• Donald V. Watkins

True Christians Are Often Persecuted

By: Donald V. Watkins

March 20, 2022


On Easter Sunday, Christians around the world will celebrate the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension to Heaven of the most influential man who ever lived -- Jesus Christ.


Approximately two thousand and twenty years ago, Jesus was arrested by Jewish Temple guards; he was beaten without provocation; he was accused of being a "criminal because he interrupted the flow of funds from the Temple to Rome when he flipped over the money changers' tables in the Temple; he had a preliminary hearing before Annas (a former Jewish high priest); he later appeared before the Jewish Sanhedrin in a trial presided over by Caiaphas where Jesus was accused of trying to destroy the Temple and rebuilding it again in three days; and he was tried again by Pontius Pilate after Jesus acknowledged to Pilate that he was King of the Jews and that His Kingdom was in Heaven.


Pilate ruled Judea during this period of the Roman occupation. It was Pontius Pilate who eventually sentenced Jesus to an excruciating scourging and death by crucifixion.


Today, 2.2 billion people around the world identify themselves as Christians. They are united in the belief of one God, the Bible as a holy text, and the use of prayer in worship. They constitute 31% of the world's organized religions. Whether they label themselves as Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox, these Christians attempt to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. They believe that Jesus is deity in the human form because Jesus was the Son of God.


I am a follower of Jesus Christ.


My understanding of Jesus came from my beloved parents, Dr. Levi Watkins, Sr., and Mrs. Lillian Bernice Varnado Watkins, and from my early childhood pastor, Sunday School teacher, and Baptist Training Union instructor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama -- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


These influencers didn't just talk the Christian talk; they also walked the Christian walk. In other words, they practiced what they preached and they led by example. They were my role models in Christianity and in life.


My mother's father, Rev. Willie Varnado, was a nationally-known Baptist preacher and a civil rights leader in black America during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. All that my parents and Dr. King did not instill in my siblings and me as children regarding Jesus was instilled by Rev. Varnado.


The lasting lesson I learned from these true Christians was this: Always stand up for the "least of these" in society, even if you have to stand up for them alone. When you stand up for the "least of these," you will often be ridiculed and persecuted by those who strive to maintain the historical socio-economic status quo in America. These persecutors are as plentiful today as they were during Jesus' time.


True Christians Have Always Been Persecuted


In his famous April 16, 1963 "letter from a Birmingham Jail," Dr. King addressed his fellow white clergy who were critical of his non-violent civil rights movement in Birmingham, Alabama and who chastised King as an "outsider" who was fomenting racial conflict between white and black citizens in the city. At the time, state and local law enforcement officials branded Dr. King as a "criminal."


The FBI considered him to be a "thug" and a "filthy, abnormal beast." FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (1924-1972) detested Dr. King so much that he authorized a covert campaign that was specifically designed to pressure King into committing suicide.


Dr. King, who spent far more time in jails and prison cells in the South than me, acknowledged that his critics were "men of genuine goodwill" and that their "criticisms [were] sincerely set forth." Dr. King reminded his fellow clergy that "[w]e are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."


Dr. King ended his Letter from the Birmingham Jail with these prophetic words:


"In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church .... There was a time when the church was very powerful -- in the time when early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believe. In those days, the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.


Dr. King constantly sought to adjust the temperature on life's thermostat so that the sweltering heat of racial oppression in America would not suffocate the life out of the "least of these." Dr. King was persecuted from the moment he led the 1950s' civil rights movement in Montgomery until his death.


On April 4, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee while leading a campaign to help the city's sanitation workers secure a livable wage and fair employment conditions. He was 38-years old. When Dr. King died, 75% of white Americans disliked him. Today, he is a celebrated national hero.


My father, who was president of Alabama State University from 1962 to 1981, caught pure hell from Alabama state officials for his long and tireless efforts to desegregate Alabama's 32 public four-year colleges and universities. He was met with massive resistance and extreme hatred every step of the way. The litigation my dad initiated in 1981 to desegregate these colleges and universities took 25 years to achieve its goals. Father died before this landmark litigation came to a highly successful end.


Some federal courts in Alabama have ruled that the state has engaged in an unrelenting historical agenda, spanning from the late 1880s to the present, to keep its black citizens economically, socially, and politically downtrodden, from cradle to grave. Many state officials take personal and political pride in placing their feet on the necks of Alabama's black citizens.


Since 1973, I have waged an unrelenting and aggressive fight against all forms of this historical agenda. This fight has made me very controversial in many areas of Alabama's white community. It finally landed me in a federal prison in 2019 on criminal charges trumped up by a modern-day, Birmingham-based COINTELPRO federal prosecutor named Lloyd Peeples.


Even from prison, I am engaging in an all-out battle to desegregate Alabama's all-white, 19-judge appellate court system in a state that has a 26% black population in 2022. This court system is one of the last bastions of apartheid in Alabama. There are black state court judges in Alabama, but they are holding what the state calls "inferior" judgeships.


No lawyers group, media organization, or public official (black or white) in Alabama has joined me in this fight out of fear that they will be persecuted in Alabama if they do. Their loud silence is deafening.


The Disciples Paid a Heavy Price for Preaching Jesus' Message


After Jesus' horrific crucifixion, his disciples went into the world and fearlessly preached his message of Christianity. These men paid a tremendous price for their faith in Christ.


James was beheaded by Herod Agrippa in A.D. 44. Peter was crucified by Roman who nailed him to the cross upside down between A.D. 64-67. Andrew was bound to an X-shaped cross when he was crucified in Patras, a Roman-controlled region of Greece. Thomas was speared to death near Madras in India. Bartholomew was flayed (skinned alive) and then beheaded in India. Simon was sawed in half for his preaching in Persia. Philip was martyred by having hooks run through his ankles and being hung upside down in the Greco-Roman city of Hierapolis. Matthew, the former tax collector, was murdered in Ethiopia.


Judas Iscariot throw his thirty pieces of silver into the Temple and hung himself from a tree after he betrayed Jesus.


Epilogue


Much of what passes for Christianity today is shallow, superficial, and purely ceremonial in nature. In many cases, Jesus' ministry has been co-opted by personality-based ministries and converted into money hustling operations where the presence of the "least of these" is tolerated but not truly welcomed.


Jesus mostly traveled Judea on foot wearing dusty sandals on his dirty feet. He was homeless. He had no permanent church home. He preached on mountainsides and on river banks. He paraded through the streets of Judean cities and towns without a permit. He turned water into wine without a license to do so. He healed the sick and afflicted without a medical license. He walked on water without the permission of local government officials. He fed the hungry without a restaurant license. His followers were the outcast members of Jewish society; he call them "least of these, my brethren."


Unlike today's preachers, Jesus was Divine royalty. However, Jesus did not wear fine clothes and indulge himself in the finer things in life. Likewise, he did not kowtow to the upper echelons of Jewish society and Roman rulers.


Mary Magdalene, the woman whom Jesus loved, married, and fathered children with, was portrayed by church leaders as a lowly "prostitute." What is more, Jesus' mother and brothers questioned whether Jesus was mildly insane.


Rich men who were interested in Jesus' message of faith were not interested enough to give up their wealth to follow Jesus' teachings. Matthew 19:16-28. To them, the accumulation of material things was more important than entering the Kingdom of Heaven. The same view is held today among most of the world's rich people.


Only one man has ever had 2.2 billion people following his teachings. His name is Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.





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