It takes courage to live as a Christian in America in the 21st-century. I know that many of you are going to stop reading right now. Christians are not being killed in America like we are in so many other parts of the globe. We don’t even face imprisonment here in the United States of America. Yes, some people have had to face economic consequences for standing by their Christian convictions, but by and large, there is very little oppression of Christianity in the United States.
If that was what I was talking about, you would be right. The United States is not currently a place where you are going to lose your life for being a Christian.
However, Christianity takes courage in the United States because of the cultural climate we find ourselves in. I have a few reasons for believing this, and I will lay those out sequentially for you.
First, consider what it means to be a Christian. You are putting your faith in the fact that Jesus Christ, God in human form, died and rose again. Not only that, but after He came back to life, He ascended into heaven. Not only that, but we trust our Bibles. Our Bibles are full of things that are pretty incredible as well. Think about it. The Israelites were led by a pillar of fire, and they still rejected God. I don’t know what is harder to believe: the fact that there was a pillar of fire miraculously leading them or the fact that they could be so stubborn and ignore such an obvious signal of divine presence. Not only that, but we believe in God creating the universe out of nothing.
Affirming these truths seems crazy especially in our hyper-rationalistic age. Affirming Christianity means staring that culture in the face and saying that we don’t buy into the assumptions of philosophical naturalism. We reject the prevailing worldview of American culture. It takes courage to go against the grain. Naturally, we have reasons for what we believe, and they are perfectly valid reasons, but not everyone is going to see it that way. This is not a call to anti-intellectualism, but it is rather a call to the recognition that there are people who are going to think we are ridiculous for believing what we believe despite all the evidence we might provide to support our position. Because we are going against the culture, it takes courage to have some people call us crazy no matter how much proof we provide.
As a brief side note on this topic before we continue, I think this is a particular temptation for people who tend to be proud of what they know. For people who have built their reputation on being one of the smartest people in the room, it can be hard to admit that they believe something that is going to make people think they are false. Of course, we understand that, as Christians, we are called to be fools for Christ, but that can be a difficult challenge for some of us. If we have built a reputation on how smart other people think we are, we have to be willing to give that up if necessary. We never give up our pursuit of truth, but some people will not support us when we follow the path to the cross.
Secondly, Christianity takes courage in our culture because so many people simply do not understand what it means or think that they are with us when they are not. The 2018 version of The State of Theology survey came out recently. 78% of Christians somewhat or strongly believe that Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God. That’s a little problematic unless you don’t mind heresy. 32% of evangelicals say that their beliefs are not objectively true. You can imagine how someone like the apostle Paul would respond to one third of evangelicals. 53% of evangelicals would somewhat or strongly agree with the statement that everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature. I’m not a huge fan of the wording of this statement, but it is potentially problematic if this belief in the goodness of humanity extends to not requiring salvation from Jesus Christ. The survey didn’t press further on this point as far as I can tell, but you can see how this could be a big problem.
You wonder why I bring this up and why it takes courage to be a Christian in this kind of culture where even Christians have erroneous theological views that are at odds with two millennia of Christian tradition. Sometimes it is harder to stand up to those who think they are on our side. It is really easy for me to stand up to Planned Parenthood and say that abortion is wrong. They don’t pretend to agree with me, and I don’t think that they are on the same page as I am. Therefore, we both realize we are bound to collide. While it may not always be the most pleasant, it is not surprising.
Personally, I find it harder when we have people who say they are Christians, but their theology really makes you wonder if they actually are. I’m not here to judge them. That is between them and God. However, when they hold positions that are contrary to the Biblical testimony, they need to be brought back into orthodoxy. They need to be brought back into a true understanding of God. There would be very few things worse than facing God on judgment day, thinking that you had been following Him your entire life and realizing that He never knew you. That truly is a wasted life, thinking that you were doing everything right to find your way to eternal security and being incorrect the entire time.
These discussions are naturally very hard to have because they believe that they are truly following God, and I truly believe that I am following God. In some ways, we are on the same team, but in other ways, we are entirely separated. It is an entirely different conversation than the one that I have with someone at Planned Parenthood. It takes courage to talk to those within our own camp to help bring them back to a right understanding.
It is difficult to criticize members of our own camp, and it takes courage to counterintuitively show them love by pointing out where they are falling out. It may not seem kind or loving, but we have to step up and take on that challenge. After all, it matters. These kinds of things are not little tangents of the Christian faith. We need to stand firm for Christianity, and doing it with those people who believe they are actually aligned with us takes a great deal of strength and courage.
Third, I think that the most powerful tactic that Satan uses against us is the belief that we are isolated. The whole country is falling apart, and no one is really a Christian anymore. We are all alone, and there is no one who can help us.
Of course that is blatantly false. We are never alone as long as God is with us, but we are also never humanly alone, especially in the United States today. We believe we are isolated, and we are told that Christianity is some kind of relic of our national past, but that is entirely false. However, the reason that we believe we are isolated is because we often times do not speak out. We are not public with our Christianity, so that person who sits beside you at the office or the other parent at your child’s football practice might be a Christian just like you, but you would never know it.
There is a story that I know I heard through my church at one point, and I don’t know if it is true or not, but it talks about a lady who was a member at a relatively large church. It was at least large enough that she didn’t know everyone who attended there on a regular basis since they had multiple services and a large auditorium. She heard there was a community supper, and she thought that she should invite the lady who sat beside her in the office to that dinner. She had never really spoken to her about her Christian faith before, but she thought this may be a good opportunity.
She went to the office the next day and was really nervous about invading her friend. Of course we are all afraid of rejection or ridicule as I mentioned above. However, when she told her coworker, her coworker laughed. Our lady was a little bit confused, but her coworker explained that she had been convicted to invite her to that same dinner and was just as afraid to ask her.
Obviously, the story has a happy ending, and, like I said, I don’t know if it is true or not. However, the kind of sad part about this story is that these two ladies worked beside each other, and neither one knew that the other one was a Christian or even that they attended the same church. Thinking that we spend 40 hours every week with our coworkers, it is at least humbling to me to wonder if many of them know that I am Christian. Facebook makes that much more obvious if they see what I post, but it does worry me to think about how few of my coworkers I have ever shared the Gospel with. I could be just like one of the women in that story. My coworkers might believe they are isolated. I might have more Christian coworkers than I think, but if we are all quiet about it, we will think that we are the only ones there who follow Jesus Christ. Those ladies thought they were isolated, but they were not in actuality. I think that Satan is very happy to keep this feeling that way. Therefore, it takes a great deal of courage to speak up. We get the benefit of feeling that God is with us when we step out in faith, but we also get to encourage someone else who may be feeling like they are the only question left in their office, on the sports team or in town even.
It is not easy to be a Christian in America. I realize our lives are not in danger, and I do not write this to minimize the experience of Christians around the world who face that kind of persecution. I am grateful that I do not have to face those potential consequences in my life right now. However, that does not mean that being a Christian is easy in America either, and the challenges we face, while not lethal, I still plenty strong enough to cripple us and make us ineffective for the cause of Jesus Christ. We can be afraid of ridicule, awkward conversations and isolation. Those are all very real things, and they are barriers that can really bring us down. We need to face them with courage and charge them head-on. Until we do that, we are not going to do all that God would have us to do.