You’re probably noticing a common thread running through the messages and media aimed at fundagelicals these days: this idea that they are in the very beginnings of a desperate and dire time of dreadful persecution. And we’re not talking about this persecution happening in some third-world theocracy, either, but right here in good ole Murrka! This fantasy American Christians have concocted has them teetering on the very threshold of the end of the world.
It’s worth knowing about these fundagelical panics. Though their various terrors might not seem like they impact us much out here in reality-land, they do–often precisely because we never suspect or guess just how far those fears go. American politicians pander to these people. Their spiritual leaders gin up their terror for money and influence. And these beliefs drive regressive, transgressive, and even potentially violent behavior, which means the rest of us have to stop what we’re doing and go deal with them–as is happening now with the Bundys and their “Y’all Queda” pals, who recently tried (and thankfully failed) to spark a civil war because their Reconstructionist beliefs led them to think that they had to act to prevent persecution of Christians.
Insulated as they are in their little bubble, a certain group of Christians are starting to feel a great deal of fear about their futures. The Washington Post detailed a survey recently that discovered that a fast-rising number of American Christians are convinced that they face serious persecution in this country–and that the situation is getting worse. The survey they’re talking about was done by the SBC mouthpiece LifeWay Research, which means that the respondents in question were also quizzed about their feelings about various fundagelical doctrines.
The survey’s findings fall along lines that shouldn’t surprise anybody.
Older, less-educated, white Southern evangelical Christians were way more likely to agree that America is increasingly intolerant of Christians, that Christians are facing rising amounts of persecution for their beliefs, and that “religious liberty” (that dogwhistle so beloved of fundagelicals!) is declining. People outside those demographics were far less likely to agree with those ideas. And over the last two years, the polarizing nature of fundagelical fearmongering has only gotten worse, with a sharp increase in such fantasizing from the affected group–and a sharp decrease for everyone else.
So it’s not uncommon to see a Christian breathlessly assure his or her peers that if they claim to be Christian, “[they] will be persecuted. . . If you feel bad because you have never been persecuted for your faith in Christ, don’t worry it’s coming [sic].” (We may have to come back to this guy’s post sometime soon.)
Irresponsible pastors like this one compare this so-called persecution with what Jews in WWII endured. That’s actually standard imagery, and some of them get really out of hand with painting life in post-Christian America in such terms. It’s shockingly offensive, but pushing back against this fantasizing is, itself, viewed as persecution.
Every time they lose one of their culture-war squabbles, you can count on seeing a fresh round of fearmongering–and even big-name Christian leaders like Franklin Graham are getting in on the fun. Their dire warnings of future suffering and torture all have the uncomfortable feeling about them of being masturbatory, and the more shrill these warnings get, the more divorced from reality they seem.
I don’t know what they would do if they weren’t working themselves into a state of panic.
How It’s Going to Go.
Though the exact details vary, here’s the gist of a standard-issue fundagelical persecution fantasy:
Somehow, the United States is soon going to declare Christianity illegal and start imprisoning and executing Christians. Really! Here’s a fundagelical who has it all figured out. He has never met a right-wing conspiracy theory he didn’t like, be it “Mark of the Beast” panicking or putting all his money in gold.
He’s extremely upset that Christians “are being forced to not only accept the tenants [sic] of the LGBT” but are also “being forced to enthusiastically embrace the lifestyle in its business practices,” which is fundagelical whining about not being allowed to discriminate against gay people. Yes, because baking a cake for a gay couple’s wedding is exactly like being frog-marched to a guillotine. Because he’s such a typical example of the breed, I’ll use his post to illustrate what I mean. Here are the six “stages” he and his peers envision when they talk about persecution in America:
- “Attempts to stereotype the targeted group.” There’s no reason whatsoever to dislike fundagelicals. None.
- “Justifying hatred of a particular group.” He thinks that President Obama will declare his tribemates to be a bunch of terrorists. Because they’re totally not terrorists. Nope. Oh, their desire to totally take over the American government and institute their own version of Sharia Law? Their constant threats of violence (and frequent actual acts of violence) against dissenters? That’s totally not domestic terrorism. That’s Dominionism. Get it right! (It’s okay if you’re Christian.)
