It was not what they were looking for but they found it anyway! Earlier this year, the Institute for Jewish and Community Research surveyed 1,200 professors from a cross-section of colleges, seeking their attitudes toward various religions. It was a project originally intended to gauge anti-Semitism. Quite unexpected to the institute (and one suspects it will catch few readers of Preaching unaware), something else was uncovered. Those college teachers stated that while most of them had “generally positive” feelings toward Jews and Roman Catholics, 53 percent of them said they possessed an unfavorable opinion when it came to students and other professors who are evangelical Christians.
In a nutshell, the survey reveals a religion problem of sheer bigotry, but not of the kind the Institute for Jewish and Community Research set out to find. It seems that the tolerance of “religious pluralism” that has for a generation now been trumpeted on America’s campuses has but one eye and it sees only to the left!
Does this surprise you? It shouldn’t! Long ago, Jesus said we should expect it: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mat. 5:11-12). It is the strangest blessing in the Bible, yet the promise of it comes from the only lips that can really be trusted to communicate unwavering truth: the Lord of the cross. It is the life we are called to live.
Time and again, the academic establishment has dismissed reports of bias against Christians as mere anecdotes, but this research reveals concrete evidence of prejudice and intolerance. Jesus Christ, the greatest preacher who ever lived, says that it is a blessing to be cursed for His sake!
It is nothing new. Chrysostom, the Fourth Century patriarch of Constantinople, was arrested by the forces of Rome and dragged before the emperor on the charge of being a Christian. Chrysostom was informed that his release would be granted if he would renounce his Master, but if he failed to give up Jesus he would be banished from the kingdom.
Undaunted, Chrysostom told the emperor, “There is nowhere you can send me that my Father will not be present, for this is my Father’s world.” “In that case,” replied the emperor, “I will have your life!” “Ah,” responded Chrysostom, “but you cannot, for my life is hidden in Christ with God.”
“You shall be spared then,” replied the emperor, “but we shall take away all your possessions and you will be forced to live as a homeless pauper.” “That will not work either,” Chrysostom is said to have replied, “for my treasure is with my heart in heaven, where moth and rust cannot corrupt nor thieves break in and steal.”
Incensed, the frustrated emperor of Rome made one last threat, “Unless you reject this Jesus of Nazareth I will see you driven away from here and you shall have not one friend wherever you will go!” With steadiness and dignity, Chrysostom answered, “But you cannot, for I have one Friend who stays closer to me than a brother and from whom no one can ever separate me. Emperor, you can do me no harm!”
It was the same in the First Century of our Gospel. The Acts of the Apostles is the exciting account of men and women, many of them preachers like you and me, who withstood stiff persecution and personal loss but kept on keeping on wherever Jesus took them. They knew somehow that this world has always hated Christ without a cause and hated them also because they were His followers; but for the glory that was up ahead, they continued steadfast in their discipleship. In doing so, they set the mold for us to shape our response when the envelope of persecution is addressed to where we live and work and preach.
“…in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mat. 5:12). As preachers, we are called to live the life of strange blessing. Centuries later, nothing has changed, for the wind of this world still blows with unrelenting fierceness toward hell, and anyone who walks into it will feel it in his or her face. On the other side of the wind there is life forever with Jesus!
–Robert Leslie Holmes lives and pastors in South Carolina. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His latest Ambassador International book is When Good Enough Just Isn’t Good Enough.