American Christian Persecution Myth Harms the Gospel

A big part of current conservative Christian mythology is that they are under constant persecution. The reality is that they are not, they are often the ones doing the persecution, and they are doing harm to their message by pretending to be persecuted. Let’s explore this.

Persecution Definition - Google.com
Persecution Definition – Google.com

A bright-eyed young man bounded into the waiting room of my doctor’s office and proceeded to place some magazines in various locations. One of the magazines was a monthly called “Persecution.” When I saw it I chuckled audibly and he immediately launched into a monologue about the persecution of Christians in America. The dystopian picture he painted made it sound like we would be forced to worship in caves and sewers within a matter of months.

Nothing I said could dissuade him from the conviction that he and his fellow believers were horribly oppressed, mistreated, and marked for imprisonment and death. I pointed out that if there was real persecution this magazine would not exist and he would not be freely distributing it. He finished our conversation by bizarrely admonishing me to “trust God” (to believe in persecution?) and offering to pray for me right there. I noted that the freedom to publicly pray for complete strangers should show him that he was not persecuted and actually enjoyed great freedom. This ended our conversation and he loudly warned that I needed to trust God as he quickly departed.

Manufactured Persecution

As a part of their elaborate lifestyle choice the persecution narrative is vitally important to much of conservative American Christianity. It is confirmation of their living “Godly” lives and seen as fulfillment of scripture: “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). When there is no actual persecution the normal friction, disagreements, and slights of human life must be magnified and raised to the level of “persecution.” Against all evidence to the contrary they believe they are overwhelmingly the most persecuted group in America. While Christians in other nations endure privation, physical harm, and even death, American Christians are content to imagine that all manner of benign occurrences are persecution.

From their political and religious leaders American Christians are assured that they are the most persecuted group in America and the world. Vice President Mike Pence told participants at the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians in D.C. that no other faith group faces more persecution than Christians. “Franklin Graham attempted to connect the murder of Christians abroad to the “persecution” of conservative religious Americans on Friday, lumping together the plight of those slaughtered for their faith to those who wish to refuse service to same-sex couples.” And in the whopper of all lies Ted Cruz said:

“Today’s Democratic Party has decided there is no room for Christians in today’s Democratic Party. There is a liberal fascism that is going after Christian believers.”

In anecdote after anecdote, from misunderstandings to distortions, and in some actual cases of people being treated unfairly (not persecution) Christians will regale us with the minute details of their persecution. They will conflate their modern, first-world inconveniences and difficulties with the suffering and death of actual martyrs.

Persecution Monthly Magazine Left At Doctor's Office
Persecution Monthly Magazine Left At Doctor’s Office

Among the false or misleading stories that circulate to “prove” persecution in America we find:

  • A boy prevented from praying over his lunch at school. This is a 23 year-old story that was debunked when it was initially circulated.
  • The perennial story about Facebook banning Christian posts.
  • Bakeries which would not bake cakes for gay couples because gay marriage violated their “religious principles.” The same bakeries were, oddly enough, more than happy to provide cakes for: “celebrations of divorces, unmarried parents, stem-cell research, non-kosher barbecues and pagan solstice parties.”
  • President Obama waging a “war on prayer” because a provision in the stimulus package prohibited federal money from being used to build chapels, churches, and other overtly religious buildings. This is a provision that had been included in legislation for decades. But now it has become “persecution.”
  • And frequent stories of people “banned” from practicing their faith when it runs counter to a Home Owners Association agreement. Agreements they freely signed and agreed to when they bought their homes. Among the prohibitions in some are no businesses or churches, no signs, and no statues.

Freedom And Privilege

With 75% of Americans identifying as Christian, America is undoubtedly a majority Christian nation. 16 of the 17 major Republican candidates in 2016 mentioned God in their announcements or even asserted that God has told them to run after praying about it. Conservative religious leader Franklin Graham conducted a 50-state tour in 2016 holding mass rallies and public prayer-meetings in the various state capitals. America is home to at least 350,000 churches and religious congregations. Of these only 12,000 are not Christian.

None of this tells a story of religious persecution. The opposite might be argued with Christians attempting to apply their views to legislation and enshrining their religion in American law. From attempting to reflect that the liberties of our secular society “come from God.” To the demand that the 10 Commandments be placed on government property. To outright discrimination against non-Christians. To our national lies: “One Nation Under God,” and “In God We Trust.” There is not much in American life to back up the claims of “persecution.” Christians, in fact have it quite good compared to many in the world who are actually persecuted.

Harming The Gospel

Unbelievers, the objects of Christian evangelism, are watching. In other parts of the world they see Coptic Christians beheaded, they see converts arrested and sentenced to prison and death,  they see large massacres, they see Christians and others harassed and, even in Russia, the new favorite nation for many conservatives, prohibited from practicing their faith. When they compare this to people claiming “persecution” for others debating them, mocking their beliefs, not saying “Merry Christmas,” and other imagined slights the objects of Christian evangelism are forced to wonder a few things.

If Christians are so detached from reality, essentially delusional, to believe they live in a land that persecutes them, then why should I consider their message? Can people who play fast and loose with the truth while claiming to be moral guides be trusted? How important is their message if they will jeopardize it by making claims that are demonstrably false?

So how do you answer? Do you see how this makes you look deceptive? Is your claim to victim status so essential that you will minimize actual persecution and render the word almost meaningless? Is the gospel you claim to be compelled to spread important enough for you to forgo the fake persecution stories? Or is persecution such an important aspect of your lifestyle that you will maintain that persecution is real and oppressive despite all evidence to the contrary?

We are living in a time when eyes are on conservative Christians. They have great sway with the political machinery of our nation and they have helped elect a president who is the antithesis of their values. Because of their acceptance of Trump there is much doubt about their sincerity when it comes to moral issues. This is a great opportunity to tell about the love of God and the message of Jesus. Will it be an opportunity you miss because you were busy pretending to be persecuted? The choice is yours. Choose wisely.

 

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Thanks To Deborah McIntosh for help with this article.

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