Lifeway Research recently released results of a survey on religious liberty. They surveyed a thousand Americans in September of 2013 and again in September of 2015.
Almost two-thirds, 63%, in 2015 believe there is increasing intolerance of Christians and that is up from half, 50%, from the survey in 2013. Similarly, 60% surveyed in 2015 believe there has been a decline in religious liberty, which is an increase from 54% of those reporting in 2013.
My sentiments on statistics echo that of Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain. “Facts are stubborn things. Statistics are much more pliable.” Statistics are based on a number of variables that can be manipulated or misconstrued and may not be a true reflection of public opinion. But I do a lot of reading to research the issues I write about and my gut opinion is there is some truth here; I believe there has been an increase of intolerance for Christians accompanied by a commensurate loss of religious liberty. Understandably, the two seem to go hand-in-hand.
But there was another finding in this poll that had a greater claim on my attention. Lifeway Research’s Ed Stetzer said, “Most people now believe Christians are facing intolerance, however, a surprising large minority perceives Christians to be complainers. Those who think Christians complain too much is up 43% from 34%. Sadly, I think there is some truth here also.
Paul told us “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” 2 Timothy 3:12. When Christians live an uncompromisingly godly life it is so out of step with manmade morality it makes others feel uncomfortable. Paul is merely warning us that unbelievers do not understand those who live differently and persecution of some kind is to be expected.
In his first letter Peter closes out the fourth chapter addressing the matter of persecution. He writes, “to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing…if you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed…if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.”
There is nothing in the words of Peter that suggest it is permissible for a Christian to engage in fruitless complaining, which is nothing more than petty whining. What Peter is getting at, and is found missing in so much of the feel good preaching of today, is that God is more concerned with our holiness than He is with our happiness, He is more concerned with our character than He is with our comfort.
“Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right,” 1 Peter 4:19. When we are persecuted for following Christ, it’s not a time to question God’s love for us; it’s a time to prove our love for Him. He proved His love for us two thousand years ago.