America is a strange place for those who would practice faith in Jesus Christ, an anomaly in the truest historical sense. Ironically, it's our freedom and Christian heritage that make it that way.
Call them "Christian roots" or not, it's not really debatable that Christianity has at least formed the backbone for the worldview that the majority of Americans have held over the years. The problem with the widespread acceptance of the basic truths of Christianity is that it has created a sort of purgatorial state for the believer with regard to the suffering Jesus promised for those who truly follow his commands. We can always point to some hardship, but it never seems to be the kind that requires true death to self. Not that our concerns are necessarily petty, but it just seems cheap to even compare them with what the rest of the world endures.
Although we've weathered numerous assaults on our traditional right to practice our faith in the public sphere, American Christians have rarely, if ever, been physically threatened for gathering for worship or living out our beliefs.
We've been insulated from the type of suffering that has befallen millions other believers across the globe. If they aren't persecuted directly by their governments, many faithful brothers and sisters fall victim to vicious anti-Christian militants who can't stand the thought of their nations becoming the least bit Christianized.
We can look at the dearth of physical threats in America two ways. The first view says that since our worship is uninhibited, it should be all the more effective in bringing about the changes Jesus requires of us. After all, Paul told Timothy to pray that his rulers and authorities would be favorably disposed to the Church so the believers could practice "peaceful, quiet lives." The problem in American model is that peace and quiet have produced passivity, not fervor.
The other school says that a bit more difficulty would separate the true wheat from the chaff within the church. The threat of violence would force out all counterfeit believers, those whose faith is not strong enough to take the suffering. The problem here is that - at least we hope - we won't have to deal with such a litmus test anytime soon.
So now we're in the awkward position of being enormously saddened by the suffering of world Christians at the same time we're deeply intrigued by it as a foreign phenomenon. It's something far off, like the AIDS outbreak in Africa or child trafficking in South Asia. Just atrocious enough to catch our interest, but far away and culturally foreign enough to all but ignore.
In light of all this, a Christian university in Oklahoma has partnered with Voice of the Martyrs, a ministry that specializes in caring for persecuted believers around the world, to create a bachelor's degree program that helps bring the problem of persecution a bit closer to mind in the U.S.
Oklahoma Wesleyan University touts their Persecuted Church Ministry program as unique in the U.S., a standalone degree that students can also pair with more traditional majors like business, education or cross cultural studies. Others who aren't interested in pursuing an academic degree can take VOM online workshops that provide similar instruction without the same academic rigor.
I don't know how practical OWU's new degree will be in helping students find careers, but I think the spiritual consciousness it will create should foster a heart that's more malleable for the purposes of God. It wouldn't hurt for us to be able to understand the plight of world Christians a bit more. If we do, we'll be less likely to complain about our own circumstances and more apt to help others out, whatever theirs are.