American Christians Don’t Know How to Suffer for Christ
On Twitter, there’s a semi-joke in which someone will mention a problem (usually trivial) in his or her life followed by the hashtag, #firstworldproblems, meaning that the problem is most likely to occur in a Westernized country, ie, “Ran out of coffee grounds; Gonna be a rough morning. #firstworldproblems.” I’d like to propose the idea, however, that Westernized Christians, typically Americans (as I am one), deal with #firstworldXtianproblems.
During the past few months, I’ve been mulling over the idea that American Christians do not face the same problems as early Christians, Christians in other parts of the world, or even American Christians of yesteryear. The challenges American Christians—who I’ll refer to as ACs from now on—face are unique to this era and country. In fact, the problem for ACs is that… there’s no problem at all. We are much too comfortable.
As I sit comfortably in my bed in the cushy suburbs of Philadelphia, I think of people suffering in growing Christian churches in places like China or Iran. The suffering they experience so much more real than wondering whether I should go to church today because I’m so tired. By admitting Christ and him resurrected, they put their lives on the line for their beliefs. (And their belief in Christ is so real that many of them are martyred for their faith.) I highly believe that 90% of ACs would crack under that pressure if put into the same situation. How real is our suffering? How real is our faith?
When Jesus calls his followers to suffer for him, to give up their lives for him, to follow him, American Christians often think back to the Christians of the early church who were martyred, became fugitives, or met together secretly. ACs (except foreign missionaries) know nothing about fearing for their lives because of their faith, needing to hide their faith from their neighbor or government due to physical repercussions, or meeting in secret because of widespread federal and/or societal persecution. Here are some of the problems ACs typically face:
- I don’t like this pastor. I think I’ll find a new church.
- No one talks to me here. I could go in and out of church on a Sunday unnoticed.
- This church is too big; I want to find one smaller.
- There’s not enough activities for my children here.
- It’s a dying congregation! Everyone’s old.
- No women pastors for me. I’ll find something else.
- I don’t like praise and worship bands. This place is too contemporary.
- I don’t like that boring piano and organ. Those hymns make me sleepy. I need to find something upbeat!
- Ew! They use the NIV [or Bible translation said person doesn’t like] here!
Granted, there are some legitimate concerns ACs may have with churches, ie, if a church isn’t using a Bible as its main source text for the service and sermon, it’s not a real (or good) Christian church. But most of the issues ACs have are trivial.
So what does it mean to forsake all and follow Jesus as ACs? Does it mean not investing in 401(k)s (for future security) in order to donate to a charitable organization that will help others in the here and now? Does it mean giving up the dream of owning a home in order to adopt a child and transform that kid’s life?
As ACs, we face many trivial problems that in the grand scheme of things, aren’t really a big deal. What we consider to be suffering, in many ways, is really just our way of complaining that we’re no longer comfortable. (First-world response: “The heater broke in our church! I’m not going to go to church to freeze my ass off.” A better response: “The heater’s broken at church so we need to bundle up a bit more to ensure that we can stay warm during the service.”)
Any ideas on what true suffering for American Christians looks like? Or do ACs not know what suffering for the sake of Christ really is?