Citizenship Confusion: Ray Comfort and the Victim Complex in the American Church (Updated)

Every Monday in Citizenship Confusion, Alan Noble discusses how we confuse our heavenly citizenship with citizenship to the state, culture, and the world.

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of hearing James Davison Hunter speak on his book, To Change the World, (read our review here). One of the most insightful comments that he made was that the American Church sees itself as a victim, as the persecuted minority, when, in fact, Christianity is one of the most influential forces in our country.

We like to tell ourselves stories about how the government tries to silence us, how the media mocks us, how public schools lie about us, how Muslims want to kill us, and how liberals want to outlaw us. But, in reality, we have incredible influence and absurd freedoms (“we” can picket a solider’s funeral with signs that call his death God’s judgment for America’s Fags).

Take for example two recent incidents of “persecution” (my word) experienced by Ray Comfort and the people behind the 180 Movie.

First, in November, Ray Comfort sent out a press release (and a tweet) which claimed that three billboard companies had refused to advertise the 180 Movie, yet “These are the same companies that advertise atheists’ mockery of God and the Bible, promote strip clubs and porn conventions.”

At least one person I know who shared this story online suggested that the companies were attempting to stifle Comfort’s “free speech.” But, actually this is far from a violation of free speech. These companies exercised their rights to not support someone else’s speech.

Second, Ray Comfort blogged about a short video Richard Dawkins posted, “mocking the spelling ability” of Comfort. The entire exchange is petty and tiresome, but what I think is worth noting is how Comfort and many other Christians promoted this exchange (read his tweet) as an example of how Christians are victims of mockery.

In both of these cases, Comfort and his followers actively publicized their victimhood. The “story” in each case was how Christians were “persecuted.” Perhaps they saw this “persecution” as a way to gain more press, but whatever their motive, I do not think it is our calling to emphatically spread stories of our victimhood in order to gain support.

In Luke chapter 23, as Jesus Christ hangs on a cross, bearing the sins of the world, He petitions the Father saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In the midst of the greatest injustice in the world, the One who has the true right to call Himself a Victim uses some of His precious remaining breath to care for the suffering of the unrighteous.

This is not Comfort’s problem; this is the Church’s problem. We all do it. Instead of focusing on our “suffering” when people make fun of our poor spelling, or when a company doesn’t want to promote our values, our when a business tells their employees to say “Happy Holidays” instead of Merry Christmas, or when our Facebook friends block us for talking about Jesus, or when the President fails to mention God in a Thanksgiving announcement, let’s praise God for our blessings and let’s care for the persecution of others.

Update 11/06/11

We received the following email from Comfort through the social media director at Living Waters:

Someone kindly sent me your December 5th article.

I want you to know that I agree with you regarding the billboard company having their own rights.

Forgive me if what I said came across as some sort of persecution complex.

Best wishes to you and your family.

Ray Comfort

I’m grateful for the email and hope that this can be an encouragement for all of us (because this victim complex is quite common in the church) to reconsider the way we think of persecution and victimhood.

About Alan Noble

(Co-Founder/Editor/Columnist) is a part-time lecturer at Baylor University. He received his PhD in Contemporary American Literature from Baylor, writing on manifestations of transcendence in 20th Century American Lit. He and his family attend Redeemer Waco, a PCA church. Alan's passion is studying how believers can be a faithful presence in culture to the glory of God and the edification of others. In addition to editing, Alan writes his column, Citizenship Confusion for CaPC.

---Follow Alan on Twitter @TheAlanNoble and on Facebook.

---For questions, comments, or interest in speaking engagements please email me at noble.noneuclidean [at] gmail [dot] com.

  • Alan Noble

    Here are a few comments that I posted on Facebook that clarify things a bit:

    In response to the claim that these are instances of at least some legitimate problems faced by Christians, I wrote:

    Sure, that’s true, which is why I think it’s interesting that none of the billboard companies were named. If they were named, at least could respond to them and encourage them to allow the ads. But if the “news” is that some people, particularly Jews who are offended at the co-opting of the Holocaust, I’m not sure this is worth reporting. How is it news that immoral messages are commercially and socially acceptable but moral ones often aren’t?

    In other words, I get the impression that the purpose of making the billboard incident public was to gain publicity by appearing to be the victim of societal prejudice. If the purpose was to change that prejudice we would know the names of the companies so we could act. If it was to reveal the hostile nature of the world it was redundant in that it merely reveals what I would consider to be common knowledge.

    Another thought: The press releases seem to imply that the billboards were rejected because of a bias against Christianity or the pro-life movement, but there could many reasons why they turned Comfort down.

    Note the language the press release uses: “Three of the largest billboard companies in Southern California have declined to promote the pro-life movie.”

    Declined why? Did they have other ad campaigns to promote? Were they concerned about losing business? Or did they think the “film” was unnecessarily offensive?

    The one case that we do know about is of a company run by a Jewish family that takes offense at the comparison of abortion to the Holocaust. But it’s quite possible for them to support the pro-life and disagree with Comfort’s tactics.

