Are Christians the powerful or the marginalized?

Are Christians the powerful or the marginalized? August 22, 2016

In the course of a post on why so many evangelicals are supporting Donald Trump, S. D. Kelly tosses off an observation that explains much about the current controversies between Christians and secularists.

Secularists tend to see Christians as “the powerful”; that is, in postmodern parlance, those who are in a position of power and privilege who oppress “the marginalized,” those who lack power and privilege.

But Christians tend to see themselves as “the marginalized,” oppressed by the cultural elite who exclude them and exercise their power against them.

Thus, when a Christian baker refuses to participate in a gay wedding, the secularists see the Christian heteronormative establishment discriminating against marginalized and oppressed gay people.

While Christians see secularists–who control the culture, the entertainment industry, the educational establishment, the government, and the law–imposing their sexual ideology on those with traditional Christian values and punishing them for their minority religious beliefs.

This explains much of the rhetoric, argumentation, and high feelings on both sides.  Are these just two irreconcilable perceptions?  Or can we make an objective case for one side or the other?  Does realizing these different perceptions suggest other ways of addressing these controversies?

From S. D. Kelly, Evangelicals for Trump: In Power or Persecuted? – Christ and Pop Culture:

This is where it gets tricky, where the disconnect between the perceived and the perceiver really shows up. Because, far from seeing themselves as powerful, evangelicals perceive themselves to be the marginalized. If the dais is populated with the people in charge — in media, academia, entertainment, politics — from an evangelical perspective there practically isn’t a Christian in sight. Seeing themselves as utterly powerless, evangelicals struggle to navigate the current cultural waters. In the story of the bakers in Oregon who wouldn’t make a cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding, for instance, evangelicals and secularists simultaneously heard two opposing narratives: the one of a culturally-marginalized Christian experiencing persecution, and the other of a cultural powerbroker, a representative of hetero-normative dominant culture insisting on the right to discriminate. Not only do most evangelicals not believe they are the center of power, they consider themselves to be one wedding cake away from jail time. . . .

Growing up, one of our favorite youth group games was called “Romans and Christians”. The kids were each given the role of a Roman or a Christian — no player knew which category any one else belonged to. We played at night, kids roaming around trying to identify friend or foe through the use of Christian code words and fish symbols as Romans forcibly rounded up Christians and sent them to jail, where two or three teenagers were gathered together, having already been captured, bravely singing hymns in the dark. The goal of the game was for the Christians to get to a Bible Study. Through stealth and courage, kids playing the Christians had to make their way to a secret spot where they would be rewarded with the reading of God’s Word and more secretive, whispered singing. It was strangely exhilarating: terrifying and exciting at the same time. The ensuing church service was the best I ever attended (not really, but close). The game was followed by sober testimonials from members of the youth group, professing to now having at least a small sense of the reality of persecution.

This is powerful stuff, and it is deeply ingrained into the identity of an evangelical. For some evangelicals, being a committed Christian is also a commitment to the possibility of statelessness: the perpetual panic that comes from being strangers in a strange land, a peculiar people. Culturally, the memory of low-church Protestants extends all the way back to first-century Christians; evangelicals remember the man-eating lions and the flames licking upward at the Coliseum like it was yesterday. In short, evangelicals identify with the Puritans, not the Church of England. In the last few hundred years, America has offered respite for us, but we all know that could change at any moment, God forbid.

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