I recently came upon a video from Christian youth outreach group Reach America. In it, Christian students explain that they face persecution in their public high schools for their religious beliefs, and list examples of this persecution. They finish by calling for change, calling for other Christians to rise up and throw off the persecution and restore the (mostly imaginary) Christian American of the past.
For those of you who don’t have the time to watch the entire video—and it does get repetitive—I’m attaching a transcript at the end of this post. First, a bit of commentary.
Several things to note here. First, if my experience is any guide, these teens really do believe that they are persecuted for their beliefs. Second, nearly every single thing in this list has to do with ending government endorsement of Christianity, not with persecution of Christianity. But for many evangelicals and fundamentalists, the removal of Christian privileges appears to them as persecution. But for those of us who stand outside of Christianity, things appear far, far different.
Of course, these teens aren’t shy about their goal—they really do want to make America into a Christian nation, not just in culture but also in government. Now, they’re not calling for a reinstatement of Levitical Law. What they want is a country where teachers lead students in Christian prayers at the beginning of each day, sex education classes teach only abstinence, and modesty and clean language codes are enforced in school. Notice, too, the military rhetoric—I, too, grew up with this talk about being Christ’s army engaged in battle. And then there is the conflation between Christ and America, as though they are the same thing. I mean my goodness, the image they keep returning to is a cross resting on an American flag!
I think to some extent what these teens are experiencing is what I’ve seen called “privilege distress.” They’re convinced that they’re entitled to privilege—entitled to seeing their religion officially endorsed and enforced in the public square, or the very least in the public school—and they’re upset because they’re losing their grasp on that privilege. But what they don’t see is how it feels to be in another group—a group without their traditional privilege. They don’t know what it felt to be a Jewish kid sitting through a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in the 1950s, or an atheist kid sitting through official prayers at school sports events or graduation ceremonies today. They don’t understand that the removal of their privilege—the removal of things like Bible reading and official Christian prayers—is not about persecuting them but rather about ending discrimination against those who don’t share their same beliefs.
I remember being told growing up that a secular government was actually the endorsement of atheism and secular humanism, and thus discrimination against Christianity. This would be true if secularism meant that addresses written by Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris were read over school intercoms at the beginning of each day, but they’re not. Lack of official prayer is not persecution against Christians any more than bald is a hair color. Lack of official prayer is not discrimination but neutrality. We live in a country with a growing diversity of belief, and it only makes sense that one set of beliefs not be officially endorsed by our government.
As for the discussion of bullying, to be perfectly honest, that’s a bit rich coming from the same religious subculture that opposes efforts to end the bullying of gay and lesbian children. So some people make fun of these kids for being virgins? Believe it or not, people also slut shame girls who are perceived as being too “easy.” Teenagers can be vicious, especially when it comes to others’ sexual choices. That doesn’t make it okay—it’s not—but it’s not religious persecution. And this concern about being called bigots, coming from the same religious subculture that opposes equal rights for LGBTQ individuals, strikes me as missing the point. Finally, I find it highly ironic that concern about being called “goody goods” is followed in the very next sentence with a complaint about other kids telling dirty jokes.
But then, I never intended to go through refuting every point. One thing I want to leave you with—before inviting you to offer your own response to whatever part of the video you’d like—is that many of the ideas I grew up thinking were specific to my own conservative evangelical Christian homeschool subculture, including the idea that the youth must rise up and mount a rebellion against mainstream culture, restoring the nation to its (supposed) Christian foundation, are actually quite common throughout conservative evangelicalism in general.
For those of you without time to watch the entire thing—and it does get repetitive—I want to offer a transcript of the video (with a bit of commentary from blogger Grace of Are Women Human). Commentary to follow.
Christianity is being completely frozen out of America.
Why can’t I pray in school?
Why do I have to check my religion at the door?
Why can’t I write about God in my school papers?
Why do I have to tolerate people cursing my God, but I am not allowed to talk about God and my faith?
Why are they taking God out of my history books?
Why do they teach every other theory in science except creation?
Why am i called names because I believe in marriage the way got designed it?Some even call us hateful. Hypocrites.
Why can’t Tim Tebow praise God after making a touchdown without causing a national uproar?
[Reality: Tebow is immensely popular]
The football coach at Ridgeland High School in Georgia was investigated by the school board.
Did he abuse his students?
Is he a terrorist?
He allowed local churches to feed his football team.
[Actually, he forced his players to sit through sermons for team dinners]
*Several of the children gasp and grimace in an exaggerated fashion.*
In public school, I’m called lesbian or gay for not kissing, or for wanting to save myself for marriage.
In public school, dating is an obligation.
In public school, people are rude and disrespectful towards Christians.
Bullying is common.
What we see in our health classes—“sex education”
FOURTH grade and up—
People make fun of me because I don’t believe in abortion.
In public school, people believe Christians are goody goods and boring.
Dirty jokes fill the hallways between classes.
after school, on the bus, off the bus.
Get the idea?
Despite modern popular belief, America was founded as a Christian nation.
My grandparents tell me that the church used to be the center of the community
In school prayer and pledge to the flag was welcomed and appreciated No one would dare not to stand place their hand over their heart and recite the pledge.
America was once a force for good.
America was once the hope for the world.
[Question: isn't this, um, supposed to be Jesus? Not America? ]
In 1962, the Supreme Court ruled that prayer was unconstitutional in schools.
[false---only school sponsored prayer was ruled unconstitutional]
in 1963, the courts ruled the Bible unconstitutional. [also false]
Saying that if the Ten Commandments were read in schools,
A student might feel inclined to follow them.
For over 50 years christians have been unwilling to get involved
People who do not love our god
have stolen our country
Jesus said we are salt and light.
Salt and light melt ice.
It is time for a thaw.
President Ronald Reagan [of COURSE] called America a shining light on a hill, a beacon of hope for the world to see.
We are going to let our little American lights shine.
Through the power of Jesus Christ we proclaim today,
We refuse to be frozen out of the public square.
Our voices will be heard.
Let’s reverse it.
We are going to turn it around.
This is a call to our generation.
We are calling on the youth of America to join us.
At Reach America, we are creating a Christ Centered Counter Culture—a C4 community.
A place filled with Christian teens on a mission
to reach America and our friends for Christ.
Christ and our country matter to us.
At Reach America, we are learning to reach our generation.
We are servants, encouragers.
We are learning to hear god’s voice and adjust our lives to his will
God is changing our lives.
We are building life changing relationships.
We are a family.
We are a team.
We are an army.
Christ is our commander.
His will is our charge.
We are impacting our friends, our families, our coomunity, our state, our country.
We are in a war for the hearts and souls of our generation,
and we know it.
Failure is not an option.
We are going to win this war.
If god be for us,
who can be against us
The thaw has begun.
High school Christian teens, join us.
Join us at Reach America
in the fight for our generation,
for our future.
we still hold these truths to be self-evident:
that all men are created equal.
That they are endowed by their creator
with certain unalienable rights.
That among these are life,
and the pursuit of happiness.
Join the movement at Reach America.
Let’s reach our communities.
Let’s reach our states.
Let’s reach America.
Adults, please pray for us,
and get involved
Together, looking to Christ as a strength, the thaw will be complete,
and America will be one nation under god. Again.