The Persecution Complex

July 29, 2007 at 6:00 am 23 comments

immolation.jpgBlessed 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.

-The Apostate

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23 Comments Add your own

  • 1. blueollie  |  July 29, 2007 at 9:37 am

    Hmmm, the vast majority of those who hold public office are Christians, they worship openly at tax exempt centers, they have TV stations, columnists who write openly and universities at which their students can get public aid.

    I wish that we were so “persecuted”. :)

  • 2. pbandj  |  July 29, 2007 at 9:35 pm

    thinking ape,

    i think you make some good pts. certainly christians often are glad they are “persecuted” for being “stupid”, not for being “stupid christians”. there is no question that christians have done horrible things in the name of Christ all the while teaching something else. that i dont disagree with.

    but check out the early church. those people were persecuted for being good. they were persecuted not for the modern reasons that christians are often even rightfully persecuted. instead they were persecuted for turning the other cheek, refusing to be a soldier, loving the poor, being poor, being “stupid christians”, etc.

    i would give you many examples, but here is one to whet your appetite. this is a letter from a governor pliny to emperor trajan:

    http://www.tyrannus.com/pliny_let.html

    peter

  • 3. Thinking Ape  |  July 30, 2007 at 12:55 am

    pbandj, thank you for the input. Yes, I tried to convey that the early Christians certainly were being persecuted for “valid” reasons. But historically, it was not for being “good.” The Roman empire was known for its religious tolerance, so long as you did not interfere with the worship of the emperor. There were many groups that encouraged “moral behaviour”, and some of the Roman emperors were especially disgusted with the vulgarity of the masses. If the Roman empire had been persecuting Christians for “being good,” they would have been going after a lot more than just Christians.

  • 4. kramii  |  July 30, 2007 at 8:51 am

    TA:

    I have mixed feelings about your post. It seems to lump things together that should rightly be separated – or at least defined a little better.

    On one hand, you make some valid points. For example, when Xians…

    say one thing and act another?

    … they should be challanged. On the other hand…

    they have a mission to convert everyone in the world?

    …is not, in in itself, a reason to treat Xians badly. Surely, it rather depends upon how Xians go about converting, not that we go about it.

    Again…

    they proclaim peace, but instigate war

    …is unacceptable (and certainly un-Xian). On the other hand…

    they are intolerant

    …may or may not be acceptable, depending upon what the intollerance is against. If it is intollerance against racism, injustice, poverty, etc. then I intend to express as much intollerance as I can muster.

    Now, I do know Xians who think that they are being persecuted if someone simply disagrees with them. I can’t help but be amused by this. And a little saddened.

    But I do have friends who have been genuinely persecuted.

    I have a close friend who converted to Xianity from another faith. She was rejected by her family, who promised that they would kill her unless she renounced her faith in Christ. She believed tham. As a result, she has not seen her mother since she was in her teens (she is in her late 30s now). She has met with her sisters just twice.

    I know a couple who were refused the oportunity to adopt a child because they were professing Xians.

    For my part, I have been threatened once or twice just for saying I am a Xian, but I hardly count this as persecution. My faith has never been a cause of persecution in the job market, nor in my personal life.

    But for some, it really is.

  • 5. Radec  |  July 30, 2007 at 9:31 am

    There are far more people being persecuted because of their skin color, gender, age, weight, etc. than because of their Christian beliefs. The only difference is they don’t have an ancient text telling them there are blessings coming if they endure it.

  • 6. Heather  |  July 30, 2007 at 11:03 am

    TA,

    was forced to disagree. If there is any “persecution” – that is, any opposition to Christians – it is hardly for those reasons.

    I would have to agree with your disagreement. Disagreeing with a stance is not persecution — persecution is threatening harm to a person or his/her family simply for a belief structure. The examples Kramii provided are persecution.

    The danger I always find in glorifying persecution is that it could make someone go out of his/her way to be persecuted, because then they feel they are glorifying God to the fullest.

    The other danger is that it can make a person very unpleasant to be around. There are people out there who when presenting a religious message can do so in the most obnoxious way possible. If you disagree with that message and ask the person to stop, you are then “persecuting” the person’s belief system, as well as displaying your hatred for God. (I am not saying every person who presents a religious message behaves this way). And because the person is so locked into the “It’s great to be persecuted” complex, they are never going to re-examine their behavior, or even think critically of their behavior.

    For me, I always read it that Jesus was saying doing the right/moral thing can often get one persecuted, especially if combating against a corrupt system.

