Today in my history lecture, when talking about the social status of the clergy in left-wing totalitarian regimes, particularly the Stalin regime in the 1930s Soviet Union, my professor Sarah Williams said something that cut deep into my heart:
The new Soviet constitution of 1936 restored voting rights to the clergy, but the ‘servants of religion’ continued to be second-class citizens. They have been socially labeled as members of a profession which ‘exploited the backwardness and ignorance of the toilers’, and church leaders were constantly harassed by the secret police.
And it’s worth imagining for one minute… those of you who are going to be pastors: What would it be like to be signing up into a profession that has the social connotation of stupidity? What would it be like to embrace that kind of cultural stereo-typing of your vocation? Because that’s arguably as hard as the kind of persecution as living with violent torture, maybe even more difficult to withstand. While torture… has a kind of heroic quality… but to live with 30 years faithfully pastoring a flock, stigmatized by the society, is another kind of martyrdom. It’s worth imagining what that would be like, because that remains pretty much constant in communist regimes throughout the 20th century.
Being a Regent student, we tend to try very hard to be intellectually rigorous evangelical Christians. We want to dialogue not only within Christian circles, but also with the larger secular academia (hence we are located in UBC). We want to show that there is absolutely no conflict being both a faithful and an intellectual person. We want to prove that Christianity can actually offer an intellectually robust and all-encompassing worldview that is both cogent and attractive. We don’t ever want to be seen as “fundies“. We want to be respected by the world.
While this is all good when proceeded with the right intentions, it is perhaps all too easy to invest too much of our self worth on being intellectually sound, yet forget as Christ followers we are destined to be shamed upon and ridiculed when we carry His name. Jesus said: “Very truly I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.” (Jn 13:16) Even when we possess all the intellectual vigor, we can still be spat on and be stigmatized by our surrounding society. Now that’s the cross we have to bear when we follow Jesus, after the footsteps of millions of saints being persecuted in communist regimes for the last century. The good news is, Jesus also said: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.” (Jn 12:24, NLT)