I was having a conversation with a very good friend a few days back, and we turned to the topic of religion, as we sometimes do (I don't really like the idea that certain topics are taboo). He mentioned that he could finally understand why people would accept harsh punishments rather than give in on what they believed to be right. The example that was used was from the Holocaust, where Jews would state that they were Jewish, even though there was rumor going around about what would happen to them.
I was thrilled that, finally, someone else that I routinely converse with seemed to recognize a key truth. Therefore, I was naturally disappointed a few days later when they said that they now had changed their mind. After some simple questioning, I found that the reason for the about-face was they were taking their new-found view to an absurd length, and a mutual friend had corrected them about the extremity. Unfortunately, that also undid the truth from the original statement; that there are some things worth standing up for. Eventually, our conversation rested on two scenarios, one mine and one from my friend.
My scenario was fairly straightforward. In certain areas of the world, it is still very dangerous to be a Christian. One day, a law official knocks on your door and tells you, in no uncertain terms, that they had discovered that members of your family were Christian. They do not know if you are Christian or not, so they are there to ask you. If you state that you are Christian, then you are under arrest and subject to severe treatment. If you deny that you are Christian, then you are free to go, if you fully disassociate yourself from your family members who are Christian and accept the fact that their future is not your concern.
My friend's scenario was somewhat different. You are in a country hostile to Christianity, but with no relatives outside of your household. Someone comes knocking on your door one day and asks if you are a Christian. They give you no reason for their questioning, and you know that they will leave you in peace if you answer no and nobody will question again. If you answer yes, then someone may come by later to arrest you.
Our discussion ended with a polite agree to disagree, but I'm still troubled. In the United States, we are often mocked for our beliefs, but seldom are we put in danger for them. It is easy for us to forget that there are areas, even today, where Christians are brutally murdered for no other reason than their faith. Ironically, they are often the ones who are doing good things for the community in which they are murdered. I am troubled because of the question that I asked of my friend: If you deny that you are a Christian in either scenario, are you, in fact, still a Christian?
The question is still relevant to us, who live in a culture that is openly hostile to the Christian ideal. Are we willing to stand up for our beliefs and risk tribulations, or are we better off keeping our beliefs secreted away, attempting to live our faith in private only? Are we ready to accept ridicule when Christ and culture part ways, or will we join in the throng demanding that the church modernize or die?
I believe that God has great mercy and that He will forgive us if we ask. Perhaps that is why the question is so troubling. Is it better for one to deny Christ, then ask forgiveness and continue the Christian mission, or is it better to embrace Christ and accept what that means for your future? I have settled on an answer, but I am very curious as to what others think about it.