With over two billion followers, Christianity is the largest religion in the world. It is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, whom Christians believe to be the Son of God. This religion's fundamental beliefs include an eternal afterlife, punishment against sin and the existence of one true God. It prohibits judgement and lying while promoting love and acceptance since, according to Jesus, all humans are God's children. Like other religions that espouse harmony, however, Christianity has been the target of attacks from non-believers, leading many Christians of different nationalities and in different times to defend their faith.
Saint Stephen was one of Christianity's earliest deacons and is regarded as the religion's first martyr, a person who dies for his faith. Renowned for his preaching abilities, he was chosen by Jesus' disciples to aid the poor, widows and his surrounding community. Shortly after a dispute, he was falsely convicted of blasphemy and asked to stand trial. Before a crowd of Jews, he explained that God had mercy for them despite their being ungrateful. He then accused them of having killed Jesus Christ, upon which the crowd attacked him and began stoning him. Shortly before dying, St. Stephen called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." (Acts 7:59.)
40 Martyrs of Sebaste
The persecution of Christians would only intensify after the killing of St. Stephen, and the increase of Christians only brought an increase in their persecution. One major example of this occurred in the fourth century in Armenia. Emperor Licinius had ordered his subjects to perform a ritual sacrifice, an order that was refused by 40 of his soldiers, who argued that this action would go against their belief in Christ. Threatened with flogging and torture, they refused to renege on their decision. After suffering severe torture that included being chained in a dungeon, they were stripped of their clothes and led into an icy lake, but not before restating their firm belief in Christ and welcoming death as "entrance into eternal life."
Bartolome Blanco Marquez
Bartolome Blanco Marquez was born in Spain in 1914 and raised by his aunt and uncle after being left by his parents. From a young age, he proved a particularly devout student of the Catholic Church and at age 18, he was appointed secretary for a division of a church youth group. While on military leave in 1936, the army was mobilized to combat Franco's rebellion (the nationalist group would eventually win the war with Franco serving as dictator until his death in 1975). Marquez, citing his religious beliefs, refused to take up arms. As a result, he was imprisoned but remained steadfast in his refusal, a decision that led to a death sentence, which he did not protest. On his execution day, Marquez insisted he be shot from the front, citing, “Whoever dies for Christ should do so facing forward and standing straight." Shortly before being executed by a squad of soldiers, he proclaimed, "Long live Christ the King!” He was among 498 martyrs beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007.
Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s work as a proponent of justice had such an impact on society that his religious motivations are often forgotten. A Christian pastor who founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Dr. King found inspiration in Jesus' example of nonviolence, strong rhetorical arguments and acceptance. While his historical legacy will be that of a civil rights activist, it can also be argued that he was merely trying to spread Christian values in a country that he felt lacked them. In what is no doubt his most famous speech, "I Have a Dream," he refers to people as "all of God's children," a clear allusion to the Bible passage that reads "for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God." (Galatians 3:26) King's preaching on human equality can also be closely linked to scripture: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28.) As King's attempt to spread the Gospel gained more followers, he was assassinated by James Earl Ray.
- StStephensChurch: Life of St. Stephen
- Biblegateway: Acts 7:59
- Biblegateway: Galatians 3:24-29
- Newsday: Are Martin Luther King's Christian Values Welcome Today?; Star Parker
- Catholic News Agency: Love Letter from Prison Proof of Martyrdom of Spanish Youth
- Christianity.com: 40 Men Died on Ice for Christ; Dan Graves
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images