“If you think you’re being persecuted for your faith in North America, travel more.” Carey Nieuwhof
America is going to hell and it won’t be long before you will be imprisoned if you are a Christian, at least that’s how the American Evangelical narrative goes. With Kim Davis (who one popular Reformed blogger compared to Rosa Parks) in jail for refusing to issue marraige licenses following the SCOTUS Marraige Decision, a story I don’t know enough about to publicly comment on due to my lack of knowledge, I figured it was an apt time to discuss the pervasive “persecution complex” of conservative evangelicals in America.
I have been criticized for my faith before, most notably for views on sexuality and abortion, once to the point where it almost lead to moderate repercussions, but I still believe that the stories of persecution of Christians in America are grossly exaggerated.
Alan Noble, an evangelical himself, who writes for Christ and Pop Culture, has traced the emergence of this persecution complex back to the “Jesus Freak” movement of the 1990s popularized by the DC Talk song of the same name. With this came the idea that being persecuted was cool. And then there is the film God’s Not Dead. It became cool to be marginalized and ostracized for your faith. Persecution became glorified. Persecution is promised to the followers of Christ and has been documented throughout the history of the church, but as Noble says,
“The purpose of these stories is to inspire and strengthen Christians, particularly those who will later face persecution. But they were not designed to function as aspirational fantasy. And that is the real problem with many persecution narratives in Christian culture: They ifetishize suffering.”
We then call stuff persecution when it really isn’t because it makes us feel good and worthy. It becomes sort of a persecution Olympics. “Dude, I got criticized for my faith today at work. I’m so holy.” This also brings up another issue. Just because you are criticized doesn’t mean you are being persecuted for your faith. As Ed Stetzer has put it, you might just being stupid. Or maybe you’re being a jerk. (Criticism for being a homophobe isn’t persecution. It’s an appropriate response to sin.)
The issue with the American persecution complex is that it frames the issue in a way that our success is based upon political power. We then must fight against those who oppose us for position rather than fight for them in love. It really makes Christianity unattractive to non-believers. What is our goal? American returning to traditional values or advancing the Kingdom of God? We sure are in trouble if our goal is the former, but my goal is the latter. Exile vocabulary for American Christians has become common speak over the last several years, also feeding into the “persecution complex.” Exiles from what? 1950 Mayberry? No. New Jerusalem. Christians are not exiled because we are living in America. We are exiles because we are living in the world. As Russell Moore said, “we see that we are strangers and exiles in American culture. We are on the wrong side of history, just like we started. We should have been all along.”
We must also keep our persecution in context. While the suffering of others does not negate the suffering of oneself (for example we shouldn’t just show a picture of a starving kid in Southeast Asia to a family who is on food stamps) we must keep America in perspective with the rest of the world. The Middle East. North Korea. Christians get killed there. The first century church. Killed. Christians aren’t exactly being stoned or decapitated in the US. There is real issues of individuals being persecuted in the US (depending upon how you define the word persecution), but I don’t see any large scale persecution as of yet. I will not say that this won’t happen, but it hasn’t arrived, and until it has we should remain thankful for the relative security and comfort of the North American church. I DO NOT say this to make anyone feel guilty, for in America there is real suffering (cancer, racism, poverty, broken homes), but to put the American church in context of the global church and the historical church. Maybe I’m wrong, but I just don’t see religious freedom as a huge issue plaguing America today.