The idea of Jesus as a persecuted minority and therefore the founder of a persecuted minority group, i.e. the Church, has become common currency in theological circles. The basic idea has been around in different forms for a long time in ideas such as the remnant, some Reformation era Anabaptists, and die-hard dispensationalists. But recently minority groups have used this idea to put themselves in the same category as Christ and to defend their particular cause. We are told that if we care about the Gospel and follow in Christ’s footsteps then we will have compassion on and help minorities. Therefore I found this section of Andrew Fulford’s book, Jesus and Pacifism, helpful. He is talking about the command in Matthew 16:24 to take up our crosses and follow Jesus. First he says,
Dr. Yoder [a pacifist] argued that this command was essentially a command to be a faithful minority community under persecution. [Fulford footnotes Yoder’s The Original Revolution and The Politics of Jesus]
Yoder does not mean what many current social justice warriors mean. But his perspective fits in nicely with SJW thinking. Yoder views the command through a political lens. Taking up your cross means you are willing to be associated with those on the edges and fringes of society, those currently defined as weak, maligned, and persecuted. Fulford goes on to explain the command differently using Jesus’ own words and the context. He then says this:
In sum, this command requires nothing more of us than the Greatest Commandment does. To be commanded to serve God with everything one has, means being willing to obey him even to the point of death…And this was not merely a teaching on this part; Jesus practiced what he preached. The cross was of course the means by the Lord himself would choose to lay down his life in order to obey his Father…When the Lord commands us to not just to pick up a cross, but to follow him while doing so, we can see what he means. He calls us to make the exact same choice he did: to accept death from the hands of God if providence gives us no choice between it and sin. It means, in essence, to be willing to give up everything and to endure anything rather than disobey God. His command goes to the very heart of the problem with the human condition. From the first sin, human beings have been choosing sin for the sake of some lesser good rather than obedience to their Creator. Jesus calls us to finally do what we were made to do, serve God above all things.
Fulford then discusses II Corinthians 4:5-18 and Paul’s description of his own sufferings. Here is the concluding paragraph.
Paul’s reflections on these themes are profound, and warrant many books dedicated to them entirely. But the important point for our purposes here is to note: for the apostle joining in the sufferings of Christ was not simply about being a persecuted minority in society. It was about enduring the effects of the curse; it was about accepting death in all its forms (literal and figurative) from the hand of God, and living in a certain hope that one day we will be redeemed from it, just as Christ has been. Refusing to take up the cross is not essentially about the minority’s temptation to take political and social power; refusing the cross is essentially repeating the sin of the Garden. Rejecting one’s cross is an action rooted in distrust of God’s goodness, leading to an attempt to minimize our pain and maximize our happiness by making moral compromises and breaking God’s commands.
Taking up our cross is not about whatever particular social justice cause we are currently pushing. It is not about a refusal to take up positions of power, as Anabaptists often interpret it. It is not even about our daily struggles with life in general. It is about belief in God and obedience to his commands no matter the cost. Most days that will look normal. On a few days it will be extraordinary.
One might argue that this is just one passage. There are other passages that make it clear Christians should care about minorities. Certainly there are passages to debate and discuss, but in the end we would probably end up at the same place. Minority status, however that is defined, is not a virtue in the Christian faith. Trust in God and obedience is.
I agree with your analysis of those who mistakenly interpret/apply our Lord’s words in Matthew 16. The pastoral problem I face (you too?) is making this challenge from our Lord relevant to the experience of modern Christians. When he spoke those words, his hearers were keenly cognizant of how crucifixions proceeded. Before being crucified, those to be killed in this way carried their own crosses to the place where they were killed. Jesus did the same. “Take up your cross and follow me” did NOT conjure up what it probably conjures up in the minds of my elderly matron Sunday School teachers.
But, here we are in the 21st Century. And while Christians are “virtually” crucified in places like central Africa or the Middle East, we American Christians have nothing to compare with that in our own experience. You and I are not – at this time – worried about a knock on the door during the night. Or, a mob overtaking us and herding us to a killing field.
So, how do you draw a lesson from our Lord’s exhortation (and this is not the only one, as you well know!) for us moderns?