Well you’re high on top of your mountain of woe

We recently looked at quantifiable evidence showing that white evangelicals have a delusional persecution complex.

The tide of public opinion condemning white evangelicals’ defense of legal discrimination against LGBT people has only intensified that sense of imagined grievance and martyrdom.

“It’s as if we’re second-class citizens now because we support the traditional, biblical definition of marriage,” Fox News commentator Todd Starnes whined. And CBN’s David Brody argued that white evangelicals are now “more scorned than homosexuals.”

This is nonsense. Paul Waldman and Steve Benen both offer good summaries of why such claims from people like Starnes and Brody are wildly inaccurate. Losing an argument is not the same thing as legal persecution.

Here’s Waldman on “Oppressed Christians and Second-Class Citizenship“:

The impulse to jam that crown of thorns down on your head is a powerful one in politics. It means you’ve achieved the moral superiority of the victim, and the other side must be the victimizer. The problem is that these folks don’t seem to have much of a grasp on what second-class citizenship actually looks like. Last time I checked, nobody was forbidden to vote because they’re a Christian, or not allowed to eat in their choice of restaurants, or forced to use separate water fountains, or even be forbidden by the state to marry the person of their choice. That’s what second-class citizenship is. Having somebody on television call your views retrograde may not be fun, but it doesn’t make you a second-class citizen.

Of course, they say, “Just you wait.” But these fantasies of oppression are just that, fantasies. One of their favorite scare stories is that before you know it, Christian ministers are going to be hauled off to jail or have their churches lose their tax-exempt status if they refuse to marry gay people. Right, just like at the moment a Jewish synagogue will lose its tax-exempt status if the rabbi won’t preside over a Pentecostal wedding.

And here’s Benen on “When a persecution complex goes awry“:

As much as I hate to break up a good pity party, it’s worth noting that conservative evangelicals are not actually oppressed, at least not in this country. They’re losing public debates — failing to persuade the American mainstream is not the same thing as persecution — but no one has proposed stopping social conservatives from getting married, or adopting, or serving in the military. When conservative evangelicals get elected to Congress, it’s not a historic breakthrough. When social conservatives look for equality, they don’t wait patiently for a Supreme Court ruling to decide whether they’ll get it.

They’re eager to make others second-class citizens, but as these efforts stumble, conservative evangelicals have convinced themselves that they’re the real second-class citizens.

I think the panic we’re seeing from folks like Brody and Starnes reflects their growing realization not just that the tide has turned against them in their culture war, but that their own side is not regarded as the moral one.

The one thing they had been sure of was that they were morally superior. Losing any given battle in the culture war was tolerable because they could, at least, reassure themselves that they had been fighting for goodness and truth and righteousness. But when it comes to discrimination against LGBT people, not only are they losing, but their defeat is celebrated as a triumph for goodness and truth and righteousness. They’re slowly beginning to realize that they are not the Good Guys in this story.

I wrote about this just after the election in November, so allow me to repeat a bit of that here:

For decades, the religious right has been pre-occupied with two issues above all else: abortion and homosexuality. And on both of those issues, they have wielded power and influence by claiming the moral high ground — claiming to represent the godly, “biblical” truth of right and wrong. Anyone who disagreed with them on these issues was portrayed as less moral, less godly, less good.

That claim — that framing of these issues as right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, biblical vs. unbiblical, moral vs. immoral — was asserted and accepted for most of the religious right’s 30-year run.

But not any more. That claim is still being asserted, but it is no longer being accepted.

Part of what happened on Tuesday was that millions of people rejected that claim on moral grounds. This was not just a political or pragmatic disagreement that preserved their essential claim of godly morality. It was a powerful counter-claim — the claim that the religious right is advocating immoral, unjust and cruelly unfair policies on both of its hallmark issues. Knee-jerk opposition to legal abortion and to gay rights weren’t just rejected as bad policy, but as bad morals — as being on the wrong side of right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, biblical vs. unbiblical, moral vs. immoral.


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  • Part of the reason that they are “losing” is because their position is no longer seen as the moral one, yes, but what you do not mention is that most of the mainstream followers, the people who are often socially conservative themselves and form the main voting block of the religious right, are seeing that immorality and dropping from that platform. Things like gay rights are getting more popular not just because gays are more politically active, but because people even on the religious right are getting to know openly gay people and realizing that this actually does harm, and quietly changing their mind on the issue.

