Persecution and Youth in the Bible Belt
In this series, we’ll explore the resistance and costs that youth face for following Jesus in our communities: what does that look like for teenagers around the United States, Europe, etc.? Each article will aim to develop the natural relationship between following Jesus and being resisted by the world.
The headlines of intense, deadly persecution of Christians around the world is difficult for us to understand or even process. In America, we have no idea what it means to have sharp steel pressed against our skin and be asked if we follow Jesus. But, it doesn’t mean that Christians don’t experience a level of persecution in America. John 15:18-21 reminds us that no matter what it looks like, the world hates us on account of Christ. Teenage Christians in the Bible Belt are not immune from this hatred, persecution, or hardship because of their faith. I would go so far as to say that in the sanitized, culturally Christian context, many of our students find that making a serious commitment for Christ is going to carry a significant social cost.
One thing about the Bible Belt is that a base level of Christianity is accepted. Jesus is a regular part of conversation, church attendance is beneficial, and there is a veneer of morality that assumes everyone is perfectly fine. In the schools, students can be a part of Christian clubs and activities, but there seems to be an invisible line that, should a student cross it, will open themselves up to the social consequences. Behind that is often a dark side, one that glosses over Scripture and includes partying, sexuality, alcohol and drugs, and rebellion against authority.
Because a Christian student is willing to live radically different than their peers and take their commitment to Christ seriously, they can face the social consequences of it. It seems that these teenagers are distinct in their lifestyle and commitment. Many of our students have shared that they get labeled weird, Jesus-freaks, Bible thumpers and holier-than-thou, and have lost friendships just because of their faith. Their classmates don’t understand why they take things like church, the Bible, and Jesus so seriously when so many of their classmates don’t.
How can we as student ministers support and encourage our students who face social consequences because of their faith?
- Pray for and with them – It sounds simple, but this is a big deal. We pray for them to ask the Spirit to give them strength and courage.
- Encourage and reinforce them – It can be easy to get discouraged or wonder if it’s even worth it to continue, but we need to remember that if they are going through difficulty for their faith it’s because Jesus has found them faithful and worthy (see Acts 5:41).
- Give them a support network – If school is proving to be a difficult place to live out their faith, their youth group can fill that void. We can’t assume that our students can navigate difficult circumstances alone, and their friends at church can love and build them up.
- Shift the emphasis toward missions – We can quickly turn separation from sin into separation from sinners, which doesn’t reflect the heart of Jesus to “seek and save the lost.” Rather than judging or looking down on teenagers who make bad choices but claim to be Christians, let’s teach our students to have a broken heart for their friends. Their problem isn’t drugs, sex or rebellion—their problem is they have rejected Christ’s rule in their lives.