
- I do not believe that this situation constitutes a coordinated Christian persecution. Instead, it is the act of a madman who probably doesn't even comprehend what "Christian" really means. Some just assume that he does. The time to assess his understanding is not while he is wielding weapons.
- Wouldn't it be best to try to stay alive, help others to stay alive and even try to take down the shooter?
So, I believe in this situation, I would lie and answer "No" to his question "Are you a Christian?" Now, let's open this up to discussion. I am truly willing to say that I might be wrong.
Please join me in praying for all of those who have been so tragically affected by this incident.