    What these commentators are doing is blowing a panicked dogwhistle saying, “Please, don’t leave us! We cannot sustain our dominant moral position without you’re support! We’re nothing without you!”

  • Lunch Meat

    So this is the corollary to “you’re not tolerating my intolerance”–it’s persecution to not allow people to persecute. Seriously, how can you say not only “It’s not fair that I should not be allowed to deny services to people I don’t like!” but also “It’s less fair that I can’t deny services to people I don’t like than that people are denied service to because other people don’t like them!”

    Christians are second-class citizens not because people refuse to host Christian weddings, but because Christians are not allowed to refuse to host other people’s weddings (which will never be a rule–you can refuse a religious ceremony to any couple you want for any reason). Christians are second-class citizens not because private schools are refusing Christian students, but because Christians are “attacked” criticized on the internet for refusing students they don’t like. Just imagine what would happen if wedding planners started to refuse Christian or straight weddings! What would happen if private schools started refusing kids whose parents were straight or Christian? And yet they think they should be allowed to do that!

    And then they say “it’s as if we’re second-class citizens now because we support the traditional, Biblical definition of marriage” as if “support” was what it was about. You can support your own definition of marriage all you want. The problem is you insisting other people aren’t allowed to support theirs. This is just like Chick fil a fans saying that CFA’s owner was being discriminated against for his “beliefs”, not for his actions.

    I’ve seen this stupid meme posted like 5 times in the past two days:

    “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.” -Rick Warren

    When are people going to figure out that it’s not a matter of agreeing or accepting, but simply of leaving people alone and not trying to make them do what you think is right? When are people going to figure out that it’s not about them, or their approval or acceptance or agreement or love? When are people going to figure out that all we want is to be treated equally by the law?

    Sorry for the wall o’ text, but I’m getting really frustrated by this.

  • Even if one doesn’t know any openly gay people personally, it’s not hard to look at states with gay marriage or domestic partnership laws and see that they’re not exactly descending into tyranny. That was always the problem with opposing marriage rights – proving harm. The social conservatives could depend initially on a simple visceral reaction, but that wasn’t going to last forever. So they spend the past decade dreaming up nightmare scenarios that ultimately failed to come true. As a result, a lot of the fence-sitters – the people who were uncomfortable with gays personally but didn’t have a stake in the political game – decided that there wasn’t any good reason to oppose gay marriage.

    It’s telling that the tactics on the social con side have shifted. From what I’ve seen, a lot of them have abandoned gay marriage to fortify their next redoubt, gay adoption.

  • Monala

    Exactly. I shared on an earlier thread about an article I read that suggested that unlike abortion, there will be no real backlash if the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality. The reason? The harm argument against marriage equality doesn’t really hold water, and so the anti-equality side is left to arguing for protecting tradition.
    In contrast, because no one can say for sure when life begins, the question “is abortion murder” (and therefore harmful) will continue to be debated. And people feel a lot more passionate about protecting babies than they do about protecting tradition.

  • “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.” -Rick Warren

    I am reminded of the Orks from Warhammer 40,000. They are not shelling your city and butchering your comrades because they hate you. Heck, they probably think you are “friendly.” They are doing that because war is who they are and how they interact with the universe.

  • Don’t sully the good Ork name with such comparisons!

  • Christians are second-class citizens not because people refuse to host Christian weddings, but because Christians are not allowed to refuse to host other people’s weddings (which will never be a rule–you can refuse a religious ceremony to any couple you want for any reason).

    Yeah. I got into a Facebook fight on Tuesday against my better judgment and this idea came up. The person in question advanced a particularly strained argument about Constitutional rights and asked why hers were being violated. I responded by pointing out that what the Constitution does is identify and protect rights and that bigotry is not a recognized or protected right.[1]

    I could practically see the fuming in her next post. It was kind of funny.

    [1]Which later caused a bit of hair-splitting in re: the right to bigotry in speech, which is protected. But my overall point wasn’t, “You’re not allowed to say bigoted things,” rather, “You’re not allowed to call it violating your rights when the law is simply not respecting your bigotry in action.”

  • Lunch Meat

    Everyone has a right to be bigoted. The law must not be bigoted because it must represent everyone equally. No one has a right to enshrine their bigotry in law. Indeed, no one has a right to expect that anything they want should be made into law simply because they want it. People voting against you is not violating your rights anymore than is people disagreeing with you.

  • People voting against you is not violating your rights anymore than is people disagreeing with you.

