I’ve often written about the American persecution complex that tends to see anti-Christian persecution under every rock, and have long been a proponent that such claims of persecution are often simply a loss of privilege or the ability to persecute others. Each time I say something along these lines, I usually get a flood of comments and messages/e-mails telling me how wrong I am and that Christianity in America is under attack. One commenter even said recently that “Jesus” is the only name you’re not allowed to speak at work without getting fired.
Secretly I’ve had some misgivings about my position and these doubts have now given way to a change in position. So, this post is a capitulation to my critics and a public admission about how wrong I’ve been. Yes, Christians are bullied for their faith in America– and it happens on a daily basis. Yes, Christians can lose their jobs simply because they believe in the teachings of Jesus. Yes, some Christians in America are hated on account of their association with Jesus. Real persecution just happens to look differently than what is often claimed as persecution. Case in point:
A few weeks ago, MidAmerica Nazarene University chaplain and Vice President of Community Formation Dr. Randy Beckum spoke at the student chapel services. Dr. Beckum gave a short sermon during the chapel service that is being billed as “controversial” and something that really upset the student and faculty population at MidAmerica Nazarene (see/read full text here). What was so controversial and offensive you ask? Well, let’s take a look.
At first, Dr. Beckum starts off by saying,
“In my life, I have struggled with some things that Jesus said, (pretty plainly), that go against the grain of what is accepted as normal, or OK or even a sign of a being a good Christian in this part of the world.”
Seems like something I’ve heard a thousand times in my life– we’re repeatedly told that just because something is widely accepted as being okay or normal, such acceptance doesn’t mean it’s okay for a Christian. And, I totally agree.
Except, and here’s where Dr. Beckum got himself into some serious problems: he wasn’t speaking about listening to rock and roll or wearing skirts that weren’t knee high– he was talking about the golden calf of American Christianity. He went on to say,
“Anyone who has made a decision to follow Jesus realizes that the goal of a being a Christian is to become Christ-like.”
Sounds good so far, but starting to get edgy with this Jesus-likeness stuff. But here’s where he went completely off the rails:
“I am extremely troubled. I have been for a long time and I have hesitated to address this subject publicly, but I cannot keep silent about it any longer… I don’t think it is an under-statement to say that our culture is addicted to violence, guns, war, revenge and retaliation. Unfortunately, so are a lot of Christians… So, what does Jesus have to say about it. Again, if you are not a follower of Jesus you can relax. This doesn’t concern you. But Christians have to do something with this. I have to do something with the words of Jesus and his actions… We have to be very careful about equating patriotism with Christianity. We never say God and…anything. God is above all, everything else is underneath…We have put “our way of life”/freedom on the top rung. If you mess with it I’ll blow your head off. For a Christian what is on the top rung? Love for all.”
Dr. Beckum ended his sermon by reminding the students that not only did Jesus teach radical enemy love, but that we should serve them, and forgive them as well.
In many Christian circles you can talk about the Bible all you want, a you can speak as much Christianese as possible, but as Dr. Beckum has now learned, you cannot talk about what Jesus taught regarding enemy love. That is off-limits and heresy.
The sermon on enemy love sparked an outcry at the University, with some furious that he’d have the audacity to call into question the issue of Christians using violence against enemies. The MNU president was quickly forced to issue a statement distancing himself from the teachings of Jesus, saying:
“At MidAmerica Nazarene University we encourage the exchange of ideas and individuals are free to express their individual perspective and opinions, even when those opinions may not reflect the official policy or practices of our university, our core values or our affiliations.”
Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough– speaking out against bloodshed in American Christianity often requires bloodshed of some sort, and such was the case with Dr. Beckum. On February 3rd the President relieved him of his duties as Vice President of Community Formation, citing that Beckum had previously requested to be removed from that position, something his own daughter has publicly called a falsehood.
In my opinion it’s easy to see what happened here: a Christian leader saw our lust for violence and military conquests, and decided to speak out on it. Since quoting what Jesus said on enemy love is so offensive within American Christian culture, he had to pay a price- and lost his position.
And so here is where my critics have been right all along: there is anti-Christian persecution in America. The chief difference however, is that it’s not the secularists or atheists who are persecuting us- it’s “Christians” who are doing the persecuting.
The best way to understand the cultural scenario is to realize (as someone astutely mentioned on twitter recently) that there are two different types of Christianity. One is a movement of people who want to live and be like Jesus. The other (and far more common, far more powerful) is a civil and political religion that is simply named Christianity. The civil political religion named Christianity is addicted to both political power and violence, and thus finds the message of Jesus offensive. When they encounter the other kind of Christian- the kind that actually believes in following Jesus- they have an immediate need to persecute them in some for or another, as we see in the case of Dr. Beckum, who actually did lose his job because of speaking the name of Jesus.
So, yes, there is Christian persecution in America- and for saying there is not, I do apologize to my critics for such an error. People do get bullied for speaking about Jesus. People do lose their jobs for it. Dr. Beckum is one of them.
But as it turns out, it’s actually the critics attempting to defend the violence-loving political religion named Christianity who are persecuting the people of Jesus.
Don’t believe me? Just try teaching “love your enemies”, and see which group of people will be the first to mock and bully you.