- “Marginalizing of Christians’ role in society” JUST LIKE HITLER DID. No really, he totally thinks that his religion’s slight loss of excessive and unwarranted power equates to Hitler marginalizing the Jews before WWII. All the churches that remain aboveground at this point will be the fake Christians in Name Only that fundagelicals despise so bitterly. The solution, as he sees it, is to give fundagelicals total carte blanche to run roughshod over other people’s rights and to quit calling attention to the daily–even hourly–scandals coming out of that end of the religion. (I didn’t notice him suggesting that maybe his pals should quit causing so many scandals. The problem is that the scandals are publicized at all, not that they are occurring; he seeks to stop the criticism by silencing the critics, not by stopping the scandalous behavior.)
- “Criminalizing Christians and their churches, business, and educational institutions.” He takes for granted that fundagelicals’ desire to discriminate is totally fine and should be legal. Mainly he’s upset that his tribe can’t spread hate speech and control people like they used to. No, really. I’m not exaggerating. He uses the oft-misunderstood dogwhistle term “intolerance” to describe people’s reaction to his tribe’s antics, and links this intolerance expressly to Hillary Clinton’s campaign for safe and legal abortion access worldwide, which indicates to me that “tolerance” in this case would be allowing him to limit women’s abortion access like his tribe used to be able to do.
- There is no #5. Happens to the best of us, I suppose.
- “Direct persecution of Christians.” This is what will happen if his tribe can’t regain dominance. Churches will be “forced to marry gays,” you know, like when churches were forced to marry mixed-race couples after the Civil Rights laws passed–oh wait, they weren’t, and no churches have been forced to marry same-sex couples either. Despite that reality, this prophet thinks that his pals will be forced to “accept the validity of the teaching of every other religion (e.g. Islam), or be found guilty of a hate crime,” though it’s curious to note that nobody’s ever actually asked them to do that–largely because we don’t really give a wet slap about his opinion of anybody else’s supernatural claims.
To back up his claims that persecution is really for sure already happening in America, the blogger claims that Canadian Catholic clergy have been arrested after giving anti-gay sermons. He doesn’t note any citations of this common-but-surprising claim, possibly because nobody’s really been arrested. One priest got really virulent a few years ago and was removed from his position by his own superiors in the Church, but he wasn’t arrested. I also notice that Peter LaBarbera, an especially homophobic bigot-for-Jesus, got arrested in Canada, but it was for trespassing. The long and short of it is this: you’ll be waiting a long time if you’re waiting for this (or really any) fundagelical fantasist to produce an instance of real live persecution in America.
Without pausing for breath, our brave hero declares that the last stage will “mark the beginning of the elimination of Christianity as a mainstream, viable religion,” which incidentally is his real problem with the pushback his religion’s getting: he’s upset that his tribe is losing power, and he wants that power back. He views this imaginary persecution in terms of the end of the world, as part of the necessary Endtimes before the Rapture and Jesus’ triumphant return Any Day Now–but the vision he offers is one in which fundagelicals must fight against their god’s express plans as hard as they can. He doesn’t explicitly phrase it that way, but certainly his commenters didn’t miss that subtext–many of them directly make that association, with one lucky guy claiming that Jesus bestowed upon him a vision of running through blood-soaked streets, a vision he declared “will happen shortly.” Apparently “shortly” didn’t mean “within the next year,” because that was a year ago and persecution hasn’t even hit stage 3 fully yet. (WTF, Jesus!)
Of course, only certain types of Christians need to fear this dark future. The Dark Forces in Control of the Government (DFICOTG) don’t mind namby-pamby liberal Christians who don’t “speak truth to power,” as the phrase goes, but oh, they really don’t like TRUE CHRISTIANS™. TRUE CHRISTIANS™, you see, disturb sinners just by their shining existence. By refusing to shut up about the
unapproved sex sin going on all around them, they make us non-Christians feel all “convicted,” which is a Christianese term that means they remind us that we’re rebelling against the will of their god, which makes us feel all guilty and ashamed. (In fundagelical mythology, everyone actually believes in the Christian god, which means that people who say they’re non-Christians even after being properly evangelized are lying about it.)
Oh, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown (of thorns)!
Orders from the Top.
TRUE CHRISTIANS™ know that sometimes they say and do things that, if said and done by anybody not illuminated from within by Jesus Power,* like the Muslims our above fearmonger cites, might–just might–be interpreted as hateful and viciously bigoted, which the DFICOTG object to because they are demonically oppressed. Of course, because it’s TRUE CHRISTIANS™ saying and doing this stuff, it’s actually totally loving and moral, but the primitive screwheads outside the religion couldn’t possibly understand anything like that because something something demons.
