Warning: Religious content (Christian). Also, I'm writing this on Good Friday but this may not be the Good Friday message for you; it may be better for some on another day ...
I do not persecute people, because Jesus was crucified.
I will not persecute people because Stephen was stoned.
I shall not persecute people because there are martyrs, ancient and recent and future.
There are many messages in the story of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, but on this Good Friday, the actions of those who pressured Pilate into having Jesus put to death for heresy have been in my mind.
It is understandable why these religious leaders did not agree with the message from Jesus. It is understandable that they even considered it heresy. However, rather than address the message, they set out to destroy the man with the message. Any means necessary were justified in their minds.
Heresy against a regional religion was not a crime in the eyes of the Roman authority, so they leveled a charge that was. Not just a crime, but a crime that would be punishable by death. Jesus was, to their telling, a rebel leader whose goal was to rule the same area that the Roman governor they appealed to had authority over. Jesus' crime was one against the governor and the emperor as well. And the religious leaders all wanted to serve the emperor, even to the point of "reminding" the governor what his job was. These religious were all just loyal citizens of the government.
Jesus was not because he challenged the message of these religious leaders, and had one of his own. So since Jesus was shaking up the status quo in the local religious community, he had to be a threat to them. And if Jesus threatened their religious authority, and the way they read the scriptures, then he must be a threat to their whole way of life ... and to the local government ... and to the governor ... and to the empire ... and to the emperor. We all are aware of the dangers of slippery slopes. Surely the emperor's local governor would see things their way. Yeah, they could punish Jesus; but they had to get rid of him quickly, kill the one with the message, before Jesus' own supporters could voice their objections in the light of day. They had to work through the night and get the death penalty order signed before Jesus slipped from their grasp.
Jesus was persecuted and put to death because of people who felt threatened by his way of life and the message he preached.
I look at this story and the role I am most afraid to find myself is in the seat of the religious authorities. So many Christians over the centuries have put themselves in those same seats and acted much the same. So many times they weren't just the religious authority, but the governmental authority as well (or at least so close to it that their governors required much less persuasion that Pilate did). And not just one man here or there has been killed, but vast numbers have been put to death, even religious wars waged, by those who claim to follow a Jesus who was unjustly put to death in the same manner.
So often we mistake a new (or at least new to us) message of truth (or at at least some truth) that ruffles our feathers and we call it heresy against God himself (God *is* on my side, right?). And then all to often we see ourselves as servants of God, acting in his name; when we accuse, prosecute, convict, sentence, and punish those same people. Even when God tells us that any "payback" that might be justified is not ours to do anything about.
I believe that ideas are to be met with ideas, thoughts with thoughts, faith with faith; not heresy (real or imagined) with violence and malice to the other person. I am pained by how many people, who claim to follow the same Jesus that I try to, will rain down pain and death upon those who just don't agree with them. It's something that I've tried very hard not to be able to understand.
In my church we ordain women, as deacons and ministers. When asked why, the consensus answer seems to be "We ordain women because we baptist girls." I agree with this, you may not. I'm not one to speak for others, but is is my hope that the confession of others with some similar views to myself might be able to likewise confess:
"We do not persecute people, because Jesus was crucified."