Against the Myth of the Persecuted Contemporary American Church

Against the Myth of the Persecuted Contemporary American Church October 8, 2019

Last week, we noted that Fr. Dan Reehill, terrified of he knows not what as he banned Harry Potter on the ignorant and nonsensical charge of being “demonic” is reported by his parishioners to regard himself as a “soldier of Christ”.  This is, of course, a biblical image and has long purchase in the Tradition.  But, like anything else, it is possible for biblical imagery to be misapplied and misused.  Here in my own state of Washington, one of the biggest kooks ever to be elected to the Legislature, Rep. Matt Shea (no relation) is now under investigation for taking the “soldier of Christ” stuff to dangerous lengths:

Standing onstage behind a Trump-emblazoned lectern and in front of a giant American flag, Shea shouted, “It’s our turn now,” recalled Jay Pounder, a longtime Shea confidante who was working security that night. Shea pumped his fist, Pounder said, and “it felt like he was inciting the anger of the people.”

Shea’s supporters blew a ram’s horn in celebration, said Tanner Rowe, who was also hired by Shea to work security that night.

Shea called Trump’s victory “a repudiation of the policies of tyranny” and “a refounding” of America.

***

Both men were drawn to Shea’s politics. They’re both conservative, describe themselves as libertarians and liked Shea’s positions on the Second Amendment, property rights and lower taxes.

But both were troubled by things they saw that night. Shea’s fist pump, his declaration that “it’s our turn now,” didn’t sit right with Pounder.

“The tenor of the entire room changed from joyful election to angry, almost vengeful,” he said. “Almost like a mob mentality.”

Rowe interpreted the ram’s horn as an Old Testament symbol: Either celebrating victory or commencing battle.

Both men thought the events of the night were odd, but neither acted on their concerns right away. They talked to each other, went about their lives and slowly, as time passed, became more and more troubled about Shea and how he was using his public office.

Almost two years later, on the eve of the 2018 election, the two released a document that Shea had been distributing entitled “Biblical Basis for War,” a four-page, bullet-pointed outline for what looks like a holy war.

“War is a fact of life,” it says. “God is with us and the battle is his.” It lists “qualifications of a warrior” and “exemptions from service,” which include newlyweds, farmers and priests.

The document laid out the “rules of war.”

“Must surrender on terms of justice and righteousness: Stop all abortions; no same-sex marriage; no idolatry or occultism; no communism; and must obey Biblical law,” it says.

“If they do not yield,” the document continues, “kill all males.”

Shea called the document a summary of sermons and part of a discussion of the history of war. Pounder and Rowe say that’s not true.

The leaked document began a series of disturbing disclosures about Shea, revealed in the local and international press, that’s led to the legislative investigation, supported by Shea’s Republican colleagues in the House. The House is paying a former FBI agent $120,000 to look into Shea’s involvement with groups that “promote, engage in, or plan political violence,” the contract for the investigation says.

The state Democratic Party; the Republican sheriff of Spokane County; the mayor, police chief and police union of Spokane; and a statewide religious coalition, among others, have all called for Shea’s removal from office.

***

A decade ago, a judge granted his ex-wife a protection order after she said he treated her “as a possession” and was physically and emotionally abusive, according to The Spokesman-Review, allegations Shea denied. In 2011, Shea pulled a gun in a road-rage incident and was charged with having a loaded gun without a concealed-weapons permit.

In 2017, he was sued for defamation after Shea said a Spokane County sheriff’s deputy had provided a gun used in a triple murder. Shea has long had a running feud with the Spokane County sheriff. The lawsuit was settled out of court this year for undisclosed terms.

Since 2013 Shea has run his own “Patriot Radio” podcast, releasing regular episodes with guests ranging from preachers to retired military officers to 9/11 truthers to Tim Eyman.

Each episode, Shea says, is in the “legacy of Dr. Stan Monteith,” a longtime conservative radio host who crusaded against fluoride in drinking water.

On the podcast, Shea rails against his political opponents, calling Democrats terms like Marxists, Islamists and the counterstate, and saying they follow a “Maoist insurgency model.” He warns against the “de-Christianization” of the U.S.

“There’s this idea that Christians should be pacifist,” Shea said on his podcast this summer. “There really is nothing further from the truth.”