    Unless they are voting to disenfranchise actual expression of your rights, in which case yes, voting against you is violating your rights.

    That is precisely why DOMA is going to get shot down in court.

  • MikeJ

    They’re slowly beginning to realize that they are not the Good Guys in this story.

    Have you looked at our caps recently?

  • Vermic

    Regressives, fundamentalists, and assorted bigots, I drink your whiny sore-loser tears like fine wine. Just like I did after the November election. If this schadenfreude helps feed your persecution complex — well then, you’re welcome!

    In that vein, here’s a crisp, refreshing draught from Pulitzer-winning conservative political cartoonist/shitbag Mike Ramirez. (Caption: “The Shotgun Wedding.” Illustration: a shotgun labeled “Gay Marriage Consensus.”) Oh no, our poor American bigots! — forced at gunpoint to … er, marry … gay marriage, I guess.
    Having realized that they’ve lost the moral high ground, the only way these yahoos can reclaim it is if they imagine themselves as the scrappy underdogs. America loves the underdog, right?

  • Baby_Raptor

    Well, to be fair…Even if you concede that life starts at conception, can “killing” that “life” be considered harm? Even if you concede that it’s a life, it’s still just a tiny clump of cells. It can’t feel. It has no sentience. No pain receptors. No…Well, you get the point.

  • Baby_Raptor

    I made up a whole new word for reactions such as this awhile back and have been slowly spreading it’s usage around the internet.

    Martyrbate: A combination of “martyr” and “masturbate.” Not too polite a term, generally used to show disgust at or call out blatant fearmongering or false persecution complexes.

    The anti-equality side of Christianity has been doing quite a lot of martyrbating this week.

  • Gork and Mork are completely in favor of humi same-sex marriges…mostly because they’re not 100% sure what this “sex” thing -is-, anyway…

  • bmk

    “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (Matt 5:11, NRSV)

    In a simplistic reading of the Beatitudes, the easiest way to achieve “blessed” status is to be persecuted – you don’t have to really *do* anything. You don’t have to be pure of heart, or meek, or merciful, or – God forbid – a peacemaker.

    I think that’s an under-appreciated motivation for this matyrdom complex, and part of the reason for the persistence of this fantasy: this idea that persecution is a way of showing that you’re elect (or saved, or set apart).

  • I’ve been appreciating it ever since the LCMS defenders showed up with “If people hate you, know that they hated me first” as their self-justifying excuse of choice for calling people (including other Christians) pagans. <.<

  • Lorehead

    If somebody’s voting against you, as a person, then yes, you have cause to complain. Whatever you’re specifically voting on might or might not be against the rules, but it’s immoral.

  • The_L1985

    Yeah, pretty much.

    I’ve known this was the motivation for years.

  • LL

    I’m not sure they’ve ever really cared about being moral or even seeming moral, just as long as they get their way. I’ve noticed that about people in general.

  • Rae


    I live in SoCal, and a year or two ago some atheist group decided they wanted to put up “winter holiday” displays in public display spaces in a public park in Santa Monica formerly used exclusively by a Christian group to put up Nativity scenes. The city decided to apportion the spaces through a lottery system, available to any group that wished to enter (although there were no other groups who decided to enter), and the atheists won a majority of them. The Christians immediately kicked up a huge fuss about how they were being “persecuted” because they didn’t have enough space to put up all of the Nativity scenes they usually put up, despite the fact that they were simply being treated impartially instead of having the run of the place.

    The next year, the city decided that rather than having to try to keep doing this, and quite possibly end up with a court case on their hands, that they simply would not be opening up those spaces for holiday displays any more. And, once again, now that the Christians were being treated like every other group, they made another huge fuss about “persecution” and “discrimination.”

    It was honestly super embarrassing :-(

  • Baby_Raptor

    I’m bookmarking that. Thank you for linking it.

  • LoneWolf343

    Same thing to them.

  • PrickliestPear

    “Harm” isn’t limited to causing pain. If you were to kill an adult (for example) without their feeling any pain, you would certainly be causing harm.

  • lunch meat

    I meant people voting in a way that disagrees with you. Sorry for the confusion.

  • Right, just like at the moment a Jewish synagogue will lose its tax-exempt status if the rabbi won’t preside over a Pentecostal wedding.
    Or just like all those hundreds of Canadian holy men, hauled off to prison and ZOMG PERSECUTED because they won’t marry same-sex couples even though same-sex marriage is legal across the land.