  • 7. Thinking Ape  |  July 30, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    Kramii,
    Obviously there are very real examples of persecution. This comes with any difference. This is especially apparent when something has happened to them. I had one friend who was cursed at birth by a Catholic nun because her mom had recently left “The Church” – needless to say, they don’t care much for Catholics.

    I see that you are concerned with the list of reasons I gave. This was rhetoric and included just some of the very real reasons why people do not like “Christians.” There are many many many reasons, but most of which can be summed up in the my critique of hypocrisy. The problem with confronting someone on hypocrisy is that we would have to literally go talk to over 1 billion people about it. I was not excusing anyone for “hating” or disliking Christians. The problem, as Heather pointed out, is that there is a stream of glorifying persecution and it makes some Christians go out of their way to either be persecuted or to say that everything bad that happens to them is persecution. My point was that people are not disliking Christians because they are “good people.” Frankly speaking, Christians are the same as as everyone else when it comes to moral behaviour – Christians just tend to think that they are morally superior than everyone else.

  • 8. marie  |  July 30, 2007 at 1:33 pm

    I think subconsciously, a lot of christians use “persecution” to justify their own judgement and dislike/fear of others. I think that is one reason why all these christian books plugging christian “warriors,” “fighting the good fight,” spiritual battle” and other seemingly violent or epic warrior themes, sell so well

    great post!

  • 9. Brad  |  July 30, 2007 at 3:14 pm

    Hehe, Heather… Your comment reminds me of a situation on my campus a couple years ago.

    One of the campus ministries hired an open air evangelist to come and proselytize on campus. This guy was an idiot. He threatened hell for all liars, adulterers, homosexuals, etc. and when he was received harshly, he quoted scripture to reinforce his own righteousness at being persecuted. So much for Jesus’ way of reaching non-believers….

    Then some Christians brought their bibles (one guy, who I still don’t know came in priest’s garbs toting a Greek NT) and debated with him. Long story short, he tried hiding the sign he made with all his rhetoric on it underneath a chair and would not engage anyone in actual dialog. He tried in vain to continue speaking abusively to noone in particular without acknowledging anyone’s questions or challenges.

    This is a great example of what you are talking about in being obnoxious to draw persecution when there would be none otherwise. LEGITIMATE persecution, as Peter noted, does happen, but rarely in this country.

    Radec said:
    “There are far more people being persecuted because of their skin color, gender, age, weight, etc. than because of their Christian beliefs.”

    I agree, but on the other hand, discrimination against Christians seems to be the last approved bigotry in the U.S. I know I am not winning any friends here by saying this, but the exclusive truth claims scripture makes Christians automatically labeled as intolerant due to our postmodern culture (where pluralism is a defining characteristic).

    However I would not go so far as to call it “persecution” by any stretch, especially by comparison, but there is still a discrimination going on. Many Christians could do well to take this empathetically and develop some appreciation and bonding with those who are discriminated against on the basis of race, creed, or gender. All discrimination is wrong.

    If Christians speak the truth in love and are not persecuted, we should count ourselves lucky and be thankful we do not have to go through that tribulation. If we speak the truth in love and are persecuted for it, we should rejoice that the truth is in such need and take heart that we are doing the work of the kingdom. Christians should not cause persecution where there is otherwise none, nor make a mountain out of a mole-hill. Speak the truth in love and respect for all people at all times. That’s it.

  • 10. Brad  |  July 30, 2007 at 3:19 pm

    In clarification on discrimination against Christians ( I realize my post may be somewhat unclear):

    I am not saying that the discrimination is a “huge” problem, or any more of one than discrimination against other demographics, only that

    1.) It is a reality to whatever debatable degree that cannot be ignored, and
    2.) It is a discrimination that many non-believers take exception to (in deed if not word) in denouncing discrimination in general. This will happen when anyone makes a claim against a demographic and not the specific individuals therein (i.e. “All Christians are judgmental” v. “Many people who call themselves Christians are judgmental”).

  • 11. Thinking Ape  |  July 30, 2007 at 3:49 pm

    Brad said, “I agree, but on the other hand, discrimination against Christians seems to be the last approved bigotry in the U.S.”

