The Modern American Christian Martyr

It is as Cardinal Francis George famously quipped, “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.” By now, most Americans have heard of the name David Daleiden. A citizen journalist who in the beginning of the Summer of 2015 exposed Planned Parenthood to the multitudes as the horrific harbinger of the Culture of Death. While the news that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal body parts was surprising to the majority of US citizens, what came as an even larger astonishment was the indictment by a Texas grand jury of Mr. Daleiden for allegedly using a falsified California driver’s license in his efforts to expose the abortion giant. Even pro-abortion advocate and celebrity, Whoopi Goldberg, expressed her sentiments on national television with the indictment of Mr. Daleiden.

The strange indictment of Mr. Daleiden is, unfortunately, nothing new. Pro-Life advocates have faced jail time and public harassment for a couple of decades now, hence Cardinal George’s famous quote. But this injustice is no longer relegated to those who advocate for the lives of the preborn. It has extended to those who believe that marriage is supposed to be a life-long union between a man and woman as well. Many will recall several opponents of so-called same-sex “marriage” have also faced injustices brought against them. Recently, one Catholic couple who refused to allow a same-sex “marriage” to take place on their farm has been fined $13,000. In time, it is likely that more of these cases will become more common place. Just over a year ago, as was detailed in an article in the Truth and Charity Forum, a Colorado judge notoriously ordered a Colorado baker to bake wedding cakes for same-sex couples. Even Prof. Robert P. George posed the question to modern day Christians if they are prepared to be witnesses to the faith given the recent events that have taken place.

jail-cells-429638_640Yes, martyrdom is part of the Christian faith and Christians are in an age in America where if one does not agree with the secular culture then one will be likely persecuted for that belief. Persecution of Christian belief is not unheard of. Certainly, most people are well aware of the early Church and the history of the persecution of early Christians. However, what separates this persecution today from that of the first few centuries of Christianity is that it is no longer focused on the idea of proclaiming Jesus as God, but rather other tenets of the Faith the secular culture plainly rejects. In essence, society is witnessing a new strategy to get Christians from practicing the Faith.  An example of this strategy can be seen in the simple fact that a Purdue University staffer, who threatened to rape pro-life women, was closed without any action taken against him. It comes down to the reality that those who advocate true sexual and bioethical morality are facing persecution.

But the deeper question is how is the Christian to deal with the new martyrdom? Not surprisingly, one early Christian martyr can help the modern Christian with this endeavor. In his letter to the Romans, St. Ignatius of Antioch provides some insight into the importance of martyrdom. He states, “The goals of the earth and the kingdoms of this world shall profit me nothing. It is better for me to die for the sake of Jesus Christ than to reign over the ends of the earth. I seek Him who died for us. I desire Him who rose” (To the Romans, no. 6). Here one can see St. Ignatius echo the words of the Gospel of Matthew, “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life?” (Matthew 16: 26). The passage is so powerful, in fact, that even Robert Bolt assigned a similar quote to St. Thomas More in his play A Man for All Seasons. But what do St. Ignatius and even Robert Bolt’s Thomas More mean by this? Firstly, man is directed towards God.  The final good man seeks is not material but immaterial. It is as St. Augustine states, “For Thou has formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee” (Confessions, Book 1). Ultimate happiness will not be found in earthly things, but only in God. This is why Ignatius acknowledges kingdoms and earthly goals will profit him nothing. His reward for living the faith and witnessing the faith will be found in God. Secondly, the Ignatius and other Christian martyrs echo another teaching of Christ, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5: 11-12).

This last line of the beatitude, “Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you”, is important for the modern Christian to understand. Christ gives a reminder to his disciples; just as the Old Testament prophets were persecuted, so will those who speak the truth of God. The fallen world tries to reject the Word of God just as it did in the Garden of Eden. Adam should have been a witness to the Word and be willing to be persecuted, even unto death, if it meant his wife would not have eaten the forbidden fruit. Mankind still rebels against God, but the martyr is a witness of God to the rebelling world. And Jesus is telling his disciples to be witnesses even to death if necessary. In short, do what Adam failed to do.

On February 12, 2016, Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill signed a joint declaration that deals with the very idea of the modern Christian martyr, “Orthodox and Catholics must learn to give unanimously witness in those spheres in which this is possible and necessary. Human civilization has entered into a period of epochal change. Our Christian conscience and our pastoral responsibility compel us not to remain passive in the face of challenges requiring a shared response” (Joint Declaration of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, no. 7).

