Suffering in the Path of Disicpleship

As many progressives are wonttumblr_mj88inc4aw1rnzcl1o1_500 to point out, the American church likes to think of itself as oppressed and persecuted.  It kinds sounds something like this…

Blah blah blah…keep Christ in Christmas…

Blah blah blah…culture wars…moving away from our place as a Christian nation…

Yeah, you’ve heard it before.  MOVING ON…


Bonhoeffer’s fourth chapter of TCOD is entitled “Discipleship and the Cross,” and functions as an examination of the need for suffering in the path of discipleship with Christ. We are commanded in the Scriptures to do as Christ did and to “take up our crosses,” essentially, to endure the same suffering as Christ did.  What does it mean, though, to be a 21st century American Christian and to suffer?  Do we even know what that really means?  Certainly we face adversity and struggle, but do we truly know what it means to face the persecution that the Early Church faced?  To be dragged from our homes before the courts, to be demanded to recant our faiths?  Do we know what it means to be a religious minority in our context, to have our children beheaded alongside us for our beliefs at the hands of religious extremists?

To locate my own context, as a white-American Christian, I do not know what it means to take up my cross.  I would argue that if you locate yourself in the same context, you don’t either.  You might have gone through hard times, financially, emotionally, etc., you may have been made fun of at some point for your beliefs, but you do not know what it means to be persecuted for your faith.  “Taking up our cross”  is not “an ordinary, everyday calamity…one of the trials and tribulations of this life.”  If you cannot see the distinction between an ordinary life and a life lived for Christ, then you do not know the rejection and shame experienced in taking up your cross.

Where, then, do we learn to take up our crosses in the 21st century?  We bear our cross in our dedication to the law of Christ, to the coming of the kingdom of God, a law located in the commands of law and forgiveness, a kingdom located in the poor, the oppressed, the prisoner, and those named in the Beatitudes as blessed, those who are covered by the train of God’s robe, who Christ came to set free.  If we are to “submit to suffering and  rejection at the hands of men, ” as we are commanded, we must lower ourselves out of our privilege and take up solidarity with those whom the church has declared as outcast.   Because the church has become a center of power and oppression, rather than the thorn in the side of those in power, we cannot continue to think we would know what suffering is until we see with our own eyes the suffering we inflict on others.

That is what it means to take up our crosses in the 21st century.  It’s not found in culture wars or keeping ourselves as the dominating religion in this nation, but in the people Jesus came for: the sick, rather than the healthy.  We are the Pharisees who place heavy yokes on the necks of the American population.  We will not know suffering until we see this.


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