It is as Cardinal Francis George famously quipped, “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.” By now, most Americans have heard of the name David Daleiden. A citizen journalist who in the beginning of the Summer of 2015 exposed Planned Parenthood to the multitudes as the horrific harbinger of the Culture of Death. While the news that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal body parts was surprising to the majority of US citizens, what came as an even larger astonishment was the indictment by a Texas grand jury of Mr. Daleiden for allegedly using a falsified California driver’s license in his efforts to expose the abortion giant. Even pro-abortion advocate and celebrity, Whoopi Goldberg, expressed her sentiments on national television with the indictment of Mr. Daleiden.
The strange indictment of Mr. Daleiden is, unfortunately, nothing new. Pro-Life advocates have faced jail time and public harassment for a couple of decades now, hence Cardinal George’s famous quote. But this injustice is no longer relegated to those who advocate for the lives of the preborn. It has extended to those who believe that marriage is supposed to be a life-long union between a man and woman as well. Many will recall several opponents of so-called same-sex “marriage” have also faced injustices brought against them. Recently, one Catholic couple who refused to allow a same-sex “marriage” to take place on their farm has been fined $13,000. In time, it is likely that more of these cases will become more common place. Just over a year ago, as was detailed in an article in the Truth and Charity Forum, a Colorado judge notoriously ordered a Colorado baker to bake wedding cakes for same-sex couples. Even Prof. Robert P. George posed the question to modern day Christians if they are prepared to be witnesses to the faith given the recent events that have taken place.
Yes, martyrdom is part of the Christian faith and Christians are in an age in America where if one does not agree with the secular culture then one will be likely persecuted for that belief. Persecution of Christian belief is not unheard of. Certainly, most people are well aware of the early Church and the history of the persecution of early Christians. However, what separates this persecution today from that of the first few centuries of Christianity is that it is no longer focused on the idea of proclaiming Jesus as God, but rather other tenets of the Faith the secular culture plainly rejects. In essence, society is witnessing a new strategy to get Christians from practicing the Faith. An example of this strategy can be seen in the simple fact that a Purdue University staffer, who threatened to rape pro-life women, was closed without any action taken against him. It comes down to the reality that those who advocate true sexual and bioethical morality are facing persecution.
But the deeper question is how is the Christian to deal with the new martyrdom? Not surprisingly, one early Christian martyr can help the modern Christian with this endeavor. In his letter to the Romans, St. Ignatius of Antioch provides some insight into the importance of martyrdom. He states, “The goals of the earth and the kingdoms of this world shall profit me nothing. It is better for me to die for the sake of Jesus Christ than to reign over the ends of the earth. I seek Him who died for us. I desire Him who rose” (To the Romans, no. 6). Here one can see St. Ignatius echo the words of the Gospel of Matthew, “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life?” (Matthew 16: 26). The passage is so powerful, in fact, that even Robert Bolt assigned a similar quote to St. Thomas More in his play A Man for All Seasons. But what do St. Ignatius and even Robert Bolt’s Thomas More mean by this? Firstly, man is directed towards God. The final good man seeks is not material but immaterial. It is as St. Augustine states, “For Thou has formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee” (Confessions, Book 1). Ultimate happiness will not be found in earthly things, but only in God. This is why Ignatius acknowledges kingdoms and earthly goals will profit him nothing. His reward for living the faith and witnessing the faith will be found in God. Secondly, the Ignatius and other Christian martyrs echo another teaching of Christ, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5: 11-12).
This last line of the beatitude, “Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you”, is important for the modern Christian to understand. Christ gives a reminder to his disciples; just as the Old Testament prophets were persecuted, so will those who speak the truth of God. The fallen world tries to reject the Word of God just as it did in the Garden of Eden. Adam should have been a witness to the Word and be willing to be persecuted, even unto death, if it meant his wife would not have eaten the forbidden fruit. Mankind still rebels against God, but the martyr is a witness of God to the rebelling world. And Jesus is telling his disciples to be witnesses even to death if necessary. In short, do what Adam failed to do.
On February 12, 2016, Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill signed a joint declaration that deals with the very idea of the modern Christian martyr, “Orthodox and Catholics must learn to give unanimously witness in those spheres in which this is possible and necessary. Human civilization has entered into a period of epochal change. Our Christian conscience and our pastoral responsibility compel us not to remain passive in the face of challenges requiring a shared response” (Joint Declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, no. 7).
While US Christians are not facing the type of persecution that Christians in the Middle East are facing, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill are right in assessing that Western civilization has changed in a radical way. While ISIS may be killing Christians throughout the Muslim world, secularism is persecuting Western Christians in such a way that it is trying to blot out Christianity in a more passively aggressive approach. If one is to bravely speak the truth in modern Western society, then secularists will try to bully the Christian by threatening jail time or imposing hefty fines. Either is unjust, but Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill are asking the persecuted to remember Christ’s words, “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first” (John 15: 18). It is wise to remember as a Christian one is called to imitate Christ.