Brandan Robertson on Christian Persecution

Evangelical blogger Brandan Robertson picked up my discussion with fellow Patheos blogger Adrian Warnock on the “persecution” of Christians in the UK (part one and part two), and offers a thoughtful and challenging take. Thoughtful, because he recognizes the societal dynamic which is taking place: Christianity is slowly losing its social privilege and some Christians are experiencing that as “persecution” and unfair treatment. Challenging, because it reminds me, an atheist and a Humanist, that you can find inspiration in strange places.

Although I wholly reject Brandan’s beliefs about God, and find his beliefs about women and gay people to be quite wrong, I find something compelling and stirring in his description of the purpose of the Church:

I happen to believe that this loss of privilege is a gift from God to the Church. When we are privileged, everything is corrupted. We begin to worship prominence over Jesus and begin to build political and social platforms instead of the Kingdom of God. Christians come from a long history of real persecution and oppression. Our faith is meant to function on the grassroots level, not as a state or national force but as a subversive, Spirit empowered movement that changes the world from the bottom up. The Church is supposed to be built on the least of these- the poor, marginalized, broken, addicted, battered, scared, hopeless- not the strongest, mightiest, and most powerful. So maybe what we are experiencing isn’t persecution at all- it’s the hand of blessing from God that is stripping us from our undeserved privilege. And maybe we should start seeing it as that and stop telling ourselves that our society is persecuting us- because it does nothing but create a victim mentality and makes everyone not like us an enemy which has proven historically to be catastrophically destructive for everyone.

If the Christian Church where consistently a voice for the oppressed and marginalized, a subversive grass-roots force working to uplift those on the edges of society, a check on the powerful and a warning to the might - that is a church I might want to be a part of.

About James Croft

James Croft is the Leader in Training at the Ethical Culture Society of St. Louis - one of the largest Humanist congregations in the world. He is a graduate of the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard, and is currently writing his Doctoral dissertation as a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is an in-demand public speaker, an engaging teacher, and a passionate activist for human rights. James was raised on Shakespeare, Sagan and Star Trek, and is a proud, gay Humanist. His upcoming book "The Godless Congregation", co-authored with New York Times bestselling author Greg Epstein, is being published by Simon & Schuster.

  • Baal

    Color me cynical but the Catholic Church’s teaching of liberation theology seems only to apply (be sermonized) when they are out of political power (or are actually being repressed). When that’s not the case, they are happy to work within govs for political advantage (fed funds for adoption work etc). While I welcome B.Robertson’s comments excerpted here, I’m having trouble getting past the supernaturalist framing.

  • pgepps

    Baal’s comment is off-base. Liberation Theology (which has been rejected by the Church–at least, its characteristically Marxist form has) was taught by religious and priests who quite intentionally and deliberately put themselves in the place of the out-of-power masses in many parts of South and Central America. That they put themselves in that position was laudable–that they adopted a materialistic measure of social goods and Marxist theoretic that was explicitly at odds with the teachings of the Church, of course, was less so. But St. Kateri Tekikwatha or Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta also entered into the sufferings of others personally and directly, as do many whose efforts do not make headlines because they do not seek to command others to perform economic duties for them. Having said that, Baal is quite right that Catholics have no problem working with governments to make it more possible for the faithful to obey authority, limit evil, and promote good. Of course, in a consensual system of government, those become political questions in a different way than they were in feudal states or under hereditary monarchies.

    Re the original post: What do you mean by “consistently”? Because from where I’m sitting, Christians have quite *consistently*, though never *perfectly* and certainly not *unfailingly*, worked to promote the good of others–whether by suffering loss of privilege and power, or using privilege and power effectively. Surely the question ends up regressing to a fundamental disagreement about what “the good of others” really is, n’est-ce pas?

    • James Croft

      Re: “consistently”, I was thinking of in today’s America, not across all time. I think it’s reasonably clear that the version of Christianity with real cultural force today is not such a church. And you’re right that there may be fundamental disagreements regarding what is meant by the term “the good of others”. Clearly, any church which sought my allegiance would also have to share my values in that regard.

    • baal

      hrm…I’m not convinced that allowing the advocates of liberation theology additional agency really changes my point that much. The net impact is the same. The Church seems to care a lot about political power. That focus is at odds with a community focus and looks like the Church is using tax payer dollars for overhead.

      As to Mother Theresa, her horrific zeal for the cause of increased suffering has her on my list of least moral people that I’m aware of. There is ample data (google mother teresa suffering hospitals) that she did little to nothing for the ‘patients’ in her hospital despite resources do to so (some of that looting of care dollars was done by the Church and I can’t expect a single person to deny them for long).

  • ImRike

    I poked around in Brandan Robertson’s blog a bit, and I must say – if I was in search of religion, it would be a person like him who might be able to re-convert me. I hope he prays every day for more evangelicals who think like him!
    And no, I’m not anywhere close to needing religion. But he is the only christian that I can think of who does deserve my respect.

  • Brandan Robertson

    Thank you Mr. Croft and all of you! I am honored by this post and really hope that more Evangelicals can create meaningful and not so sensationalist dialogue with the Atheist community- we do actually have a lot in common after all, namely ending poverty, seeing justice done to the oppressed, and things of that sort- things that really matter.

    Thanks again!

  • smrnda

    A problem I see with how Christians choose to work with the oppressed is that they do nothing to limit the power of oppressors. It isn’t fixing the problem (that some people have massive power, privilege and wealth that is mostly unearned) – it’s usually just some scraps thrown to desperate people to get some warm bodies in a church door.

    Part of this might be a ‘hedging the bets’ – the Christians might want to help those at the bottom, but they also don’t want to alienate potential wealthy donors and backers.

    But on Christian privilege – if you or a group of people enjoys and unfair privilege long enough, it seems natural and any loss of it seems unfair, even if you’ve had unreasonably large privileges. If you’ve been allowed to play video games on the job while getting paid, a job that expects you to focus will seem unfair.