“Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”[A]
This is the first and only beatitude that speaks about others reacting to us. And this response is not happy. We might hope that after all this spiritual work, culminating in a disposition toward bringing peace into the world, we should be well received. Instead, Jesus tells us we stand a good chance of being persecuted. Heroic masochism aside, this is a very discouraging pronouncement, and we are tempted to ask if persecution must always be the lot of the righteous? Or is this final beatitude also unique in being the first that is conditional; contingent on the actions of others rather than our own choice to continue in discipleship. For clearly there are times when righteousness is not persecuted; times even when it is rewarded by power and society generally.
Further, we can’t assume persecution indicates righteousness. Many unrighteous political movements have fancied themselves virtuous for the mere fact that they were harassed by an established authority. Persecution tends to confirm a sense of our own rightness. If we are suffering for our convictions they must be noble in deed. This is as true for non-Christians as for Christians. Marxist and other radical Left political movements have used the assumed virtue of the oppressed effectively to gain influence and control of the moral discourse of the West. And they are so fixated on this victim as virtue status indicator that even once in power they tend to maintain the mien of victimhood, all the while persecuting enemies. For these people exercising authority is always uncertain. So, they fancy themselves perpetually expurgating oppression. They are not ruling so much as eliminating outmoded forms of authority. So even the weakest fragment of the old way is seen as a potential seed of future tyranny. And so they remain ever the victim even while putting landowners to the firing squad and starving out reactionary peasants to liberate their traditional lands.
This is how the Left has taken hold in the Church as well. They have taken the blessing of this last beatitude to themselves. Seeing themselves as victims while in truth they have quickly wrested control of the moral dialogue, and power, using this seat to persecute the righteousness of traditional Christian virtue. [B] Imbalance is the problem here. Placing mercy as the chief beatitude has been the motive for progressive Christian reform. When faith in the factual basis of our religion is weak, we attempt to prove our faith through physical manifestation. The current preoccupation with Social Justice is a good example of this. More subtly, righteousness is difficult to take to ourselves. These days it is suspect even to posit righteousness. It seems so judgmental. After all aren’t we all sinners? Shouldn’t we rather show mercy than judgement? As written earlier, mercy cannot exist without the righteousness it is granted against. Mercy never dethrones righteousness. Nor does righteousness condemn mercy as moral laziness. Instead, mercy is the gate of grace where the sinner is welcomed back onto the the way of righteousness from which he has strayed. It is perilous to see various sinners as falling under the blessing of this beatitude of the persecuted. We will do ourselves no favours debasing the righteousness in our discipleship out of misguided kindness. Doing so, we will utterly fail to reach the highest places in Christ Jesus.
Conservatives may feel persecuted in our contemporary churches . They find it increasingly difficult to voice there opinions without invoking scorn. This transition from being the keepers of standards to being on the receiving end of rebuke for holding them was sudden. In a spirit of self-criticism, we can understand this loss of authority as righteous rebuke, if not judgement. Judgement not against the principles of traditional discipleship, but against the intention they were held with. Often traditional morality is held as mere convention. The conservative Christian can simply become a social conservative, and Christianity just the house in which conservatism dwells. Christian discipleship becomes a kind of smugness rather than a truly transforming discipline toward righteousness. Being harassed for having a self-righteousness without mercy does not earn us the blessing of Christ in this beatitude. And if this quick assessment here has any validity, social conservatism as righteousness corrupts the discipline of the beatitudes as much as social radicalism. Each mangling discipleship in their own way.
We have covered this earlier, but it is worth repeating, that the Beatitudes show us an integral relationship between all the traditional virtues of our discipleship in Christ. By progressive or conservative intentions we can loose balance, over-speaking one or more of these virtues to the quieting of the importance of others. The traditional and orthodox understanding is that we are to be formed into the fullness of Christ, and this fullness is densely represented in these beatitudes. For, our righteousness cannot be summed up in prescribed social or political maxims. From the view of traditional Christian virtue, we cannot come to the blessing of this last beatitude without first practicing the previous ones, and learning their harmonious relationships.
As said, a common error is in treating persecution as a proof of righteousness. “I am persecuted, therefore my cause is righteous, and hence on God’s side.” This is not what Jesus is telling us. Saying, “persecuted for the sake of righteousness”, implies there are other, non-blessed forms of persecution. We can be persecuted, ‘chased down’, for a bad debt, for example, this is not righteousness. More closely related, there are political and social positions we might hold that are totally detached from righteousness. We are certainly not blessed for being persecuted for these. We have to conclude then, there is no proof of righteousness offered here by Jesus at all. For, as said above we are not necessarily persecuted for righteousness either. Perhaps we can only conclude that Jesus is pronouncing a special blessing for persecution because praise for righteousness is a blessing in itself, the potential corrupting effect of flattery aside. But this is only technically correct and might distract us from the Master’s intent here.
We find the blessing for persecution is the end of this very important code of discipleship. It forms a kind of summary or result. As noted earlier, in his shorter version, Luke also concludes with persecution. Further, in the Matthew 5 account, unlike the previous seven, Jesus expands on this beatitude, spilling out eloquently about the blessedness of being rejected by others for following Him;
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”Mat 5:12-13 ESV
Even if the righteous are not necessarily persecuted, this emphasis indicates they are likely to be. It was certainly going to be the case for the first generations of Christians, they were a small group of marginalized folk, with little or no access to power. We are transitioning into this situation again today, in certain settings at least. There are institutions like universities where being a Christian can be costly in terms of hiring and validity. There are many hardcore progressives who doubt a Christian’s ability to think rationally. They see the belief in the Christian God necessarily corrupting the holder’s capacity to unbiased reason. They do not hold this as necessarily true either for Muslims or Jews; certainly not for Hindus or Buddhists. Some of this suspicion no doubt comes from the idea that Christianity was disproved in the West. That anyone yet holding to it is de facto reactionary. And in the current cultural context reactionary does not imply stubborn antiquarianism, but malicious intransigence .