  • Lori

    That depends. Is the person brain dead and you’re turning off life support? If the adult has no brain function and no ability to survive without external support then there’s no real justification for saying that you’ve harmed them by taking an action that results in their body ceasing to be alive.

  • Lorehead

    Ah. That makes much more sense!

  • stardreamer42

    Well, technically I suppose Brody does have a point. I don’t scorn homosexuals at all, but I do most definitely scorn evangelicals who are trying to make their bigotry into the law of the land. And there seem to be a lot more people these days who feel the same way I do.

    (Why was he playing the race card, anyhow? Are there no black evangelicals fighting against marriage equality?)

  • stardreamer42

    This is a very common pattern — you see it a lot in public schools. The school has a Christian youth group, a pagan group or Gay/Straight Alliance group demands equal access, the school decides that given a choice between “all or none” they’re going to have none… and the pagan or GSA group gets blamed for “ruining things for everybody else”. (Never mind that the proper place for a Christian youth group meeting is a church, and why aren’t any of the local churches stepping up to the plate?)

  • I honestly don’t have a problem with religious school groups, mainly because I went to a school with kids from all over the city, and attending church with your friends at school could be difficult to coordinate, whereas meeting at school is much easier.

    That goes to the discussion of how large a role schools should play in enabling the socialization of its student body. If we can have football teams and homecoming games, we should be able to have organizations geared towards allowing what should amount to no more than a book club. It’s when their activities move beyond discussing their own individual relationships with faith, that allowing the activities to be associated with the school becomes a problem. YMMV

  • Jurgan

    I saw that Rick Warren quote on my facebook page as well. Here’s how I responded:

    “The thing is I agree with this quote in the abstract. Certainly people should be able to disagree without necessarily being enemies, and you can show compassion while objecting to someone’s specific actions. The problem is this isn’t abstract. Context is key, and it’s clear he’s talking specifically about gay rights. There are a few tells, like the word “lifestyle” (there’s no such thing as a gay lifestyle- gays are individuals who live their lives many different ways), plus the fact that it’s written by Rick Warren. Rick Warren endorsed Proposition 8, which took away the right of marriage from gay couples in California. That’s what I mean when I say he’s forcing others to live according to his morality. He’s now back-pedaling, saying he didn’t really mean for people to listen to him outside of his church, but he should have known better. Besides, endorsing it to his church of 20,000 affects the vote, which impacts many people. It seems to me he’s trying to have it both ways. He wants to publicly oppose gay marriage, but doesn’t want to be called on it. Actions speak louder than words, though, and his actions, along with those of others in California, have caused direct emotional harm to thousands of couples (if you deny that, imagine being forced to divorce your spouse). He’s taking a popular position in the conservative religious movement of trying to be a nice bigot- and let’s be clear, saying people should be treated differently under the law because of inherent characteristics is bigotry. He’s certainly not the worst of the anti-gay religious right, and I take him at his word that he holds no personal animosity towards gays, but the fact that he’s not Fred Phelps doesn’t excuse him from accountability for his actions. So, yes, people are going to get angry with him, not for his beliefs but for his actions. If he genuinely wants to be compassionate, he can continue advising people what they should do with their lives, but he should not support laws forcing them to make certain decisions.”

    Fortunately, the person I was talking to, while somewhat conservative, is pretty open-minded and willing to consider other ideas, so we had a nice conversation about the role of the government and federalism. I know many people wouldn’t be so understanding, but if you want to borrow some of my words, I don’t mind.

  • PrickliestPear

    I agree that turning off life support to a person who is irreversibly brain dead would not mean harming them, but it wouldn’t be killing them either, because they are already dead.

  • Lori

    If brain activity is the standard for being alive then life does not begin at conception.

  • Indeed. The earliest brain activity can be detected is at about six weeks, the same as a heartbeat. It’s debatable whether basic brain activity constitutes receptivity to harm, too. Even a brought-to-term infant with severe anencephaly can be said to have some limited form of brain activity, but they are incapable of registering pain and their lives are doomed to tragedy anyway.

  • arcseconds

    what does ‘receptivity to harm’ mean?

    (as opposed to ‘receptivity to pain’ which I do understand)

  • The initial premise is that pain and harm are separate entities, and that being unable to feel pain doesn’t negate one from being harmed (or prevent harm from being done to others or in some other unspecified manner). Therefore the criteria isn’t whether or not something feels pain, but whether it (or someone else or variable n) is harmed.

