The Myth of a Persecuted Christian America

“Persecuted” is a term I hear thrown around a lot these days. Ironically enough, it’s rarely ever used to describe 1st century Christians, who were literally made to hide their faith in order to evade death. Most of the time, it’s a word used by some of our modern Christian brothers and sisters to describe… (wait for it)… themselves. How is it that first class, privileged, Christian Americans feel persecuted in a country that boasts freedom on an individual and religious basis? Furthermore, how could someone feel victimized in a land where they are (quite literally) the majority? Your guess is as good as mine.

We’re all privy to the discrimination laws that have been all over the media in recent weeks, like this one in Arizona:

In short, SB1062 would amend the existing Religious Freedom Restoration Act, allowing business owners to deny service to gay and lesbian customers so long as proprietors were acting solely on their religious beliefs. (Eliott C. McLaughlin, cnn.com)

And let’s not pretend homophobia is the only form of discrimination in this country. Racism, classism, and sexism (just to name a few) are still rampant. Just the other day, I saw an extremely troubling post on Facebook which said,

“Why do I have to press 1 for English? Did America move?”

It’s this kind of idiocy and ignorance that makes me wonder if we’ve really come all that far in our fight for equality.

Here are three things I feel are too often forgotten:

1. American History 101: Separation of Church and state. May we be reminded this was (and is) a policy to protect religious institutions. It’s basically saying, “Hey… we know people won’t agree on everything. But we came to America to escape religious oppression, and we believe everybody ought to have the opportunity for their own quest for truth.” It’s a wonderful idea, actually; I wish more people saw the beauty in it. Think about the hundreds and hundreds of sects of Christianity alone: From Catholics to Mennonites, from Presbyterians to Appalachian snake handlers… we are all so very different. Therefore, you can imagine the innumerable advantages of keeping government and religion separate. What if we were all made to conform to the ideologies of a single sect of Christianity—one that didn’t necessarily agree with our convictions? Furthermore, what if the majority of religious Americans were Muslim? Well, I think many fellow Christians would feel quite differently about the separation of Church and state, then.

2. America is not a Christian nation. This statement always seems to raise some eyebrows, but the facts are there. All you have to do is delve in and study the faiths of the Founding Fathers. Many of them were Deists, who believed there probably is a Creator, but that he does not meddle in the concerns of people or intervene in the world’s affairs. Consider Thomas Jefferson. Many Christians today claim him as one of their own, when in fact, he mocked those who believed in the supernatural claims of Jesus. He even published his own version of the New Testament, in which he removed all supernatural events, including the virgin birth and the resurrection! In his day, he was called an atheist by some. How is it that he is now often called a founder of a Christian nation?

1071936_898866613. Freedom begets freedom. Or at least it should. Our Christian ancestors fought so hard to escape religious oppression. But are we honoring that legacy? Now that we have our freedom, are we paying it forward to other minorities, or do we use our power to discriminate against those who are different? I see the latter more often than the former, and I find it quite troubling. But what’s most troubling of all? Quite commonly, the people doing the discriminating are the same ones playing the persecution card, essentially saying: “My religious freedom gives me the entitlement to discriminate against other people. By exercising my right, I’m allowed to take your rights away.” I think we can all see the absurdity in that mentality.

Besides, what was it about that Jesus guy? Did he heal only his fellow Jews? Did he fellowship only with like-minded people? Did he instruct his disciples to be gatekeepers at his sermons, only allowing certain people through? I think any Christian can identify The Greatest Command: Love. It really doesn’t get more simple than that.

So why do we make it so complicated?

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UPDATE on “One Liberation Under God”: I’ve had an overwhelming response to the documentary project. Within 24 hours of posting about it, over a dozen people in five different states have expressed interest in being interviewed.  A project like this will take some time, but I’m very excited about getting things underway! Check my Twitter feed and Facebook page for updates about the film.

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