There’s been a lot of chatter out there in the blogosphere about the perceived persecution of Christians in the U.S. This is not a new thing. In fact, when I was in high school way back when they had film projectors and chalk boards, I wrote a term paper for U.S. History entitled, “Christian Persecution in America.” Of course, back in 1972 there were no real sources to draw from, so I got some interviews from friends, a couple magazine articles about the Jesus Movement, and I think the lyrics from a couple of Larry Norman songs, and got an ‘A’ on the paper. (More likely from my ability to B.S. than to any real substance.) But, if one was to listen to some of the conservative evangelical leaders today, persecution is real and rampant ‘from sea to shining sea.’
I’ve been in meetings and informal get-togethers with these folks and listened to them rant against the government and secular society for a number of years. They bemoan the loss of the 10 commandments displayed in public space as well as the ban on school prayer. Abortion, Gay rights, feminism, immigration, and probably acne, in some circles are not only blamed for every social ill in the culture, but the culture’s embrace of these issues is also cited as the main example of how Christians are being persecuted. They believe that the continued secularization of the culture is a plot by the godless to eliminate God from their lives. It has become personal.
My problem is that I’ve seen evidence and heard stories about real persecution. A quick look at TheVoice of the Martyrs website shows how Christ followers are suffering for their faith. Type ‘Christian martyrs’ into your favorite search engine and many links are available to peruse. Some of them may be helpful in finding places where our sisters and brothers are systematically subjected to suffering that we in this country simply would not be able to understand, or withstand. I think that it would be a good idea for these people to spend some time in places like Iran, Somalia, North Korea or Indonesia. Then, perhaps, they would have a better understanding of what persecution really is.
What people in the U.S. are experiencing is actually something called ‘marginalization.’ The White Euro-American worldview and culture has enjoyed two centuries of privilege. It’s hegemonic hold on most, if not all, influence on the culture is now being threatened by those that have been marginalized. As the culture shifts to a less sectarian model, those who had the reins of power and influence are feeling that slip away. They no longer can simply make statements and policy without some pushback from people who may be adversely affected by those statements and policies. This is something that the predominant culture has not experienced. So, to them, it looks and sounds like persecution. But, like I mentioned earlier, this is NOT persecution, but marginalization.
Now, this could simply be the continuing march of cultural evolution. Humankind is growing up. As we grow and mature those who have been forced to live on the fringes of the culture and society are saying, “Enough!” In a way, we may be living through a kind of cultural coup staged by these people. They are not revolting against God or God’s anointed. They are revolting against the pain and suffering that comes from living on the fringe. And, I say to this, Good! It’s about time that the self-righteous protectors of virtue, Mom, apple pie and the flag have the opportunity to experience life outside of the mainstream of culture. It’s about time that the privileged share in the lack of privilege. It’s about time that those who claim to be Christ followers spend time living in the margins where Christ lived.
Let me take a moment to share what I think is our proper place in the culture. Ours is not to direct society; ours is to serve. Those who want to be disciples of Jesus must remember that it was our Lord and Master who said that his kingdom was not of this world. We have, however, forgotten that. From Constantine forward the Church has enjoyed the power and prestige of being kings among men. (At least in the West.) Popes and emperors and Metropolitans have lorded it over people and extended the so-called Magisterium to influence every area of life. This has served to foment conflict and the enforcement of boundaries that have defined who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out.’ This would be funny if not for the fact that those who have been deemed ‘out’ have had to bear the pain that these designations bring. Now, those who have grown accustomed to sitting on the ‘Seat of Moses’ are finding it difficult to step away. Power and riches are not so easily lost. So it is with White, patriarchal hegemony. We don’t like to share. Worse, we don’t want to serve those whom we consider ‘others.’
It is, however, OK if ‘they’ become like ‘us.’ This is even the focus of our so-called evangelism. We welcome others to come in and be transformed. The lives they have led need to yield to the power of the Holy Spirit so that they can enjoy the good things that God has for them. This is christianese for, ‘Come in and become like us.’ The problem is that there are those who will not become like us. These are the ones who Richard Twiss referred to when he spoke about White Christians saying that God loved the Native Americans, but hated their dance and their drums and their ceremonies. It is all well and good to accept our idea of Christ, but your ideas and culture must be left outside. These ‘others’ that we purport to welcome are African, Asian, LGBTQ, women, homeless, Arab, and a host of other human beings. They will bring their worldview and culture. And, it will NOT be our worldview and culture. These people, in all of their diversity, are the colors on God’s palette. They are the spice that God uses to flavor. They are beloved of God. They are not a threat to God. Why should they be a threat to us?