***

Rowe — who has an image of a minuteman loading a rifle tattooed on his arm, next to the text “Don’t tread on me” — went to a meeting in early 2017 to learn more about the Liberty state push. [Shea dreams of Eastern Washington seceding from the rest of the state and creating the state of ‘Liberty’. – MS]. He remembers flyers being passed around that intermingled Bible verses with policy proposals such as banning same-sex marriage.

“It wasn’t even about liberty,” he said. “It was about liberty for Christians and people need to live by Christianity.”

He started reading more about Shea and learned that he was a regular speaker at the Marble Community Fellowship, a small church and community near the Canadian border, about two hours from Shea’s hometown.

The church has also hosted speakers like John Weaver, a Georgia pastor who has preached against interracial marriage and defended slavery.

“I found it all very strange,” Rowe said. “Like, incredibly strange. Why would you have a guy like John Weaver at an event up in Northeast Washington, and, you as a legislator, why would you speak at that same event?”

***

In May, Pounder leaked a string of text messages in which Shea offered to conduct background checks on progressive activists after his confidantes proposed “psyops” and violent attacks against their political opponents.

“He’s a paranoid guy,” Pounder said, describing how Shea would make them sit on their phones during meetings to prevent anyone from listening in.

In August, The Spokesman-Review reported on leaked emails in which Shea pushed Pounder to buy GPS devices that they could use to track opponents.

And less than two weeks ago, Pounder posted a document entitled “Restoration,” which he said Shea wrote and which appears to be a blueprint for establishing a Christian state following a civil war or secession. There are instructions on establishing hospitals and morgues and decentralizing water, sewer and electrical utilities.

“The worship of the Judeo/Christian God will be fostered and encouraged by government,” it says. “Implement a severe penalty for those seeking to remove public religious expressions.” It calls for capital punishment for, among other things, sodomy.

Pounder says he’s still fond of Shea but that the legislator is “really mixed up” and believes in a “weaponized version of Christianity.”

“I appreciate his views on less taxes, on water rights, I still appreciate his views on the Second Amendment, religious freedom, I totally respect those things,” Pounder said. “But I didn’t realize there was this dark theology.”

As we saw yesterday, what lies behind this violent and vengeful Christianism is the deep belief that white conservative Christians are being “persecuted” in the United States and that “warfare” conducted by “soldiers of Christ” will be necessary to “take back the country” lest we face “white genocide” as Stephen Herreid calls it with the hysterical panic that so characterizes loony MAGA rhetoric.

Of course, not everybody is toying with the idea of “a civil war or secession”. But, on the Right, neither is such talk regarded as being crazy or beyond the pale either. It is, as they say, “within the Universe of Discourse”. From Pastor Rick Joyner’s call for civil war to Meghan McCain’s death threats against anybody outlawing assault weapons to the whack Evangelical “prophet” demanding the arrest of Democrats or the Righteous will start butchering them to John Zmirak’s demented claim that Hillary Clinton was the new Diocletian and Trump the new Constantine, the thing connecting virtually all conservative Christian talk, Protestant and Catholic, in the United States is the fixed belief that conservative white Christians are bitterly persecuted and fighting for their lives.

This is the drumbeat coming from Rod Dreher, for instance. His Benedict Option is nothing other than the claim that besieged conservative Christians must make a last desperate stand against the Dark Ages that already engulf us. Church Militant also proclaims the doom of the Church constantly while also repeating the spectacular nonsense that Trump is Constantine. And most recently, David French and Sohrab Ahmari held a debate moderated by Ross Douthat in which all parties took it for granted that conservative Christians were under profound threat in the US and the only question was what to do about it.  Ahmari’s solution was essentially some kind of Christian theocratic state.  He lost the debate but expressed the hope of millions of Right Wing American Christians.  French, it will surprise no one to hear, is an Evangelical who has been frequently excoriated for his failure to prostrate himself to Trump.

Of course, the election of Trump did nothing to assuage the fears that gave birth to such nonsense as Deliverance by the New Constantine, because the fear comes from sources far deeper than anything that an election can solve. That is because the fear is rooted, in the end, in a profound distrust in the gospel itself, meaning ultimately a profound distrust in Jesus Christ. And, like Boromir, when you fundamentally distrust anything but your own power, you inevitably try to seize the Ring and fix the universe yourself by force, because you don’t trust Grace and Jesus will not save you.

Of which more tomorrow.

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