I’ve previously written at great length on the Christian persecution complex here in the United States and how it’s both unattractive and offensive to Christians around the world who actually are persecuted for their faith.
As Christians begin to lose the privilege they’ve previously held in society, many are engaging in a case of mistaken identity and viewing their loss of privilege– their process of becoming equal with everyone else– as persecution.
Now it seems that the persecution complex is being taken up a notch by some with the claim that “not only are you persecuting us, but you’re going to hell for it,” which is a new twist in the narrative so extreme that I didn’t see it coming.
Yesterday Southern Baptist leader Denny Burk made his case for this new narrative, arguing that the biblical term “least of these” isn’t necessary referring to caring for poor people, but specifically to Jesus’s disciples. Burk writes:
“This text is not about poor people generally. It’s about Christians getting the door slammed in their face while sharing the gospel with a neighbor. It’s about the baker/florist/photographer who is being mistreated for bearing faithful witness to Christ. It’s about disciples of Jesus having their heads cut off by Islamic radicals. In other words, it’s about any disciple of Jesus who was ever mistreated in the name of Jesus. This text shows us that Jesus will judge those who show contempt for the gospel by mistreating gospel-bearers.”
The argument is an interesting role reversal, taking the term away from the disadvantaged and applying it to the privileged. When Jesus talks about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the immigrant, and says “whatever you did for the lest of these you did for me” he was actually talking about florists and photographers being boycotted because of anti-LGBT discrimination.
(As a side note, I sure wish Seth and Amy from SNL would read Christian blogs, because they could do a great “Really!?” segment on that claim.)
Not only does Burk claim Jesus is actually referring to Christian bakers and florists who lose business because they refuse to sell their products to a certain segment of society, but the punishment for those boycotting such business will be rather harsh. Burk goes on to state:
In the last day, all the people who thought they could get away with mistreating Jesus’ brothers and sisters are going to come face to face with reality. They are going to come face to face with their judge. And they are going to find out what justice is. And they won’t be taunting or mocking. They are going to be crying out for the mountains to fall on them to shield them from the Lamb of God come in judgment (Rev. 6:16-17). But there won’t be a mountain big enough or a hole deep enough for them to hide in. Jesus will arise as a dread champion for his people. And he will close the mouths of the scoffers and the persecutors once and for all… The good news is that Jesus offers mercy even to his enemies. If you have been at odds with the “least of these,” there is time to get this right. Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins, and he has been raised from the dead to offer us eternal life. We receive this gift of salvation simply by repenting from sin and trusting in Christ. That invitation of mercy is open to everyone reading this—including those who have mistreated the least of these.”
Now, there’s much in Burk’s post that I actually agree with. I agree that our works reveal who truly has our heart and that it is utterly impossible to rightly claim one loves God while hating or mistreating another human being. Our difference however, is that Burk’s application of this principle is quite self-centered, whereas I believe the implications are far more comprehensive. Not only is Jesus stating that it’s impossible to love God while mistreating a disciple of Jesus, it’s also impossible to rightly claim one loves God while mistreating anyone. Jesus is the one who taught radical enemy love and said, “even those guys love those who love them, but what reward is there in that?”
Yes, Jesus will judge those who mistreat his followers. But he’ll also judge those who mistreat anyone, including their enemies.
He’ll judge those who were uncharitable and mistreated LGBTQ individuals, those who mistreated Muslims, those who “slammed the door to the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces,” those who mistreated… anyone. Because God’s concern isn’t simply with how we treat “gospel-bearers,” but how we treat image-bearers, and everyone gets included in that category.
The biggest danger in Burk’s application however, is that scripture also tells us that the same measuring stick we use to judge others is the measuring stick that will be used against ourselves. And well, if it turns out that God thinks isolating one segment of society to whom Christians refuse to sell flowers is unloving and mistreatment, it might be the Christian business owners who are begging for the mountains to cover them on judgement day.