In what some consider the final Beatitude Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10–12, NRSV).
An Interpretive Corrective
I opened this series describing the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus’ manifesto on the Kingdom of Heaven. In that introduction, I pointed out how easy it is to misread the words of Jesus. Just like the author does not invite us to read the poem Pretty Ugly starting at the top and moving towards the bottom, Jesus does not invite us to read his words through the lens of power. But just like reading from the top and moving down is what we know, so are our power-based interpretations.
This should not come as a surprise. Rather it seems to be part of the ongoing human struggle when it comes to God’s self-revelation. The entire Sermon on the Mount is a corrective to how the religious leaders of Jesus’ day interpreted God’s Law. Could it be that Christians today need a similar corrective? I bring this up now because perhaps no other Beatitude reveals just how disconnected popular American Christianity is from the teachings of Jesus.
Persecuted American Christianity
There is no doubt that embodying the heart of the Beatitudes prompted both Rome and the religious establishment of the day to persecute Jesus. That is ultimately why they crucified him. But is the same true of the perceived persecution of today’s American church?
Mainstream American Christianity sees persecution everywhere. For some it is the supposed war on Christmas in response to the recognition that there is more than one holiday celebrated in and around December. Others get up in arms that, when it comes to commerce, publicly open businesses must treat all people, including homosexuals, with respect. The same claims revolve around a government that forces public servants to serve the public. Ultimately, Christians link anything tied to the political culture war as persecution. Yet none of this supposed persecution comes because Christians are embodying the Beatitudes.
How might the culture war look different if Christians focused on the righteousness of the Beatitudes?
Blessed Are The Poor in Spirit
A poverty of spirit would prompt a desire for engagement with the “other side.” There would be a humility that longed to learn about the experience of others and why they perceive Christians the way they do. This would include a willingness to wrestle with the conclusions of others and reexamine our own beliefs. Some would deem this willingness to engage as weakness, prompting legitimate persecution.
Blessed Are The Meek
As another example, meek anger would prompt American Christians to reject political partisanship. Instead, they would speak out against a corrupt political system on the whole. Yes, Washington is a swamp, but Trump delivered a cesspool. Both sides are guilty of serving corporate interests at the expense of everyday people. This is most true when it comes to the historically marginalized. This rejection of the mainstream system would prompt legitimate persecution.
Blessed Are the Merciful
Still another example would be a commitment to mercy over forgiveness. As a specific example, how many times has the church advised a women in an abusive relationship to forgive her husband because he said he was sorry?
A commitment to actual mercy would involve one group within the church to come alongside the woman to make sure she has the resources and support she needs to get out of that relationship. Simultaneously, another group within the church needs to come alongside the man to support him in getting the help he needs to deal with his issues.
Rather than dismissing problems, the church would aim to restore both parties, not necessarily to each other, but in their human dignity. If this model did not enrage women for standing by the man, it would certainly enrage men for making them do their emotional work. Either way, there is an abundance of room for legitimate persecution.
Blessed Are The Peacemakers
Finally, if churches committed themselves to actual peacemaking, there would be persecution. Again, peacemaking focuses on the wholeness of shalom for all people. Peacemaking means the church taking on issues like systemic racism, sexism, economic injustice, and creation care. But none of it would happen through virtue signaling or tokenism. Everything would focus on tangible solutions to legitimate problems. In other words, actually peacemaking would result in persecution from both sides of America’s culture war.
Ultimately, if Christians viewed the world through the lens of the Beatitudes, they would experience actual persecution. That is what happens whenever you seek to undermine power with love. Persecution is the result of being part of the Kingdom of God.
This post is part of an ongoing series. Link here for a list of every episode in this series.