The Persecution Complex
Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when [men] shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all kind of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven… You are the light of the world. (Matthew 5:10-14a)
It could be argued that this is the beginning of the Christian persecution complex – or at least the reason for it. Of course, the early church had plenty of “valid” reasons to be persecuted – their core beliefs were directly opposed to the established Jewish community from which they arose and, furthermore, the early Christians, especially of the Pauline variety, were downright treasonous in the eyes of the Caesar-worship of the time. These beliefs had little to do with morality, and everything to do with loyalty. Martyrdom – not the kamikaze murderous kind of present extremism – became an increasingly noble cause. In the time of Ignatius – writing in the late 1st century, possibly predating some canonical gospels and pseudo-Pauline epistles – martyrdom was perhaps the single greatest act of faith that a Christian could show (see Ignatius’ letter to the Romans). It was, after all, the ultimate act of following Christ.
And then in the 4th century Christianity became the empire. And then it began its own persecutions. Against heretics. Against pagans. Against Jews. Against Moslems. Against each other.
Protestants in North America are comprised of a dual lineage: that of the Calvinists and that of the Anabaptists/Baptists. It is this later group that, especially the Anabaptists, who were persecuted to death by Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists alike during the 16th century (see Gonzalez, The History of Christianity Vol.2, 55-57), emerged the latter-day champions of Tertullian’s famous words: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” I believe it is because of this Anabaptist/Baptist influence on evangelical Christianity that the church has acquired a “persecution complex.” Evangelicals hold massive political sway in America, yet see any opposition to them as “persecution.” This, I have always held – even when I was an evangelical – is a joke. Real persecution of Christians does happen – but not in America. It happens in places where either religion is outlawed altogether or where theocratic Muslims have usurped most freedoms. Not in America. I will renounce this when we see a movement of militant atheists lynching Christians. I doubt this will happen – if anything, I see only the opposite being true.
I had an instructor at the Bible college I attended (of the Anabaptist tradition no less) who was of like mind with myself. I will always remember his passion when he proclaimed, “It is AWESOME to be persecuted for being a WEIRD CHRISTIAN… but don’t be persecuted for just being WEIRD.” I was reminded of this teacher in a recent conversation I had with a family member, who although is not “dumb”, he is not exactly theologically sophisticated. His exact quote, in the context of a skittish conversation about homosexuality, was “the reason that non-Christians hate us is because we fight for what is moral and right, and we do not compromise our beliefs.”
I was forced to disagree. If there is any “persecution” – that is, any opposition to Christians – it is hardly for those reasons. More believably, is it not because they say one thing and act another? Is it not because they have a mission to convert everyone in the world? Is it not because they proclaim peace, but instigate war? Is it not because they say that they don’t “compromise” their morals, but they have been accepting of many moral changes, with changing apologetics, over the last two thousand years? Is it not because they are intolerant? Is it not because they accuse non-Christians of being evil, depraved, and/or, more sensitively, lost? Is it not because they oppose scientific endeavours only if they conflict with some obscure, symbolic, or outdated scriptural reference? Or maybe, just maybe, that even when they vote in someone that they wanted to lead their country based on “Christian values,” they STILL insist that they are persecuted?
I purposely say this with broad strokes because it appears that it is the Christians who erroneously perceive themselves as being perpetually persecuted who neatly fit the above accusations. I readily admit that this is not a feature in more “sophisticated” Christians (sorry, my bias – more compromising, liberal Christians). Yet it has a powerful sway on our political system. One only has to watch one of the most-watched men in the United States, Bill O’Reilly, as he unleashes his torrents of slander against the “Nazi-like” homosexual-loving, treasonous, liberal bloggers. Bloggers, Fox reports, engage in witch-hunts against conservatives. Oh, the poor persecuted truth-holding journalists of Fox News! As there is an obvious correlation between the Religious Right and their propaganda outlet, one can only wonder how such a powerful force in North America is so powerless.