I want to raise and address two questions here:
(1) Are Christians in America being persecuted?
I have heard it said that if we answer “yes” to this question, we trivialize real examples of Christian persecution that are happening in other places. But I don’t think the logic of that argument follows. I view persecution on a spectrum, with relatively lighter forms and more severe forms. There is no widespread violent persecution of American Christians that I am aware of, and to this point much of the persecution we face is simply verbal in nature. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t qualify as persecution. In making reference to the story of Ishmael and Isaac, Paul write in Galatians 5:29, “But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh [Ishmael] persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit [Isaac], so also it is now.” Paul clearly refers here to the story in Genesis 21:8-9, where Ishmael apparently laughed in mockery at his younger brother, and Paul refers to it as persecution. Therefore, it seems that we have biblical justification to refer to ridicule, mockery, and other forms of verbal hostility as a form of persecution.
But we should not assume that it has only gone that far to this point. A number of Christians who have opted not to violate their own consciences under the pressure of the sexual revolution have found themselves in court on numerous occasions. For example, Aaron and Melissa Klein were fined somewhere in the neighborhood of $135,000 by Oregon’s Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. Note here that the issue wasn’t an unwillingness to serve homosexual customers. It was an unwillingness to take a role that would involve the Kleins in the celebration of a same-sex wedding. Mr. and Mrs. Klein decided that they could not in good conscience use their artistic abilities to decorate and beautify such an event. The state of Oregon has now changed their lives forever as a result. I would argue that such an event is clearly an instance of persecution, and while there are other examples we could identify of this kind of hostility to Christian faith, we can only imagine how many more unreported events of a similar nature may have occurred.
It is important that we recognize the truth that yes, Christians in America are being persecuted. That does not mean that all Christians in America are being persecuted, nor does it mean that the persecution that is now occurring is at the same level as that occurring in other places, such as Syria, China, or Saudi Arabia. But if we assume that being a Christian in America really doesn’t cost you anything, we are setting ourselves up to be taken off guard when the moment of testing comes for us. Jesus told his disciples repeatedly that they would be hated and abused because he knew that they needed to prepare themselves to stand firm in the midst of such persecution.
(2) If current trends continue, what does the future hold with respect to Christians and persecution in America?
As Albert Mohler has said repeatedly, we are watching a cultural battle between religious liberty and erotic liberty play out before our eyes, and more often than not, erotic liberty is winning. John Stott has said that persecution is simply the inevitable clash between two irreconcilable value systems. What we have in America today are the initial phases of such a clash, and we can only expect it to worsen in years to come unless something changes.
On one side is the value system of the sexual revolution, which claims not only that virtually any sexual arrangement between consenting adults must be tolerated, but also that it must be publicly affirmed and celebrated, or else injustice and inequality prevail in society. On the other side is the value system of the historic Christian faith, which has always held that God has set boundaries on sexuality for our good and his glory, and that while not all sexual sins must be deemed crimes in this present age, nevertheless, as sins they must not be celebrated or publicly affirmed. Clearly, these value systems are irreconcilable, and one will have to give ground at some point to avoid an escalation of persecution. My hope is that at some point the sexual revolutionaries will recognize that they have won and will decide that a measure of genuine pluralism in society is not actually harmful, leading them to put in place commonsense measures to protect minority consciences and allow Christians (and others) to dissent from the new sexual orthodoxy.
But to this point I have seen no indication at all that cultural forces have even begun to move in that direction. By contrast, the pressure only seems to be growing as time moves on. So if current trajectories hold, I think we are likely to see Christian institutions, and possibly even churches, punished by oppressive government regulations in years to come. The cost may be high. Jobs will be lost, and livelihoods will be gone, creating the need for former employees to enter a new kind of economy in which they are less marketable and competitive. Some colleges and seminaries may lose accreditation, forcing students to choose whether they want to be trained in a setting where orthodoxy is valued or pursue a “real” degree that will be recognized by potential graduate schools and employers. Opportunities will vanish, and faithful Christian believers will find themselves marginalized more and more from society.
But none of this should take us by surprise. Jesus told us to expect that the world would stand against us if we follow him. Persecution has been part of the deal from the beginning; we need to get used to the idea and prepare to endure it with grace, and even joy. This is what we signed up for, because we know Jesus is worth far more than anything the world can take from us.