On Sunday, I was having a discussion with some other Christians about what persecution looks like in the UK. In some countries it's easy to spot - taking part in a Christian act of worship is punishable with the death penalty in Saudi Arabia, for example. In Sudan, the army seem to be waging a war against tribes in the south, largely because they are Christians. In China, leaders of churches that don't agree to comply with all of the government's ideas are routinely imprisoned, in many countries families hold funeral services for relatives who become Christians because it is better to think of them dead than Christian. I could go on.
But what does it look like in the UK?
Of course, in some ways it's less significant. I've been a Christian publically for longer than I've been a Christian privately, and only rarely have I been attacked for it. I've had stones thrown at me for it a couple of times and a bit of verbal abuse, but nothing serious.
But in a way that makes it more dangerous. Because we often don't notice the persecution, we don't realise that it is persecution, so we give in to it. We deny our faith rather than face it, because we have got so inculturated with it, sometimes we even think the persecution is right.
What is this persecution?
Two words: professionalism and ostracism.
The idea of professionalism seems to be responsible for quite a bit. For example, when I was training to be a teacher, lots of Christian teachers assured me that it was unprofessional to speak to the pupils about my faith. But my faith is a part of me - it's actually a very big part of me! Following Jesus isn't meant to be about 90 minutes every Sunday - it's meant to be a life-transforming relationship. We aren't meant to compartmentalise our lives and say "this is the Christian bit". All of our lives are meant to be given to God's service.
Don't get me wrong, I think professionalism is really important. When I was teaching, I tried to do the best job I could, to help the pupils learn physics as well as possible and get the best marks they could get. But that doesn't say anything about whether or not I should share my faith with pupils. If one of my colleagues was passionate about rock music, or about the Galapagos islands or something, I'd expect their pupils to know it and I'd expect them to talk about it to their pupils as part of the relationism that good teaching is based on. Ditto with Jesus.
But all too often, Christians are scared of being thought unprofessional and chicken out. They give in to the persecution.
Ostracism - same kind of idea. We're scared of people ignoring us or taking the mick. So we go along with the crowd. Maybe we draw lines and don't get plastered or sleep with everyone we can. But we still shy away from sharing our faith, because we're scared of being ostracised.
Christians, look. If Christians in Sudan can cope with being killed by the thousand for their faith, I'm sure you can cope with people taking the mick or thinking you unprofessional or not speaking to you.