I often hear Christians talk about the religious freedom that Americans have and give thanks that the church isn't persecuted in America.
But if we look at American history, there are clearly some Christians and churches who have been the victims of real persecution, even to the point of being killed within their place of worship. September 15 marked the anniversary of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church of Birmingham, Alabama, where Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carole Denise McNair were killed. And this kind of persecution isn't new. If you look at regulations regarding black churches in the pre-Civil War South, the restrictions and limitations sound similar to the controls in place on churches in communist countries--gatherings are either outright prohibited or can happen only with a representative of the controlling majority present at the gathering. And as the shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston recently reminded us, attacks on churches are not a thing of the past.
The supreme tragedy, of course, is that the black church in America has generally suffered not at the hands of communist dictators or Islamic ayatollahs but at the hands of white folks who would self-identify as Christians. Brothers and sisters, how can this be?
So when we white Christians say the church hasn't been persecuted in America, we are admitting that our definition of the church is not Jesus' definition. We are unwittingly committing an ecclesiological heresy, identifying the church with our church, defined and divided along lines of race and ethnicity.
So don't tell me that you want me to stand with Kim Davis or use the term 'persecution' to describe a few days in jail. At least not until you and all God's children are willing to stand together with the church that has already endured persecution for most of its existence in America.