It takes more than a few trolls to stop the will of God.
Day 14: Matthew 5:10
Happy are those who are persecuted because they do what God requires; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them. Happy are you when people insult you and persecute you and tell all kinds of evil lies against you because you are my followers. Be happy and glad, for a great reward is kept for you in heaven. This is how the prophets who lived before you were persecuted.
Persecution. Once again, this doesn’t seem like something that would bring happiness into a person’s life. It brings to mind images of Christians being tossed to the lions or governmental torture of innocent victims. The word is tossed around a lot in Christians circles I find myself wondering if I know what persecution actually means. The Greek word that Matthew used is “diókó, which means “to put to flight, or pursue.” The modern English word is defined this way by Merriam Webster: “to treat (someone) cruelly or unfairly especially because of race or religious or political beliefs.” The Greek word sounds more like “harassment.” Anyway, persecution is society’s way of bringing its strays back into line.
Back in Biblical Days it seems that persecution was a huge problem. Jesus reminds his disciples that throughout history the prophets, or those who speak God’s truth, were persecuted and sometimes killed by religious or political authorities. Today the church doesn’t have the authority to kill people for disagreeing with its rules or refusing to obey like it did in the past.
While persecution is less institutionalized, it still exists. Society continues to try to make free thinkers and social reformers to give up their unorthodox ways. Today we call it bullying. There is an organization called “The Christian Left.” Here is how they introduce themselves on their website:
Ed Schultz asked on his radio show recently, “Is there a ‘religious left’?” Yes, Ed. There is. We are The Christian Left. We’re all around you. We’re among the people. Take a look. We’re part of the Body of Christ. We’re Christians. We’re Liberal. We make no apologies. In fact Jesus’ ways are “Liberal.” That’s why He was killed. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were the conservatives of their time… Stemming from egalitarian values (and what Jesus Himself said), adherents of the Christian left consider it part of their religious duty to take actions on behalf of the oppressed… Adhering to the standard of “turning the other cheek,” which they believe supersedes the Old Testament law of “an eye for an eye,” the Christian Left often hearkens towards pacifism in opposition to policies advancing militarism… We’re not ‘Communists’ or ‘Marxists’ either. We reject all such labels. We will not be profiled or pigeonholed and we will not ‘Be Quiet.’ We’re Christians. We’re Liberals. Please get used to it. Thank you. ;>)
Here is their official tee-shirt:
As a result of their support for politically-charged things like universal health care, welfare provision, subsidized education, foreign aid, Affirmative Action, gay rights, etc. their Facebook page has been targeted by Christian conservative “trolls” who bombard their page with negative, argumentative comments and sanctimonious sermonizing. Trolling is considered by the Internet community to be the height of bad manners. Here is Wikipedia’s definition of an Internet troll:
In Internet slang, a troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a forum, chat room, or blog), either accidentally or with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.
This sense of the word troll and its associated verb trolling are associated with Internet discourse, but have been used more widely. Media attention in recent years has equated trolling with online harassment. For example, mass media has used troll to describe “a person who defaces Internet tribute sites with the aim of causing grief to families.”
Harassment. Another word for persecution. But the Christian Left is not about to back down. They are not about to be intimidated. They just keep deleting all of those comments that accuse them of being “godless” and “communist” and “un-American” and “plotting to ruin the country” and all of the rest of it.
Personally, I’ve never experienced persecution. All I’ve ever experienced is a little minor discrimination here and there. While the kind of persecution that results in murder is of course evil, I agree with Jesus that a little persecution can be a good thing. Persecution is resistance, and, as is the case with weight lifting, a little resistance can be a good thing. It can build you up. It can force you to examine and test yourself. It helps you flush out your real feelings and level of commitment to your ideals. It helps you define who you are and what you believe. It can spur you into action and launch you into ministry. This blog is neither political enough nor popular enough to have attracted any trolls, but if one showed up I would consider it a measure of success. It would be a sign that I’m making someone nervous. As someone who would like to be an agent for change, that would be a good thing.
Persecution rarely works. You can force people to change what they say and do, but it’s almost impossible to make people change their minds. Persecution is often received as vindication and affirmation, because persecution and bullying are increasingly considered to be inappropriate behavior. Persecution itself is wrong and so the ideals of the persecutor must be wrong as well. The general perception is that the person with the best behavior has the best values and motives. Of course this is not necessarily true, but we tend to see things this way.
One of the areas where I’ve seen a lot of persecution and bullying in Christian circles is Bible studies. Very often one dominant person in the group tries to harass and bully people into sharing their personal doctrines and Biblical interpretations. Like Internet trolls, they want to argue and stir up trouble. Years ago I started avoiding Bible studies for this reason. I love to pray with other people, but I prefer to study on my own. I’m more interested in being conformed into the likeness of Jesus and I want to avoid being subliminally influenced by some nasty troll. It can happen.
So once again I think Jesus is right. Persecution can make us happy and urge us on to do the work that needs to be done. Jesus himself was a pacifist with the resolve of a warrior. In this scripture he says, “I’m here to start a revolution. Up with the lowly! Down with the proud! Don’t like it? Bring it on. I know you will hate me. What do I care? I’m here to speak for my father in heaven and make his will known here on earth. I don’t care what you do to me”.
Through Jesus God wanted to change the social order and power balance within society by empowering and bestowing his blessing on the weak and powerless. Jesus said that God wants to encourage the spiritually poor, the mourners, the humble, the sincere, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers….and now, in this last beatitude, the persecuted. People on the margins of Jewish society.
Jesus warns his new followers that there will be persecution. There will be trolls. Like Bette Davis in the movie All About Eve, he says to his followers, “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” Am I ready to follow Jesus on this bumpy road? It really doesn’t seem like the road has gotten much smoother over the last two thousand years. When it comes to this Christianity thing, amI willing to step out, speak my mind, and shake things up? Or do I pretend to agree with things that are going on just to keep the peace and blend in? Am I willing to defend the Good News of the Gospel against those who turn it into something else – like a ticket to heaven, or a way to put other people down, or an excuse to do whatever they want, or a vehicle for cultural imperialism, or mindless set of rituals and incantations, or a soulless institution that sucks up people’s resources and gives back nothing in return? Am I able to do it in a kind and loving way? And then, am I willing to be shunned or ignored or treated unfairly and suffer the consequences?
Well it may be a bumpy night, but like it says in the Psalms, joy comes in the morning. In the end, Jesus says there will be a great reward because goodness always shows up and shows out in the end. It takes more than a few trolls to stop the Kingdom of God from unfolding. Ready or not, here it comes.
What does this scripture say to you?