    This appears as a common statement in Christian America – I believe I have said it myself. But what does this even mean? What is “approved bigotry”? Approved by who? I sat there and watched atheists get slammed by 3 Christians on CNN with no representation for debate. Or how about how Americans feel towards Muslims? A recent Gallop poll showed that 39% of Americans admit prejudice towards Muslims (http://www.galluppoll.com/content/?ci=24073) even though 59% of Americans do not even know a Muslim. 10% of those that know a Muslim said they would not want a Muslim as a neighbour (compared to 31% of those that do not know one).

    So what is “approved bigotry”? And how would you support your claim that Christians are the “last approved bigotry in the U.S.” without basically falling into the persecution complex yourself?

  • 12. Thinking Ape  |  July 30, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    Brad also said, “(i.e. “All Christians are judgmental” v. “Many people who call themselves Christians are judgmental”).”

    I hope my post was clear that I was not speaking as though I believed the former. However,

    According to surveys of voters leaving the polls, Bush won 79 percent of the 26.5 million evangelical votes and 52 percent of the 31 million Catholic votes.

    That is almost 8 of every 10 evangelicals voting for one of the worst leaders in American history and fit the profile as one of the most intolerant anti-democratic leaders in the history of democracy. Christians, I am sorry to say, make their own bed.

  • 13. Justin  |  July 30, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    I think American Christians are not persecuted that much…especially compared to the first Christians. In fact, American Christians are often persecutors. However, the Middle East is a different story. Christians there go through horrific experiences and many are “closet” Christians because they fear being murdered if discovered.

  • 14. Thinking Ape  |  July 30, 2007 at 5:01 pm

    Justin,
    For sure! There are many middle eastern countries that are tolerant, but the new wave of Islamic extremism has made it very difficult for anyone who isn’t a Muslim – despite explicit references in the Quran for Jews, Christians, and Muslims to come together in their similarities rather than exploit their differences (i.e. 3:64ff).
    But the Muslim-Christian issue is hardly exclusive. Christians in China have been persecuted in the ultimate displays of complete intolerance OF religion (which, one could argue, has created a religion of state worship). Like I said, where these is difference, there will be persecution.

  • 15. societyvs  |  August 4, 2007 at 3:30 am

    I am glad you posted this – true Christians are still being persecuted for calliing out truth – see my post on boycotting religion(s).

  • 16. Thinking Ape  |  August 4, 2007 at 11:43 am

    societyvs says,

    true Christians are still being persecuted for calliing out truth – see my post on boycotting religion(s).

    so are true Muslims, true Buddhists, true Falun Gong, true Hindus, etc. Persecution will only stop when one religion will wipe out all the others (probable), or when humankind evolves out of religion (improbable).

  • 17. SuperChristians: More Pious than Jesus « de-conversion  |  January 4, 2008 at 9:12 am

    [...] how about that martyrdom complex? Even the earliest Christians, as we see in the example of Polycarp, martyrdom was the sign a [...]

  • [...] The Persecution Complex Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)How To Handle A Cat [...]

  • 19. booby  |  January 31, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    just get me some milk!

  • 20. booby  |  January 31, 2010 at 8:15 pm

    and cookies NOW!

  • 21. Zeynep  |  March 28, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    Rev. Aramais GharakhanianPosted on September 24, 2012 at 9:38 amSir,This is Pastor Aramais (Overseeing Pastor and a church petlanr for Iranian Churches in Germany and abroad)!Hope this message finds you well!Lately I have performed and arranged a song in Farsi for all who are suffering and surviving for their faith and are in Jails!(as soon as I have a budget I will prepare a Music Video Clip for this song)Can you Please share this song and Pray for these Persecuted Christians!Now is the timeHebrews 13: 3Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were sufferingThank you for your supportGod Bless YouThe translation of this song is:Titel: Father is with usWords: Shahryar OmraniMusic and Performer: Aramais GharakhanianO’ brother, endure the imprisonment of your bodyAs your soul is highly free and hopefulO’brother, the world is united with your sorrowYour pain has brought the world an awarenessAs Jesus, my Lord is your witness He is Christ, He is the Only AliveWherever you lose your way He is your leader, savior, and assistantO’ brother, brother, Father is with usHe is aware of every man and woman’s statusO’ brother, know and have faith that Heis the King wherever you areO’ the son of God, you are eternalAs you are pure and servant from head to toeO’ brother, if your enemy shed your bloodhe does not know that you are the awakening of the future generation

  • 22. cag  |  March 28, 2013 at 9:46 pm

    Zeynep, all religion is false. Your religion is just as false as the religion of those who imprison christians.

  • 23. Lakeisha  |  June 11, 2013 at 10:17 am

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