Motivation means everything in Christianity, and might always makes right. So if Christians think that “God” is telling them to do something, then by definition it is the moral and correct and loving thing to do. If they comply with this god’s orders, then they cannot ever be blamed or seen as culpable; they are nothing but the instruments of divine will–slaves and robots controlled by their god who must be given free rein to do whatever it is they think they have been ordered. If anybody wants to blame Christians for anything, then they must take it up with Jesus. And only Jesus has the authority to change their behavior (but since they think he ordered it in the first place, they can’t imagine any situation in which he’d do that.)
So Christians cannot bend even one inch on the various things they do that alienate, offend, anger, and actively hurt those around themselves. Their god told them that they must make sure that all same-sex couples know that Jesus hates them. They must make sure to enshrine into law the idea that women do not own their own bodies and thus do not have the right to withdraw consent to their bodies’ use. They must ensure that teachers remain free to prey upon the vulnerable children that taxpayers have put into their care–while making sure that parents retain the legal right to beat the holy living shit out of those kids at home and to keep them as ignorant and limited as humanly possible. They must exercise legal control over the rights and lives of other people to force them to play along with Christians’ rules–whether they also believe or not.
And of course Christians must harass everybody else with their strident (and utterly unsupported) threats about the sheer unbelievable horrors that their
bigoted racist sexist abusive violent totally loving god is going to commit upon them in retaliation for disobedience.
(The irony is truly that there may well be persecution of Christians in America, but as Benjamin Corey has pointed out it’s largely done by TRUE CHRISTIANS™ against other Christians.)
In a weird way I can kind of see why they’re drumming up so much terror among themselves. What we’re seeing in all this fantasizing is pure desperation. They’re trying to scare their sheep into taking direct action to regain Christian control of society–be it by converting non-believers, promulgating Christian propaganda like Creationism among non-consenting listeners, creating a coercive atmosphere in which to operate socially, or trying to gain political power over others. They’re fighting for nothing less than their hegemony and privilege, and they know it.
And they also know that whatever they’re doing now, it’s not working.
Every single day, 3500 CHRISTIANS LEAVE the religion according to one large Christian news site. Most of them will never return. The rest of us are getting less and less patient with Christian overreach. And we’re far less likely to downplay or look past Christian scandals than we used to, or to give Christians more credit or slack than they deserve.
The scales are balancing a little more than they used to, is all. We’re starting to treat Christians like anybody else and to demand and expect them to follow the same rules everyone else must follow. The playing field is nowhere near level yet, but it’s moving a little closer.
That said, to someone in a broken system, equality might as well be losing. All they know is dominance and subjugation; if they do not possess the one, then they face the other. If they are not at the very top of the pyramid, they are crushed at its bottom. Those are the only two directions it can go for them.
Because they have conflated their worst behaviors with being a TRUE CHRISTIAN™, they regard hate speech and abuse as part of their religion’s everyday, reflexive, totally non-negotiable set of observances. They call this behavior “simply being Christian” to minimize and distance themselves from the true nature of their abusiveness, but also because they genuinely believe that all of the stuff I just outlined is nothing more than them doing what all Christians should do to live out their beliefs on pain of eternal torture.** Discriminating against the people they hate and trying to rip people’s bodily rights and dignity away from them is as essential a part of their religious beliefs as praying, and so therefore, they think, it should be allowed and even protected in the exact same way. They cannot differentiate between prayer and forcefully indoctrinating other people’s children, or between attending church and harassing women trying to enter a clinic. To them, it’s all “simply being Christian,” and so they cannot stop doing any of it.
People who understand and value consent may have trouble understanding exactly why Christians perform these mental calisthenics, so next time we touch on this topic we’ll be playing Real or Not Real for their benefit. But today I wanted to show you just how deep their rabbit hole goes.
Next time, though, I wanted to take a gracious step into another world, one that shows us how truly universal some of our experiences really are. See you soon.
* Jesus Power: a light-from-within that is granted by Jesus himself to his most favored and fervent followers. Makes TRUE CHRISTIANS™ glow like a young woman in an 80s power ballad video. Instantly identifies all Christians and marks them as undeniably different from non-believers–and makes non-believers enthralled and eager to learn their secret.
** That fundagelicals clearly get a giddy glee out of being hateful bigots, sexists, racists, xenophobes, and classists is completely beside the point. Really.