Blessed are those who persecute?
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)
As we approach Good Friday it is appropriate for Christians to contemplate the crucifixion of Christ and the persecution that Jesus suffered at the hands of the religious and political authority figures in Jerusalem.
Nor should we forget the faithful who are suffering for their faith in many places in the world today.
But should we Christians turn a blind eye to the suffering that we and our ancestors, the church universal, have inflicted on others in the name of Christ over the ages? For it is historical fact that within a few short centuries the persecuted became the persecutors, that confessing Christians tortured and killed Pagans and Heretics throughout Christendom, calling it good and righteous.
This is no mere historical issue for me or for some of the communities I am involved in, for many people I know and move amongst are Pagan – who self identify as such, and have suffered as such. They are much like you and me, they work in business and teaching and IT, but they differ in one important respect: the worship many gods and goddesses, nature spirits of the fertile earth. And one thing I hear time and time again from them is stories of persecution at the hand of self righteous Christians. They find themselves reviled, vilified, falsely accused of Satan worship and (somewhat ironically) of child abuse, and of being cast out of churches they were trying to connect with.
And yet, I have found that when I approach my Pagan neighbours with respect, more often than not they are respectful towards me. And when I listen in order to understand, they are happy to enter into conversation and are open to what I have to say as well. Many have become friends. And through these conversations in community I have discovered a truth: that disagreement need not lead to disrespect, that truth is best spoken in love.
So what will I reflect on this Lent? I will reflect on the capacity we, the church, have for persecution, as much as we would like to live in denial. I will reflect on the darkness at the door, on the potential Pharisee that lurks within us all. And I will reflect on the Messiah, the one who taught us what real blessedness was about.
Matt Stone is a blogger from Sydney, Australia, and has been blogging about world
religions since 2004. His writing flows out of experiences amongst Christians, Hindus,
Buddhists, Wiccans and the “spiritual but not religious,” both as a Christian and prior
to that. His work may be found at mattstone.blogs.com.