In Theory: On the question of martyrdom

Pope Francis this month visited Seoul, South Korea, where he beatified 124 Korean martyrs, Catholics who were killed in the 18th and 19th centuries for standing up for their religion when the Joseon Dynasty was bent on bringing a halt to Western influence on the Korean Peninsula. “They challenge us to think about what, if anything, we ourselves would be willing to die for,” the pope said.

Q: In what ways do you or others who share your beliefs make sacrifices or stand up for them?

Jesus Christ said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). Every follower of Jesus Christ is called to, and does, make personal sacrifices for our faith. To this day the sacrifice for some is as extreme as persecution, torture and even execution. For most it is the sacrifice of personal, selfish preferences and pleasures that are contrary to God’s will. Many Christians suffer varying degrees of social ostracism for proclaiming God’s message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Many are demeaned for believing and proclaiming biblical morals which contradict with contemporary opinions. In our country the pressure against believers is increasing. But the believer knows that “in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37) and that God will return blessing and reward for every sacrifice we make for Him.

Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church


The Bible is where we Christians begin with regards to this question, and one of my favorite examples is that of Shadrach, Mechach and Abednego. They faced a despot king and his pagan religion. On the occasion that the king erected a huge idol and demanded everyone to worship on pain of death, these three stood and said, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image” (Dan 3:16-18 NIV).

What’s powerful about this is the way these men had an allegiance to God that superseded even their own lives. God could save them, but He may not, and yet their resolve to serve His purposes did not waver. Now this story turned out to be a miraculous salvation, but we know that thousands have given their lives in the cause of Christ where salvation came in death. All but one of Christ’s Apostles met with mortal persecution, and today, martyrdom flourishes worldwide. Even in the current media are stories of ISIS killing those who won’t convert to Islam, and everywhere that democracy is nonexistent, Christians live precarious lives.

In the “civilized” West we may not have to face the furnace or beheadings, but daily we must stand for godly morals, biblical truth, and the Gospel of Christ, amid an apostatizing culture that no longer tolerates divine commands nor the God who utters them. Still we stand, scorned, opposing pagan views of God that neuter Him into a simple genie who approves every sin and has no truth to uphold. God protect us…or not…

The Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church


Not very many! I like to think that I would always speak the truth regardless of the consequences.

But down deep, I’m a little bit afraid that I might cave in to pressure.

I am reminded of the 18th century philosopher/theologian Soren Kierkegaard’s remark that when Christianity became the “accepted” religion under the Emperor Constantine back in the early 300s, that was the beginning of the end. Really, in most people’s minds, what’s the difference between an American and a Christian? While I believe it is possible to be both, I’m guessing that most people think America and Christianity are one and the same. And they definitely are NOT one and the same. And I don’t mean because we have Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and others as citizens in our society. I hate to say this, but it’s almost too EASY to be a Christian in America. On the surface, to be a Christian costs nothing. If one looks at what Jesus taught and did, however, it costs more than most of us want to pay. How many Christians, for example, have come out and said Israel struck with way too much force against Hamas in Gaza? I’m not saying Hamas is innocent, of course; they’re bastards, caring nothing about their own citizenry.

But still, fellow Christians, wasn’t Israel’s response a little over the top? Also, how many of us Christians have come out against drone strikes in Iraq? Yes, some of them hit the evil ISIS people — and they are evil! But some of them hit innocent civilians, too. How many Christians have demonstrated or protested against U.S. policies in the Middle East? Not very many! No wonder so many churches are dwindling in membership; to be a Christian these days in America costs practically nothing, and it’s too easy.

The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
La Cañada Flintridge


It was an ah-ha moment for me recently when I heard my rather traditional and I assumed conservative new sister-in-law referring to the numerous C.O.s (conscientious objectors) in her family. She is a Mennonite, so her father, uncles, brothers and late first husband had all refused to bear arms in World War II, Korea or Vietnam, and instead worked for pennies in alternative service, for which they received no veterans benefits.

Many quietly make sacrifices for what they believe and we are unaware.

To me and maybe also to Pope Francis, deaths by ignorance, malfeasance or lax regulations (that would include all of our gun deaths) are just as tragic as those caused by religious persecution. He demonstrated his support for the search for justice by the survivors of the more than 300 mostly high school students killed in the avoidable sinking of the Korean ferry Sewol.

It gets us nowhere to create a sainthood of martyrdom, whether religious or secular.

Pope Francis pointed out that Korean Christianity came not from foreign missionaries but from Koreans seeking the “universal equality in divine eyes” they saw western religion as offering. To me “let the dead bury the dead” tells us not to use martyr worship to justify yet more deaths.

Roberta Medford


The LDS church was built on the sacrifices of early members, many of whom endured years of violent persecution in the 19th century that drove them across the Midwest and, ultimately, to the isolation of the Rocky Mountain territories. They had the distinction of being, as far as I can tell, the only American religious group targeted by an official “extermination” order, issued by Missouri Gov. Lilburn Boggs in 1838.

If we make sacrifices today, it is primarily in the form of time given in service. Each year thousands of young men and women, as well as retired couples, serve as missionaries around the world at their own expense. Most proselytize, but many others teach English or provide health services. Thousands more church members devote their “spare” time to lay positions in local congregations.

Sometimes, there also is the sacrifice of living out of sync with popular culture because of dietary guidelines and socially conservative beliefs. We teach our youth to refrain from consuming certain products, including alcohol and recreational drugs, to be chaste and to respect traditional marriage. Doing these things can sometimes be difficult for teens and young adults who find themselves alienated from their peers in high school and at universities. However, with each of these sacrifices, there are great blessings. Almost all who have served in the church and adhered to its standards would say that their lives have been enhanced as a result.

I can’t write about sacrifice without acknowledging the horrific persecution of Christians and Yizidis today in the Middle East and North Africa. There is nothing in our lives here that compares to what they endure at the hands of extremists. Thousands have been driven from their homes, tortured or executed for their beliefs. There is a genuine threat that entire communities may be exterminated or forced into diaspora. So, perhaps we can all add two more acts of service to those we perform routinely: to urge our government to help them and pray to the Lord to deliver them from their desperate circumstances.

Michael White
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
La Crescenta



Judaism has a special term for Martyrdom, Kiddush Hashem, Sanctification of the Name, the name here being God's.

Jewish history is  filled with examples of people forced and/or willing to die to preserve Judaism, especially in the last century with the pogroms in Czarist Russia, the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel; but I would rather cite one example that stands above the rest. It is  from an earlier time.

Rabbi Akiva lived in the second century of the Common Era. He was the spiritual leader of the Bar Kochba rebellion against the Romans from 132-135 CE. Violently defending your faith is not tranquil, defying Rome is not serene. Alas, Rabbi Akiva’s life was not to end peacefully. He was declared a criminal for teaching Torah wherever and whenever he could, and was eventually captured by the Romans. Tortured and flayed alive, rather than deny his faith, he called out joyfully to his colleagues and students, also imprisoned and tortured, “All my days I’ve waited to love Hashem,
God, with all my soul (Deut.4:4-6 )and now I have."  Rabbi Akiva then died a martyr’s death.” [Talmud Berachot 61b]

To us the greatest gift God has given us is life. To voluntarily give up this gift as an act of love to God makes it the highest form of love. Therefore it remains one of the few things we are willing to sacrifice our lives for. Personally, if called upon I would add family, friends and country to that brief list. For all have loved me with their hearts, their souls and their uniquenesses.

Rabbi Mark Sobel
Temple Beth Emet

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