While US Christians are not facing the type of persecution that Christians in the Middle East are facing, Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill are right in assessing that Western civilization has changed in a radical way. While ISIS may be killing Christians throughout the Muslim world, secularism is persecuting Western Christians in such a way that it is trying to blot out Christianity in a more passively aggressive approach. If one is to bravely speak the truth in modern Western society, then secularists will try to bully the Christian by threatening jail time or imposing hefty fines. Either is unjust, but Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill are asking the persecuted to remember Christ’s words, “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first” (John 15: 18). It is wise to remember as a Christian one is called to imitate Christ.

Joe Kral has been involved in the pro-life movement since he has been in college.  His MA in Theology was completed at the University of St. Thomas where he specialized in bioethics.  From 1996-2003 he was the Legislative Director for Texas Right to Life.  During that time he was also a lobbyist for the Department of Medical Ethics at National Right to Life.  From 2004-2007 he consulted the Texas Catholic Conference on pro-life legislative initiatives.   In 2006 he was awarded the “Bishop’s Pro-Life Award for Civic Action” from the Respect Life Ministry in the Diocese of Dallas.  He currently serves as a voluntary legislative advisor to Texas Alliance for Life, is a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, taught as an adjunct professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas, teaches as a Forward Toward Christian Ministry instructor for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, is a member of the Knights of Columbus, and is doing doctoral studies at Harrison Middleton University where he is specializing in the ethical and legal theory of St. Thomas Aquinas. He has been married to his wife, Melissa, since 2004 and they have 2 children together. They attend St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Sugar Land.
Articles by Joe:

  • Ann Smith

    Thank you Mr. Kral. You astute piece has summed up much of what has been put forth in thousands of com-boxes over the past year. Your detractors love to point out that since no one is actually being killed for their faith like the Christians in the Middle East, we all ought to sit down and be quiet. Not to digress, but if I hear “Give unto Ceasar” one more time I may vomit.

    On that subject I read an excellent article explaining Jesus’ words regarding this trick answer to a trick question. When rightly understood, Jesus was saying that Ceasar is not owed anything at all and the implication is that we owe everything to God. To paraphrase Dorothy Day, “If we gave unto God everything that was rightly his, there would be nothing left to give to Ceasar.”

  • Dhaniele

    It is worth noting that this is the kind of martyrdom that was often used by the Anglican Government of England to snuff out the Catholic church — not killing them, but making life extremely difficult and costly. Islam did the same thing with taxes on Christians so that the poor were forced to become Muslims. At one time the Ottoman Empire actually went into a financial crisis due to mass conversions of Christians and the loss of tax revenue. These aspects of history are things that the establishment media is not interested in nor are the establishment universities. If people knew about the conduct on Islam in its conquest of North Africa and the Middle East, they would not be surprised at ISIS. Muslims are surprised because they don’t know their own history.

  • cminca

    When your premise is built on a lie you lose any credibility you may have had.

    First of all–the idea that PP is in the business of selling body parts has already been debunked by 30+ politically motivated investigations that found no wrong doing. Your “martyrs” have been indicted for a civil violation–not because of their religion.

    The couple who refused to let their farm be used? They are running a public business. As it the baker. I’m sorry if you want Christians to have “special rights” to discriminate–but this is a plural, secular, democratic republic and that isn’t the way things work. No on forced these people into business. If they don’t want to let their farm or bake a cake for the wedding of a same sex couple (without the “scare quotes”) then they can not offer those services for opposite sex couples and still be within the law. Equality. That’s how it works.

    If you want all secularists to be compared to the Perdue professor–then you had better be prepared for all Christians to be compared with the Westboro Baptist Church. Because I don’t see anyone stopping them (nor do I see other Christians condemning them).

    You’re not being persecuted. You’re not being martyred. Organized Christianity isn’t calling the shots and your upset about that. But the only thing that is closing down churches in this country is the public realization that organized religion is more about money and power for the organizations and individual leaders–that is why you have more people identifying as “nones”.

  • Bill

    Thanks Joe. Your article is a necessary reminder.

  • Pingback: THURSDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  • DLink

    I will add a corollary to Cardinal George’s statement. The descendants of the persecutors will reap the bitter fruits of the actions of their predecessors. Think not? The descent of Carthage, Greece, Rome, 18th century France and Weimar Germany into license and debauchery preceded the ruin of the countries and the establishment of totalitarian rule. Do not believe it can not happen elsewhere.