Evangelical Persecution?

Being Persecuted is Cool

Built into Christian theology and praxis, is a celebration of persecution for one’s beliefs. Christians claim a long history of martyrs, and a quick scan of the New Testament alone reveals at least a dozen verses extolling the value of persecution and encouraging the faithful to endure. Christians have indeed suffered greatly throughout certain periods of history and in many parts of the world today. People are imprisoned, restricted from employment and even killed if they are found out to be Christians.

Christians should not be mistreated because of their faith and they certainly shouldn’t be given cause to fear loss of job, property or life on the basis of their religious convictions. People who disagree with Christians also need to use caution in their arguments, making sure they aren’t labeling the person but instead focusing on the ideas. The person needs to be respected but the ideas do not.

However, some claims of persecution have popped up lately that I think warrant a response; like in this CNN blog post, which addresses the claim made by conservative Evangelicals, especially on the opinion of homosexuality, that they are becoming a “hated minority”.

Hated Minority?

Here are some of the things Peter Sprigg, a spokesman for The Family Research Council, says are evidence that they are becoming a hated minority.

“Christians who believe the Bible condemns homosexuality but will not say so publicly for fear of being labeled a hateful bigot.”

“[...] backlash that ESPN commentator Chris Broussard sparked recently. Broussard was called a bigot and a purveyor of hate speech when he said an NBA player who had come out as gay was living in “open rebellion to God.” Broussard said the player, Jason Collins, was “living in unrepentant sin” because the Bible condemns homosexuality.”

“The media will hail someone who comes out of the closet as gay, but someone who simply expresses their personal religious views about homosexual conduct is attacked.”

In summary, according to Sprigg, the following are signs of persecution:

  • backlash
  • fear of speaking one’s views publically
  • being called a bigot
  • being verbally “attacked” (which basically means someone strongly disagreeing with you)
  • feeling marginalized

I don’t think those things are persecution or even signs of a widespread, pervasive or dangerous intolerance. They are signs that your opinion is held in contempt, which is not hatred or persecution, it simply means someone doesn’t like what you’re saying. In addition, even though they are in decline, most Americans claim Protestant Christianity as their religion and the largest group of Protestants are Evangelicals.

Groups like The Family Research Council claim to be targets of intolerance because they have been labeled a “hate group” by organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center. But according to Mark Potok, a center spokesman, a group becomes a hate group when it maligns an entire class of people for immutable characteristics. In other words, The Family Research Council was not called a hate group because of their beliefs that God doesn’t like homosexuality. They were labeled a hate group because they spread lies about homosexuals.

Free speech doesn’t mean you can say what you want and no one can challenge it. Erroneously saying gays are more inclined toward sexual deviancy is persecution. Telling that person their view is odious is not. Firing a Christian for saying gay marriage is against God’s will is persecution. Telling them their view of Scripture is weak and their opinion is idiotic is not.

Of course this goes both ways. If atheists want to be able to challenge religious beliefs, they can’t cry foul when religious people tell them their ideas are idiotic.

No Longer the Cool Kids on the Block

What I think is actually happening here is that historically, most Americans have agreed with many Evangelical positions even if they themselves were not Evangelical. But that is changing. People are increasingly accepting of GLBTQ individuals and the variety of gender identities and are demanding marriage equality and legal protection for those individuals. More and more people are rejecting religion and fewer and fewer people feel culturally compelled to identify with Christianity.

In short, it’s theologically encouraged to be persecuted for one’s faith and at the same time, Evangelicals are bummed out because they’re not the cool kids anymore. I imagine that’s very frustrating and disappointing and I know from experience how it feels to have an opinion rejected publically. I sympathize with the difficult time they must be having adjusting. But I would suggest they put their energies into protecting ACTUAL persecuted Christians around the world instead of whining about a little name calling.

Rigorous testing of opinions and beliefs is important for a healthy society. Part of growing up into individuated adulthood is the ability to confidently and publicly state your opinions with the expectation that people will challenge you. Some people seem to have a particular axe to grind with certain groups and they can’t seem to just shut up and let someone have their opinion. This is a sign of immaturity and bad manners no matter who is doing it but it’s not persecution.

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