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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Persecution Complex

Rachel Held Evans, what would I do without you?

The redoubtable (and frequently doubtable) Ms Evans would like believers to stop feeling sorry for ourselves, and to stop feeding Christian paranoia about looming government persecution. Further, we ought to do it “for the sake of the gospel”.

(That “for the sake of the gospel” is delivered with all the sincerity of the progressive’s “It’s for the CHILDREN!”, I suspect, but let’s let Rachel carry on.)

The issue is, of course, the many Christians who have voiced concern over actual real-life legal intrusions on freedom of conscience, like this, this and this.

Oh, wait, that’s all us. No wonder I’m taking her ramblings personally.

Unsurprisingly, instead of citing all the actual violations that have taken place, Ms Evans appeals to her best friend The Straw Man, reminding us of the two occasions in recent memory that Christians have been fooled by phony stories:
“Did you hear about the pastor who was arrested for not marrying a same-sex couple? What about the publisher that got sued for refusing to censor anti-gay verses from the Bible?

Both of these stories have been exposed as fakes of course, but that didn’t keep hundreds of thousands of conservative Christians from sharing them online this week.”
Ah, those shady “conservative Christians”. 

Still, for once I have to sort-of-agree with Ms Evans — at least momentarily. Since I was knee high to a grasshopper, churches of my acquaintance have been frequented by folks waving badly photocopied accusations about Proctor & Gamble’s board of directors being the spawn of Satan, or that the number of letters in Ronald Wilson Reagan’s three names conveniently were six, six and … er … six. That and the occasional Jack Chick booklet.

Which is to say we Christians have not always covered ourselves with glory on the paranoia front.

President Reagan has come and gone. Proctor & Gamble are whatever they are (though probably not all consciously worshippers of Beelzebub; I think they make soap or something). So RHE is not entirely wrong about some of the goofy things Christians tend to pick up on and get excited about.

But, you know, we’re not always wrong, though Rachel certainly thinks we are:
“It has become a familiar refrain. We hear it every Christmas when an unsuspecting store clerk wishes the wrong Christian ‘happy holidays’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas.’ We hear it whenever a high school drops its traditional pre-football game prayer out of respect for those students who may be Jewish or Muslim or non-religious. An entire industry of books and films has blossomed in the red soil of the American Christian persecution complex, with the first ‘Gods’ Not Dead’ installment caricaturing and vilifying atheists and the second set to expose liberal efforts to ‘expel God from the classroom once and for all.’ ”
See, notwithstanding Ms Evans and her “nothing to see here” blandishments, the legal system really is being insistently used as a tool to persecute Christians for behaving according to our consciences. Actual subpoenas have been issued against pastors, though they were amended and later, apparently, withdrawn. These are claims made not just between Sunday morning meetings by Christian conspiracy theorists but by major news outlets.

But RHE would prefer we dial back the rhetoric a notch or two:
“So what I’d like to suggest to my fellow Christians is that perhaps taking up the cross means laying down the persecution complex. A spirit of fear and entitlement does more to obscure the gospel than elucidate it.”
Taking up the cross means death to self. So in its essential nature, the effort to dodge persecution is, in fact, more than a bit anti-Christian. Paul talks about men who “want to make a good showing in the flesh ... and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ”.

One possible reason for wanting Christians to lay down their persecution complex might be the sincere conviction that they are wrong about their persecutors, their intentions and the nature of what’s coming.

Another might be the fear of being lumped in with persecuted Christians and sharing their fate. And the latter attitude, I suspect, is far more prevalent than the former.

“Taking up the cross means laying down the persecution complex.” Oy veh. Sure, it could mean laying down one’s “persecution complex”, assuming such a thing is a reasonable and fair characterization of the present mood in evangelical circles. 

But is it?

What’s the old saw? “It’s not paranoia if they’re really out to get you”.

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