Rebecca Hamilton has once again issued a clarion call – “Christians around the world are experiencing intense persecution on all sides. They’ll be coming for you next.” [my paraphrase]
She is not an alarmist – we need look no further than the current assault on “Chick-fil-A” for an example.
The question she raises is – “Why can’t we – as Christians – just get along… and unite around common cause?” [again, my paraphrase] Good question… and she has Biblical backing to ask it.
“Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.” [Ephesians 4.1-5 NLT]
Target Fixation: Part of the answer can be found in our human condition – pride, arrogance, etc – and Satan’s attempts to destroy the Church – not going to happen. But even Christian people of good will have difficulty crossing denominational boundaries.
I think it might have something to do with a phenomenon known as “target fixation.” Here’s how Wikipedia describes it:
“Target fixation is a process by which the brain is focused so intently on an observed object that awareness of other obstacles or hazards can diminish. Also, in an avoidance scenario, the observer can become so fixated on the target that they will forget to take the necessary action to avoid it, thus colliding with the object.
This is a common issue for motorcyclists and mountain bikers. A motorcycle or bicycle will tend to go where the rider is looking; if the rider is overly focused on an obstacle, the cycle can collide with that object simply because of the rider’s focus on it, even though the rider is ostensibly trying to avoid it.”
I experienced this with my daughter when she was learning to ride a bicycle. We were all alone in a school yard with wide open space except for a few volley ball court poles (no nets). But she kept running into the very poles that she was trying to avoid. “Target fixation.”
I also experienced “target fixation” in Northern Ireland during “The Troubles.”
I participated in a series of pulpit exchanges with a Northern Ireland counterpart whose church was involved in Protestant / Catholic reconciliation with a monastery in Belfast. During one event, held at the church, a priest was invited to speak on how the process of reconciliation could be advanced. So far so good.
But in the Q & A, the discussion ended up with him explaining and defending the less than 5% of theological issues that separated the two sides. Everyone was cordial, but no headway was made… and no common cause was joined. Why? “Target fixation.”
Think On These Things: So let me ask you: “When you drive down the street and see other Christian churches, what do you notice?” Odd church names, silly slogans on signs, dueling congregations across the street from one another?
That’s “target fixation” – seeing and bumping into what’s wrong, instead of what’s right. The Bible has a remedy for this –
“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4.8-9 NLT
The issue of Christian unity is not about ecumenical world councils… it’s about us – ordinary Christian people – what we focus on when we meet each other, or drive by one another’s churches, or even visit one another’s worship services. Can we see what’s right… what’s lovely… what’s admirable?
I’m not asking for us to adopt one another’s religious practices, or agree on every fine theological point. But I am asking us to exercise a little humility and wonder at the rich mosaic that is the church – in every tribe, nation and tongue. It is a thing of beauty… and it’s under assault. Christian people are under assault.
Hang Together: Benjamin Franklin had the right idea – speaking of the American Revolution –
“We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
And, I think, we are making some headway. The Manhattan Declaration was a step in the right direction. Protestant churches and institutions joining with American Catholic Bishops in defense of Religious Freedom is another. But there is so much more to be done on so many fronts around the world.
If you would like to get a sense of the scope of Christian Persecution around the world, here’s a link to Open Doors.org (Serving Persecuted Christians around the World). There are many such organizations that give you a glimpse into the persecution that ordinary Christian people face simply because they identify themselves as Christian.
They need us – our support, our prayers, and our advocacy in the political corridors of power. And we need them – their inspirational stories of courage and faith in the face of unimaginable hardship. We need to learn from them and be prepared.
Today in America it’s Chick-fil-A and Religious Freedom – the right of your church to define itself. Tomorrow it will be you.