While I am making an effort to “stay out” of the affairs of Mississippi, I am going to write about a situation happening in my home state. However, I’m not going to comment on the situation itself. Rather, I am going to use it as an example of a bigger issue. The term “Christian persecution” gets thrown around a good bit, especially these days. In some instances it is warranted but I have found that often it isn’t. The TL;DR version of my thoughts will be this: We need to stop claiming “persecution” every time something happens that we don’t agree with. When we claim persecution where there isn’t any, we weaken the meaning of real persecution.
The Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) is the largest governing body for high school athletics and other activities in the state. They have had a bylaw on their books for quite some time which states that an athlete or participant in a sanctioned activity must be a resident of the state. They have not been enforcing this bylaw until recently. The main body of the MHSAA voted to begin enforcement much to the chagrin of the private schools who are/were part of the MHSAA. Several of the private schools situated along the Mississippi River have students who commute from Louisiana. By stating that they would begin enforcing the residency requirement, the MHSAA declared these out of state athletes ineligible. In other words, the private schools could only allow students who actually reside in Mississippi to participate in sports and other activities such as band, chorus and debate.
The result of this was that three of those schools – Greenville St. Joseph, St. Aloysius and Cathedral – have left the MHSAA and joined the smaller Mississippi Independent Schools Association (MISA) which does not have such residency requirements in place. As far as that situation goes, I wish them well. I remember being a student at Philadelphia and hearing about how great these schools were in sports, especially soccer and baseball. I remember a particular time when I was serving as the manager of the Philly High soccer team and we played a game at Greenville St. Joe. Without going into details, I let the referee know that I did not agree with the call he made and I became the first soccer equipment manager in Mississippi to receive a yellow card.
But I digress…
When the Clarion-Ledger posted a story about this event, the comments were quick to be posted. And then it happened: Posts making allegations that the MHSAA was out to persecute the private schools because the vast majority are Catholic or otherwise Christian schools (note: I wanted to embed some of these posts, however they seem to have been removed. I can not say if it was the posters who removed them or the newspaper but I did see some comments alleging persecution in the comments section of the C-L’s web posting).
I don’t deny that Christians are persecuted and discriminated against everyday. I have no doubt that such discriminate exists in the United States. However, persecution this is not.
Webster’s defines persecution as, “The act or practice of persecuting especially those who differ in origin, religion, or social outlook.” Another definition they list is, “the act of continually treating in a cruel and harmful way.” When I think of persecution, I imagine acts that involve some serious harm such as not being able to buy goods, being relegated to a certain place to live, being imprisoned or even being killed. Persecution happens for many reasons: One’s faith, and race are probably the two biggest reasons that I have actually witnessed persecution first hand. When I thin of persecution I think of people who American citizen and pastor Saeed Abedini who is imprisoned in one of Iran’s most notorious prisons. His crime? Being a Christian.
An organization enforcing a rule that pertains to high school athletics is not persecution. Some may view such decision as not being fair, but such is not persecution. When we refer to such decisions and other events as persecution, we diminish the meaning of what persecution really is. We owe it to those who really do suffer for their faith, their race or because of something else similar to respect what they have gone through by not claiming “persecution” every time something happens that we don’t agree with or whens someone otherwise disagrees with our views.
Recently I came across a list of the ways some of the apostles were killed. From what I can tell, the accounts were mostly true according to scripture references, historical accounts and church tradition. For example: Peter was killed because of his faith. Tradition has it that when it was decided by the authorities that he would be crucified, he requested to be nailed upside down so that his death would not be in the same exact manner as Christ’s (he is said to have felt unworthy). Andrew, Peter’s brother, is said to have been severely beaten and then tied – not nailed – to a cross so that he would suffer longer. As he hung there for for two days, he was still preaching the gospel to anyone who would listen.
We need to do better. We certainly need to call out and take action on persecution whenever we find it. We must do everything that we possibly can to ensure that people don’t suffer because of their faith. However, we also need to be careful in what we call persecution. Someone disagreeing with our views or making a decision that causes us no real harm is not persecution. When we claim persecution where there is none we weaken the meaning of the word and marginalize those who really endure harm or even give their lives for their faith.
We don’t do Christ any favors by claiming persecution where there is none.
Let’s be salt and light, not squeaky wheels. Let us show grace and mercy, not disdain. And let’s advocate for those who really are enduring persecution.