When Western Christians hear about the persecution of believers in other parts of the world, their response sometimes comes from behind rose colored glasses that diminish the depth of the tragedy that is playing out on the other side of the globe.
1) The first misperception that occurs is the assumption that those believers who are being persecuted are heroic, and must have much stronger faith than the well-off person reading about their plight on the newest model iPhone. I suspect that there is an semi-unconscious train of thought that goes something like, “Oh, they are so brave to face this persecution. I could never face that. But since they are so brave and spiritual, they’ll be fine despite the persecution.” Of course, there are brave and heroic believers who stand up for Christ and the Gospel in many parts of the world. Praise God for their bold testimony! But there are also many normal believers, immature Christians, and nominal church goers who bear the brunt of anti-Christian violence. They don't all stand up to the threats very well. Their story flashes across global media like a shooting star and then disappears, but they still struggle and live in fear and anxiety long after you’ve clicked “Share.” And sometimes the intimidation works. They stay silent about their faith, compromise, or flee. And that brings me to my second point.
“Why am I suffering?” and “How can I escape from suffering?” Those are the big questions that drive Buddhism. The answer provided is that suffering is caused by desire, and one can escape suffering by detaching oneself from the world through right thinking, right speech, and right action. It may sound fine in theory but in practice most Thai Buddhists find it very difficult. Many Thai Buddhists will admit that they find it a great challenge to keep even the Five Precepts, the most basic moral rules of Buddhism. Being a good person is really hard and even for the most moral of people, suffering still comes. And when it comes, how should we make sense of it? In our own lives? In the lives of others? How can we have hope in the midst of suffering? These are all important questions. But for most people, satisfying answers are elusive. Buddhism says, “Avoid suffering by trying to be good” or “Just suck it up because your suffering is caused by bad karma from a past life.” As the prosperity gospel gains a hearing in Thai churches, quick-fix preachers promise people, “If you have enough faith and do the right things, then God will make you healthy and wealthy.” Some are sucked in by these charlatans, but the promises of the prosperity gospel come up empty and in the end give people a warped and inaccurate impression of Christianity.