Christianity, believing God exists and that we must always seek to know, love and serve Him, sometimes finds itself at odds with a society which embraces values which reject what God commands. When that happens, we discover that the one unforgivable sin in society is choosing to obey God rather than men. I’m of the view that this happens because people don’t like to be told they are wrong in how they choose to live. If someone should dare to be a living witness to the fact that the values embraced by society are wrong, the society wants to silence that witness.
I believe Christianity receives this hostility because it is denouncing the idols of society. Sometimes those idols are literal, like the Roman Empire. Sometimes those idols are false ideas and values that deceive people into doing evil and calling it good. Either way, societies react badly when the Church says “I will not burn incense at your altar.” However, while some individuals may compromise, the Church herself cannot, and neither can the members who seek to be faithful to Our Lord. The Church is not called to conform to the world, but to lead it away from idolatry to the truth of God.
This isn’t a surprise which comes from nowhere. Our Lord warned us in several places that they would hate us on His account and we should not expect otherwise.
18 “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. 20 Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 And they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin; but as it is they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me also hates my Father. 24 If I had not done works among them that no one else ever did, they would not have sin; but as it is, they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But in order that the word written in their law might be fulfilled, ‘They hated me without cause.’ (John 15:18–25.)
These words of Our Lord are a good reminder in these times. I read the newsfeeds and the comments in them and see a demonic hatred directed at people who take a stand for God’s truth. Laws passed to protect the Christian from being forced to do evil are vilified as promoting intolerance, while laws, executive orders and court rulings that assault the Christian for daring to oppose the idols of society are willing to sacrifice the virtues the society was founded upon.
That’s nothing new of course. In the Second Century AD, St. Justin Martyr wrote to the Roman Emperor, Antonius Pius, offering a defense of the Catholic faith and appealing to the virtues valued by the Empire to give Christians a just hearing to see if they had done anything wrong before assuming guilt just because the accused was a Christian. St. Justin pointed out that the Empire could not be just and condemn people on the sole grounds that they were Christian. Ultimately, the Empire chose to persecute Christians over behaving justly. The fact that we call him St. Justin Martyr testifies to that.
Likewise, America has the same choice to make. She can either choose to live by the virtues that she was founded under or she can target Christians for refusing to bow down to idols which calls evil “good.” The behavior of our political and cultural elites, our laws and our court rulings show that our nation is making the wrong choices. Christians can be ostracized, taken to court, fined or even jailed for refusing to go along with the idols of our society. When we point out that our nation is behaving unjustly when it makes these decisions, the response is to state that we deserve our fate because we will not bow down to those idols. Instead, like the Romans did in pagan times, they accuse us of being “enemies of humanity” that need to be silenced.
Yet, even though they try to silence us, we cannot be silent. We are called to convert that society, not write it off for damnation. Our Lord gave us the Great Commission:
18 g Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20).
So, when they hate us because we will not accept the vicious customs of society and tell them a better way to live, we must make sure that our witness is not lost in bitter words over our unjust treatment. I think the words of Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Cum multa, should be a reminder of how we respond in sharing and defending our faith:
[#15] We exhort them to remove all dissensions by their gentleness and moderation, and to preserve concord amongst themselves and in the people, for the influence of writers is great on either side. But nothing can be more opposed to concord than biting words, rash judgments, or perfidious insinuations, and everything of this kind should be shunned with the greatest care and held in the utmost abhorrence. A discussion in which are concerned the sacred rights of the Church and the doctrines of the Catholic religion should not be acrimonious, but calm and temperate; it is weight of reasoning, and not violence and bitterness of language, which must win victory for the Catholic writer.
Claudia Carlen, ed., The Papal Encyclicals: 1878–1903 (Ypsilanti, MI: Pierian Press, 1990), 78.
Our witness must be made in both what we say and how we say it so we might not lead those who hate us into thinking we say one thing and do another.