From the intertubes, spotted in the twitter feed of a friend, Mindy Belz writes of “Wins and losses: Christianity is a defeated thing that survives all conquerors”
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its annual report in March, citing 16 countries as the world’s worst religious freedom violators. Outgoing commissioner Nina Shea pointed out, “Christians are far from the only religious group persecuted in these countries. But, Christians are the only group persecuted in each and every one of them.”
This is a striking trend but perhaps not surprising. Christianity, after all, is the only religion that doesn’t play to win. As G.K. Chesterton wrote, it’s a faith that’s “always at a disadvantage; it is a perpetually defeated thing which survives all conquerors.”
The good news is that this perpetually defeated thing does make us defeatists. Through the defeat of Jesus Christ on the cross we become victorious.
Indeed. The story of Judaism and now Christianity is of the ever-flowing cycle of blessedness, faltering, crushing, rising. Our Lord was eternally blessed, took on sin—the faltering of mankind, was crushed because of it, and rose triumphant, never more to die. Death has no more power over him.
Which reminds me of this paragraph I learned in my youth and has stuck with me ever since and has inspired my deep commitment to and love of Christianity:
If twelve men without influence, without knowledge, inexperienced in the ways of the world, but loving Christ profoundly, have succeeded by aid of some poor Jews in spreading the Christian Faith throughout the Roman Empire; if they have accomplished what Greece with all its eloquence, and Rome with its military power have failed to achieve; if they have succeeded in founding an institution which has lasted nineteen centuries – an institution which has regenerated the world, emancipated the slave, rehabilitated women, dignified family life, comforted the afflicted, uprooted vices, taught sublime truths, pure morality and heroic virtue, an institution which has resisted long-continued and dangerous destructive tendencies, undergone centuries of persecution, witnessed the passing away of kingdoms and peoples, remaining itself erect and immovable upon the ruins of time – an institution which has opposed human interests and passions – surely we have here the greatest of miracles. Unless the principle of causality be denied or the cogency of evidence called in question, it is necessary to recognize that this institution is Divine. Digitus Dei est hic. [The finger of God is here.]
– Francois de Lamy, Vérité évidente de la Religion chrétienne
In the world individual followers of The Way will still be called upon to be crushed—we all will experience this if we are true followers—but the Church cannot be crushed because She is the beloved spouse of the Lord who destroyed the power of the one who crushes.
Some experience the crushing in physical torture and martyrdom. Others are not called upon to experience that personally, though the martyrdom of one is a violence against all. And all are called upon to witness to the world the love of Christ, and go out into the world as lambs to the slaughter, working, during the time we are given, for uprightness and truth and goodness, by whatever means are prudent and necessary.
And in some ways it is quite a bit more difficult to be an effective witness when the world around you is simply asking for you to be “more like it” rather than demanding you wholly abandon your faith or die. When the people around you all seem so nice and caring and only want you to tolerate their version of caring—which seems so reasonable, and they seem like polite company by whom it would be rather comfortable to be accepted—it can be very tempting to merely soften your commitment to the demands of Christian truth and goodness. More difficult, in a way, than if a person has an AK-47 leveled at your chest and demands you denounce Christ. Of course, I’ve never experienced the latter, pray God I never do, but it is a moment’s decision rather than a slow-boil in the stew of indifference and acedia.
Either way, Christians face a world of opposition in a world we simply want to love and raise to greater Love.
So pray for the Christians being especially persecuted in those 16 countries and throughout the world. And pray for yourself, that you might be the most effective and bold witness to the goodness and truth and beauty of Christ our Lord to all the world.