Anti-Christian bias and bigotry is now a reality in America. It is not — at least not yet — the violent persecution seen in other parts of the world, but there is a surely and slowly spreading religious intolerance which is paving the way for public hostility.
By now you've probably heard how ABC's Joy Behar openly mocked Vice President Mike Pence on live TV by saying he was "mentally ill" because he says he hears from God in his prayers. This presenter insulted not only the Vice President, but the whole Christian faith.
Some of America's greatest leaders, including the late Billy Graham and Martin Luther King Jr., were Christian believers who impacted millions of people because of their faith. According to Joy Behar, these men, as well as every Christian since the time of Jesus, had to have been mentally ill.
To Christians, especially those in influential positions in society, this opposition should not come as a surprise. Jesus never sugar-coated the reality that his followers would be ridiculed for their faith.
"If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own," Jesus declared to his followers. "As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you" (Jn. 15:19).
Jesus' warning couldn't be truer today.
So the question becomes, when Christians encounter anti-religious bigotry, whether by the media or from across the street, how should they respond biblically? I want to offer two suggestions.
First, we must refuse to compromise our beliefs. In fact, we can even use the experience to strengthen our convictions.
In his letter to the early Christians, Peter wrote, "If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you," (1 Peter 4:14). Behar's offensive comment towards Vice President Pence should motivate Pence to pray all the more, particularly for God to soften the hearts of lost people. As Americans, it is also important to pray that our Christian government leaders would have strength to hold fast to their convictions.
Second, we should appropriately respond to the opposition. It was encouraging to hear how 30,000 phone calls inundated ABC News in defense of Vice President Pence, demonstrating how many Americans still support Christian beliefs and values. Even so, we should always defend our faith with gentleness and respect. Christians are called to a higher standard. "Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult," wrote Peter.
Peter and the early Christians demonstrated righteous zeal in defense of the faith, but they never divorced truth from love. Speaking truth without any compassion or empathy is not real truth at all. In fact, the Apostle Paul refers to it as a "noisy gong or clanging cymbal."
Jesus went as far as telling his disciples to love their enemies and give to them without expecting anything in return. If he were here today, he would probably tell us to serve our attackers, even when everything within us says to retaliate in equal measure.
We need to keep in mind that the real reason why people deride Christians is because they haven't experienced God's love and forgiveness. They are searching for truth and coming up empty. However, as citizens of Heaven, we have the strength of the Holy Spirit to help love those who ridicule us. When Jesus was being crucified, he looked at his executioners and said, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."
Let's show people we care enough to start a conversation — a conversation which involves both speaking and listening. Most people can't grab coffee with the host of "The View," so start with people in your workplace or in your neighborhood.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality." Let's choose to always respond in this way when someone insults or mocks us because of our faith. Christians are not called to win arguments. They're called to love people.
My Faith Votes is a nonpartisan movement focused on motivating Christians in America to participate in local and domestic elections. By partnering with local churches, pastors and national faith leaders, My Faith Votes mobilizes and resources Christians to lead the conversation on the place of faith in culture and politics. Gov. Mike Huckabee serves as the organization's honorary national chairman.