I have spent the last thirty years listening to Christian victimhood. And I am tired of it. Neo-charismatic evangelicals and old-time fundamentalists use victimhood as their default position. Everyone else appears to recognize this fault. Like many character flaws and addictions it is hard to recognize it in ourselves.
Persecution and Victimhood
John Wesley was considered evangelical in his time. He refused to read the last book of the New Testament Canon publicly. Yes, that’s right. An evangelical refused to read or preach the Book of Revelation. It sounds shocking. I know.
Revelation is about persecutions suffered under the rule of both Nero and Domitian. Postmodern evangelicals read the book as an oracle about the end of the world. They look for it to give them signs. And they interpret those current events by them. But this practice misses the point of the book. Revelation is written to give strength and hope during times of persecution. The martyr’s wail, “how long will it be before you judge and avenge the our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” St. John said each was “given a white robe and told to rest a little longer.”
The one’s who interpret “the signs” reflexively understand the context of persecution. The attacks on the faithful are supposed to happen. A strange psychological twist comes into play at this point. For the end of all things to come, the faithful must feel the persecution happening. Otherwise it is not the end time. The logic works this way. Current events match the signs. Therefore the persecution is here. And we are the victims.
The scenario is bizarre. People send their children to church school to play martyr. Who plays a game where the goal is to be a victim? But there are a number of games I have come across that do this. “Secret Church” is the best example of dividing the children, usually pre-teens and teens, into two groups – persecutor and Christian. The Christians cannot be caught by the persecutors. But they must learn who else in their group is a Christian. Another, and more appalling, situation is “persecution camp.” These are camping trips where the youth of the church (and their friends) are suddenly attacked and “arrested” for their faith. Some actual police officers and police equipment are useful for this camp.
The message is clear in these games. “Be prepared for persecution.” Implying, of course, that persecution for their faith is going to happen to them. A youth ministry “expert” approached me about setting up one of these camps. I told him I wanted nothing to do with it. When he called me back he said, “I hope nothing in my presentation offended you.” I replied, “I am not offended by your presentation. Your whole program offends me.” I later realized he called back to see if I was “offended by the gospel.” If I am offended, then he could claim I was persecuting him. It’s okay though. I managed to end his program in our area.
A Culture of Victimhood
Pretended persecution trains people for the mindset of victimhood. Perhaps what is most offensive about all of this is I have had experience with people who survived real persecution for their faith. Then there are people who lived as a minority religious body within a larger culture. In both cases, the people I met and worshipped with did not consider themselves to be perpetual victims. They overcame the persecution. And they could name people who had it worse than they did.
“Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12) This text is quoted quite often. My experience shows it is often true. But the next verse makes an equally important point. “But wicked people and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived.” The distinction the writer makes is an important reminder. We can easily deceive ourselves into thinking we are victims when the opposite is true. “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear his name…Therefore, let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good.” (1 Peter 4:15-19)
The apostolic counsel is that we may suffer persecution. But we should not let that keep us from doing good. Developing a culture of victimhood is not part of Christian faith. We may be victims. We just shouldn’t act like it.
A Culture of Grace and Peace
The 13 letters in the New Testament attributed to St. Paul discuss the reality of persecution for some. But more often the words of grace and peace are given. The words “grace and peace” may be a greeting offered by the Apostle. Still they are goals for the lives of believers.
Christians should cultivate such a culture whenever possible. “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18) Given these words and others, it is difficult to see Paul or Peter as Christian nationalists claiming victimhood. They would not be part of a “patriot church.” Nor would they be cutting themselves off from neighbors and hoarding imperishable food and weapons. These actions do not foment a culture of peace and grace. Basically, these are the acts of idolaters.