I posted last week about early Anabaptist martyrs and asked how many of us would be willing to actually die for our beliefs if the need arose.
For my Medieval Women Leaders of the Church class today we read the story of Perpetua, a young woman from near Carthage who was martyred for her Christian faith by the Roman Empire in 203 CE, along with several others. Obviously she's not a leader of the Medieval church because she lived several centuries before the Middle Ages, but she was someone that many Medieval women looked to as a model to imitate even though there was no longer a hostile state to stand up against.
Here's where "on the other hand" comes into play: Perpetua and the others with her were excited about their martyrdom. They couldn't wait to be put to death for the sake of Christ. In fact, one of the other women, Felicitas, was pregnant in jail and she kept praying that she'd deliver her baby in time so she could join the others in martyrdom (which she did). Several others weren't arrested with this group so they voluntarily showed up at the jail so they could be killed for Christ, too. Perpetua had a two-month-old baby but she rejoiced that she loved Christ enough to leave him behind.
So where is the line between martyrdom and an unnecessary act of suffering for no good reason? When does it become selfish to allow oneself to be killed, even if it's for the name of Christ? These are difficult questions which I don't pretend to be able to answer completely, but here are some thoughts.
I think when it's necessary to show up an unjust system through civil disobedience (which in the case of Perpetua was just openly being a Christian), that after seeking God it could definitely be the right thing to do to submit to martyrdom if one is arrested. I think this would be preferable to compromising one's beliefs and renouncing one's faith just in order to live.
But if the goal is to be martyred, I think that is definitely not a worthy choice. If the martyrdom points to an injustice that those who witness it might do something about, then martyrdom has a purpose. If people are recruiting other Christians saying, "Come join us and die!" I think that is not what Christianity is about.
And then there's the question about children...but like I said before, I'd rather have my son grow up knowing I stood for what I believed in than to have me around but know that I'd compromised my principles. But maybe that's selfish of me, I don't know.
The important thing to me is whether it is necessary to die, whether it will show up the injustice of an evil system, and whether one stands for one's beliefs firmly to whatever end happens.