    Basically, we’re back to debating what counts as life and therefore what can truly be harmed.

  • arcseconds

    yes, I understand all that, I’m just not sure where you’re going with the ‘receptivity to harm’ thing. It almost sounds like you’re talking about the development of harm receptors in the brain, or something like that. But i don’t think you really do mean that (do you?)

    Or did you just mean ‘it’s debatable whether basic brain activity is sufficient to be the object of harm’ ?

  • reynard61

    Actually, what drew the attention of this WWII buff was their collar tabs; which denote membership in the infamous Totenkopfverbände (Death’s Head division), which was responsible for the guarding and administration of the konzentrationslagern (concentration camps) and Death Camps. *Those* were some bad guys…

  • Mostly the latter, although I could label the former collectively under the assumption of a being having the necessary awareness to know that harm is done to them and say that counts too. One could argue that even a 100% healthy infant isn’t necessarily aware that its life ending is something to regret and therefore no harm is done to it in the event of that happening, which is what one person did — but his name escapes me. Basically, he was just arguing personhood is something which develops over time and can’t even be said to occur at birth, much less during pregnancy.

    I was mostly suggesting the latter, though, going by the premise that brain activity isn’t necessarily enough indication of sentience to constitute “life,” if a brain dead patient doesn’t count as “alive” either.

  • Ah, Peter Singer. Peculiar man. Believes western style meat consumption is deeply immoral, but not bestiality.


  • reynard61
  • PrickliestPear

    No, it doesn’t.

  • Mary

    If Christians would leave others alone, then they wouldn’t feel “persecuted.” But the situation as you describe sounds pretty fraught with danger. They made the only reasonable decision possible. Not playing favorites is not persecution.

  • In the US, the gay-adoption horse is out of the barn to a greater degree than gay marriage. I don’t think they’re going to get very far with that.

    I’m more worried about abortion and reproductive rights in general: that’s the one area where the right-wing culture warriors have generally been winning for the past decade.

  • Fred has argued in the past that the “backlash to Roe v. Wade” tale that almost everyone (including Supreme Court justices) seems to remember about the history of abortion in the US is a fiction.

    The idea is that Roe was somehow the Court moving too fast and judicially imposing norms on a country that wasn’t ready for them. But even evangelical organizations were generally OK with Roe at first; strong opposition was primarily Catholic, not Protestant. The Court was ratifying a cultural shift that had largely already happened.

    The shift to insisting that abortion was murder was a way for the religious right to find a new political wedge issue and forge alliances with conservative Catholics. If anything, public attitudes have generally been moving rightward on the issue since 1973, following the political activism.

    That said, this probably supports your point. It may well be the ability to phrase it in the form of a harm argument that made it possible for them to do that.

  • I look at our “War on Drugs” and how utterly divorced it ultimately got from any concrete, measurable notion of harm, and I have no difficulty imagining the U.S. becoming involved in a “War on Sexual Immorality” or somesuch that treats my sex life the same way it treats other people’s drug habits.

  • OriginalExtraCrispy

    Maybe you’ve already seen this, but I wanted to share just in case. http://www.advocate.com/society/youth/2013/03/28/catholic-high-school-allows-male-couple-attend-dance

  • I will be shamefully stealing your word at earliest opportunity, and also coming up with my own takeoff of it: Disasturbation is the constant wailing that something a cracker Taliban member doesn’t like will end America as we know it. Anything from gay marriage to a Wal-Mart greeting saying “Happy Holidays”.

  • I have to wonder if the “oh no, we’re being discriminated against, we’ll lose our tax-exempt status if we don’t perform gay weddings!” thing is a dogwhistle. The text is clearly anti-gay, but the subtext is financial. A lot of those churches which are incidentally anti-gay have found that they get a lot of influence by trying to affect people’s voting patterns, which is an action that (when the law is actually being enforced) is grounds to disqualify them from their tax-exempt religious status.

    This harping on about being forced to perform gay marriage is a kind of cover-our-ass excuse, a card they are putting on the table to play if the IRS ever decides to bring down the taxhammer on their electioneering so they have some plausible platform to scream “Religious persecution!” and turn it into a big debacle. This is more of a threat to the government not to try and enforce anything, lest they escalate the matter.

  • Actually, they’re acting pretty much like the “moderate” race segregationists of my youth. It’s like they’re channeling the white Citizens’ Council, but substituting one minority group for another. http://www.citizenscouncils.com/