    What this means is that we can’t really say why the billboards were denied. Was it persecution of the Christian message? Maybe. Was it an effort to make more money? Maybe. Was it an objection to the rhetoric of the video? Maybe.

    But to imply that the Christian, pro-life message is being silenced (and I think that’s what the press release implies) is to assume something about the company’s motives.

  • http://www.diannaeanderson.net Dianna

    Thank you for this post, Alan. I think it’s one of the things that has bothered me most about the American church – the idea that someone mocking you for misspelling stuff is “persecution.” I always compare it to real persecution that’s happening in different places around the world – the Christians who are having to print their own Bibles, who face execution for holding a church service, and who are disowned by their families when they find the faith.

    We really have NO IDEA what persecution is, and when we play victim after a famous atheist mocks us for a misspelling (frankly, it’s Dawkins, the man who has also mocked fellow female atheists, it seems, simply for being women. What did Comfort expect?), it undermines the true victims in the world. It really, really rubs me the wrong way when a man who has every privilege in the world – plays victim to get press to his cause. It shows a lack of understanding of what being a victim actually means, which makes me fear for the quality of empathy he may have – if he doesn’t *get* what a victim actually looks like and insists on seeing himself as one, where does his empathy go when it comes to the “real” victims of the world?

    I phrased that badly, but I hope you’re able to tease out the point there.

  • http://www.diannaeanderson.net Dianna

    Also, I just went and read that CNN iReport, and, frankly, I can see why Dawkins laughed at him…’cause I’m laughing at him. “Thort” as an abbreviation for “thought”? Mr. Comfort, a linguist you are not.

  • Carol

    Here’s the thing….some of us evangelical Christians are very quick to criticise others for immoral behaviour, for appearing uneducated and for saying things we don’t agree with or for offending our faith. But when that same criticism comes back to us (whether deserved or undeserved) then we cry foul. Gimme a break. Maybe we Christians need to take a leaf from Paul’s book and develop thicker skin? We preach a Gospel that is offensive. God’s way is always going to offend people who are blind to sin. Preaching the Gospel is already hard enough as it is – maybe we Christians should do ourselves and our cause a favour and stop being so quick to be offended at every real or imagine slight, stop coming across ignorant in the name of God, stop coming across brutal and unloving in the name of God, stop defending the immoral among us JUST because they are from “our team” or “our tribe” and definitely quit calling people who disagree with us Nazis at every opportunity. Also….fact checking something we heard from a friend or a mass forward email or on Facebook before we hit the Apoplectic Button would be helpful too.

    I agree with Dianna – all of this shenanigans from people who are not really being persecuted in any way at all just undermines the real victims of the world. E.g. the Afghan woman who was raped, arrested for adultery, gave birth to the rapist’s child in prison and now has been released from prison and the adultery charges on the condition that she marry her rapist.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/02/world/asia/for-afghan-woman-justice-runs-into-the-static-wall-of-custom.html?_r=1&smid=fb-nytimes&WT.mc_id=WO-E-FB-SM-LIN-FAW-120211-NYT-NA&WT.mc_ev=click

  • http://amuseorbemused.com JT Adamson

    I feel persecuted by your blog post.

    No, seriously, very thought provoking. “Group think” happens to everyone sooner or later, and the church is no exception. Thank you for your intelligent shot block on the real meaning of the term persecution.
    In our culture there is this tendency to over state things and thus cheapen the Horrible Wrongs. Even went Christians aren’t getting a fair shake, we should be much more hesitant to calling it persecution. Tell a Chinese Christian that not getting to buy billboard space is persecution.
    Then again, don’t.

  • http://brokentelegraph.com Ian

    Alan. Another amazing post, right in line with thoughts I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately. You articulated the problem perfectly.

  • Carol

    The email from Ray Comfort was very gracious! Well done on his part! Very encouraged by the elevated level of discourse seen here.

  • Josh

    Thank you for this article. Along similar lines, I’ve always appreciated what Cal Thomas wrote a while ago:

    [In] much of what we hear in in some religious circles: There are demands for respect. There are calls for the “Christian equivalent” of the ACLU to force secularists to treat believers fairly. There is an attitude that says “how can they do this to us,” as if a servant is greater than his Master. There is nothing in Scripture that commands those who seek to follow God to demand their rights. There is much about the benefits of obedience to what the Bible teaches… And there is a good deal of teaching about persecution. When experienced because of “righteousness’ sake,” persecution is to be welcomed as a sign that the person being persecuted is thinking, behaving and worshiping in a way that pleases God. There are many Christians in other parts of the world who might gladly change places with American believers.

    His entire article is worth a read.

  • Suzy

    I have followed with interest the news about the billboard advertising for Mr. Comfort’s movie, “180,” and I did not hear any tone of a persecution in his statements about the billboards.
    Even if we do not — and likely never will — know all the details about the decision to deny use of some billboards to advertise this movie does not mean that news of the request for billboard advertising space and the response to the request should not be made public.
    “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” John 3:14-15


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