It is difficult to go a week in the contemporary world without hearing Christ, his followers or the faith derided. Not merely challenged, but repudiated disdainfully. Challenge would be fun, but the faith and its adherents are considered beyond worthy consideration. This is at times just light thoughtless parroting of the mood of the day. In the case of hiring and promotion in ideologically motivated institutions, or of in the quite literal persecution of bakers who refuse to make cakes with two grooms on top, the persecution is quite real. This is persecution at the other end of the Christian historical arc since Jesus spoke the Beatitudes on the mountain. Not being persecuted to keep us from gaining influence but to quench the influence we once had. Though dethroned, we are still feared somehow. The post modern enthusiasts still fancy they are fighting Christ. Perhaps they intuit a metaphysical threat we no longer notice. The faith is yet the repository of all that needs to be resisted and overthrown. If they have not achieved the bliss of full permissiveness in the ‘Brave New World’ this is always due to the residual funk of Christian moral despotism. And, in our day, under the weight of the advancing progressive social agenda, many more than Christians are harassed because of this scorn for Europe’s past. Simply disagreeing with the ever unfolding liberation agenda will have you lumped in with all us reactionary Christians.
Again I have spent a good deal of time discussing how this beatitude can be misunderstood, and have only introduced the idea of our current persecution generally. I am avoiding the personal because I find the prospect of persecution demoralizing. The rest of these beatitudes, how ever challenging, had spiritual appeal. When younger I had a more romantic vision of persecution. I thought I would even like to die for my faith; to be truly persecuted by a tyrannical government, like in the Book of Revelation. There was a good deal of hypocrisy in this day dream. It is a common romanticism found in young Christian males. It is our version to the heroic warrior fantasy. But in our case we show our manhood in dying quietly as our Lord did. In truth, I didn’t like my Christianity noticed. My faith provided a world apart for me, an escape. I noticed this in other Christians at school, of whatever denomination; shy when they were found out. Or bursting into testimonial, uncertainly. There were those evangelist who were always going on about being Christian. I would hardly disclose my faith to these even, perhaps especially not. These fervent both rebuked and repulsed me. There was something put on about their demeanour. They were mocked a bit I guess, not really persecuted. I had a feeling though that I did not want to be seen as a Christian; just as a regular person. It was something so meaningful, it seamed vulgar to share it. I knew others would misunderstand what it meant to me.
More avoidance. Put plainly we live in an age where traditional Christian righteousness is persecuted. In certain settings unless you espouse Christianity as Social Justice, and this means promoting the exact agenda of the Cultural Marxists, you will be derided and chased out. This includes from churches. For fear of rejection from friends I keep my old Facebook page clear of my spiritual-political views. I know it would cause me and my children a good deal of stress for me to be rejected by family and friends. But there is no blessing for strategically avoiding persecution. Further, all my normie friends know I am a Christian. It is true that some of my old lefty friends from university have treated me with suspicion after I returned to the Church. However they don’t really know what this implies for me. For increasingly I see my commitment to race realism, and sex realism as compatible to my faith; not just compatible but integral. [C] Working through these beatitudes as I have has clarified this awareness. Knowledge of righteousness leading to peacemaking is an effort in social health. Understanding the inevitability of hierarchy is integral to real justice. So the traditionalist Christian can’t honestly remain on the sideline preempting persecution by avoiding vocal and physical action under protection of, “They just wont listen anyway”, or “The world is just too far gone”. We hide behind avatars and talk big. Sometimes this protection allows us to be less careful than we should be. We can lean toward the political in our anger at the current year’s dominant culture, and so neglect the metaphysical source of our discomfort. To receive the blessing of the Kingdom of Heaven from Christ we must be ‘persecuted for the sake of righteousness’, not for being a mouthy curmudgeon. And we have plenty of opportunity to posit real righteousness into our societies and receive the inevitable backlash.
Of course deliberately prompting persecution is not blessed. But neither is avoiding being known nor not speaking the truth. We are quite aware of our social condition, and choose to protect ourselves and our families rather than disturb. Disagreeing with the praxis of Christian Neoreaction, at some point we need to act, and not just once everything is favourable. If we are motivated by the discipleship that this encoded in the beatitudes, we have no choice. Self-protection is never lauded by Jesus. I write this as a coward. I would that I had never known this call at times. Have tried to lay it aside at others. But standing by smugly condemning the world under my breath is not acceptable, though the prospect of real persecution makes me ill. yet, in an age like ours, the practice of the discipline of the Beatitudes leads us inexorably to persecution.
“Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief.” Mark 9:24
[A] Interesting the Greek for ‘persecuted’ implies ‘chased’; ‘hunted’ perhaps. And does not always have a negative meaning, as in”Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it”1Pe 3:11 ESV and, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” Php 3:14 ESV or more interestingly, “Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Rom 12:13 KJV
[B] It should have been noted earlier that traditional virtues are not valued merely because they are traditional. Reverence of tradition fits into a world view that is counter to the current revolutionary worldview where all that is of the past is oppression and ignorance. Stated positively traditionalism respects what it receives from its forebearers as the wise disposition of our people through time. This deposit is a living wisdom of course and not dead rules. All the same, the notion that it is to be rejected because it is received for the past is foolishness to traditionalists.
[C] I will expand on this later. To do so here would take too much space, and this realization will take a good deal of space to present. The general point being that Righteousness conforms to natural law and so there can be no social good if we make policies that try to thwart the inevitability of this order.