“That’s harsh!” you may be thinking. And then you may bluster, “Christians care about . . .everybody. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ you are supposed to love everyone! Of course Christians care! Remember that old Jesus Movement song, it said, ‘And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.’”
Well, yes, that’s true. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are supposed to love everyone. Even those who hate you. Jesus forgave those who crucified Him – along with the rest of mankind that weren’t such great shakes either. But that’s not the problem (although it raises a whole new set of questions about how broadening a subject may sometimes be used as an excuse for not addressing the specific problem – and probably not addressing the broader one, either). The issue is whether or not Christians are obeying the Biblical mandate expressed in Galatians 6: 10 that says we are to especially do good to the “household of faith.” The Bible further calls the Church “members of one Body” and so much to the extent that if one part of the Body suffers, the whole Body is to share the pain.
See how they love one another . . . a testimony to sheep and an indictment to goats
Going back to the song we of a certain age used to sing with our arms around each other’s shoulders, wearing our jeans embroidered with fish symbols. . . the refrain of Fr. Peter Scholtes’ song is a reference to early North African Church Father, Tertullian. As a theologian and historian Tertullian recorded the amazed observation of the pagans concerning the early Christians, suffering tremendous persecution under a succession of emperors, “See how they love another! See how they are ready even to die for another!” Tertullian, coincidentally enough, is also the source of that oft-repeated, less-often-deeply-meditated-upon quote, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
So, it appears that even Fr. Scholtes ‘broadened the subject.’ His song was written to encourage Christians across the denominations towards unity, as well as being a statement of racial reconciliation in the turbulent 1960’s. It was and is a beautiful and worthwhile initiative.
But who now, or even in those heady Jesus Movement days, connects the words “They will know we are Christians by our love” with the idea of showing such love for your fellow Christians who are being persecuted that it identifies you as a Christian? Of taking such a stand for them that it threatens your own life (or reputation, or popularity, or political correctness)?
Do you know who else besides the pagans knew from the love of those rag tag Christians living in Rome and Carthage that they were Christians? Their fellow Christians who were being loved: the families that had fled from unhinged emperors; the widows who had seen their husbands turned into human torches; the orphans whose parents had been wantonly chosen as amusements for the citizens of Rome in Nero’s circus. (Here I pause for a short commercial break that is totally connected: If you have not yet seen Paul, Apostle of Christ. . . See it! It is powerful and beautiful depiction of what the early church faced, the strength of the faith of the Christians in that age of persecution, and their love for one another.)
The love and support of those who embraced the persecuted and took them in was a living testimony that they were followers of Jesus. But in addition, in the Gospel of St. Matthew, Chapter 25, Christ describes the gathering of the nations before the throne of Glory. Please note that this follows Matthew 24 where Jesus reveals the persecution of His followers that will take place before He returns. It is the testimony of the love and support that the martyrs and persecuted (the “least of your brothers” are not just those poor and needy for other reasons) received on earth that distinguishes sheep from goats!
I had two experiences, almost two decades apart, which demonstrated to me how Christians sometimes go out of their way to care about everybody but their persecuted brothers and sisters.
I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about me, it’s all about me
The first experience came at a time when there actually was a brand new movement underway to be a voice for persecuted Christians. I participated in the creation of the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church around 1996. Not long after, our advocacy began that led to the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA). In order to help educate Christians – particularly American Christians – about worldwide persecution of their fellow believers, Voice of the Martyrs teamed up with the Christian band DC Talk and in 1999 published a year-long daily devotional book Jesus Freaks: Stories of Those Who Stood for Jesus; The Ultimate Jesus Freaks. Each day of the year featured the life story of a Christian martyr from the earliest days of the Church up to the end of the 20th century. With commentary from the DC Talk band members, it served as a sort of modernized Foxes Book of Martyrs.
When the book came out, I eagerly perused the comments about the book on Amazon. Jesus Freaks was very popular and “inspirational.” But I was dismayed that out of 72 comments, all but two were solely along the lines of “this book convicts me about my faith in Christ,” “I want to be a better Christian after reading this book,” “it made me wonder what I would do if I were suffering persecution!” Me, me, me, me. Thank God for two people who wrote that they were humbled by the faith of these Christians, convicted to pray for those who are persecuted, and interested in finding out what they could do to help them.
If I read the comments for the book on Amazon today, maybe I would find that more people are “awakened,” and concerned about their persecuted fellow believers. I’ll let you check it out. But another experience, 16 years later, although it was touted by scores as powerful, beautiful, and a true witness of Christian love, was, I believe, an incomplete witness of Christian love that saddened me.
A Letter from the People of the Cross to ISIS was a cinematic response to the barbaric murder on the Libyan seashore of 21 Coptic men and one African from Chad (so moved by their courage and faith that he chose to embrace their Jesus and die with them when he didn’t have to!) by ISIS. It was a beautifully filmed message of forgiveness and love (the kind of forgiveness and love that those who are being persecuted offer to their persecutors) by a young Christian filmmaker, Michael Chang.
But should a letter to ISIS have been the only response of “The People of the Cross” – particularly a response from People of the Cross that had not suffered themselves – to the slaughter of fellow believers? Could we not first weep with those who weep? Mourn with those who mourn? Could we not first write a love letter to the widows and orphans of those courageous Christians? Or at least could we not write one after we write the love letter to ISIS? (See how they love each other?) Or does it show that we are morally and spiritually superior, ascended to higher level of Christianity, if we ignore the suffering of our own kind and reach out to their persecutors while the swords are still dripping with Christian blood?
Well, just as there were two people out of 72 who wondered how to help the persecuted after reading Jesus Freaks, there are those who have reached out to their fellow People of the Cross with love and compassion, including recording artists and filmmakers.
I will leave it at that. If you want to know whether or not Christians care about Christians, and hear from some who do, plan to attend IRD’s May 10 summit on global Christian persecution at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room SD-G50, from 10AM to 3PM. It’s free, but it may cost you your preconceived notions.
 Of course, those are not the real lyrics to Matt Redman’s song, but it doesn’t seem inapplicable considering the self-focus of some in the Western church.