Following the Oregon Massacre last week, Republican presidential candidate, Ben Carson, posted a picture of himself holding a sign declaring, “I am a Christian,” to his Twitter and Facebook pages, and asked his Facebook followers to consider changing their profile pictures to a meme he posted with the same hashtag to honor the victims and their families. #IamAChristian quickly went viral, with thousands expressing solidarity with the victims and survivors. While I understand and respect the motivation, something just didn’t sit right with me.
As I contemplated the horror that the students and faculty must have experienced when their previously peaceful Oregon campus was violated by the murderous rampage of a serial killer, it felt strangely disrespectful to join in on this movement to “stand up” for our faith. I thought about the photo that Dr. Carson posted, looking very presidential in his suit and tie, seated comfortably in the backseat of his chauffeured car and wondered, “Would he really stand up if faced with death?” and “If we were in a situation where the best chance of survival – of living to be there for our children – was simply to not answer the question, would I or the thousands of American Christians who shared #IamAChristian readily volunteer that information?” Some would, to be sure, and perhaps you are one of them. I, however, am not sure that I would be counted among those brave souls that lost their lives last Thursday.
I tend to be a very empathetic person and, as I read the story of Lacey Scroggins, a pastor’s daughter who had just begun her freshman year at Umpqua Community College, I became very solemn as I couldn’t help but imagine myself in her shoes, considering what I would have done and how I would have responded.
The gunman had already shot several students at close range when he stood inches from Lacey Scroggins and demanded she stand up.
It was only the fourth day of community college for the 18-year-old aspiring surgeon. She was face down, her head tucked between her outstretched arms, among dead and dying classmates.
Scroggins could hear someone gurgling. She felt the weight of mortally wounded Treven Anspach against her, the 20-year-old’s blood flowing onto her clothing.
She prayed and played dead, frozen to the floor. The killer stepped over her and shot someone else. (Read more on The Blaze.)
I could see myself in that situation, perhaps at the grocery store rather than in a college classroom, with the images of my children and my husband running through my mind. I thought about my children having to grow up without a mom and what I would have to do to keep that from happening. Play dead? Refuse to answer? Is that really denying Jesus? I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that tweeting #IamAChristian does not mean that you will be able to stand up if one day you are faced with that kind of life or death decision.
While Christian persecution is on the rise in America, it is still relatively mild and though we must stand up and fight to protect our freedom in these early stages of persecution and anti-Christian propaganda, we must be careful not to consider our persecution as equal to those who are being slaughtered around the globe for their faith while we sit in the safety of our American homes where owning a Bible and a gun is still legal, pridefully thinking ourselves ready and willing to be a martyr for Christ.
Consider the example of Peter, the one whom Jesus named “rock” following his proclamation that Jesus was the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah. Peter thought he was ready. Like us, he idealized the courage that he ‘knew’ he would have when the time came. In the upper room, he declared his own first century version of #IamAChristian, assuring Jesus of his willingness to die for his Lord. But, we all know the rest of the story. Though Peter made good on his promise for a fleeting moment, drawing his sword to defend Jesus, he quickly cowered under the pressure once he discovered that Jesus had no intention of fighting.
The problem? He was still a spiritual infant whose decisions were made based on what caused him to feel good and strong and courageous. And such is our dilemma in 21st Century America. We believe that we are ready to be martyred because thinking about it makes us feel good and strong and courageous. But, far too often, our thought process is not deep enough. We do not venture into the realms of imagination that allow us to experience tragedy as if we were there, to fully consider what the consequences of our martyrdom would be to our loved ones or the unfathomable fear of facing a killer’s weapon, knowing that our words or actions will have a hand in deciding whether we live or die.
So, I will not be hashtagging IamAChristian, but rather will continue to seek God’s face daily, to plead with Him to refine and strengthen my character, and hope and pray that if someday I am faced with the choice between being here for my family or standing up for my Jesus, I will hear His voice and make the right decision. May God be with the victims’ families and the survivors of the October 1st UCC Massacre. My prayers are with you all.