On “Persecution” and Indiana

time-cover-final3

 

(above is the cover Time Magazine is running with. I want write all over it. Gays are Christians, too. Christians in America aren’t under attack. Also, check the facts. Correct the error.  LGBT people are attacked on a daily basis.)

The night after the video of the twenty-one Coptic Christians was released, I wanted to write a post. In the post, I wanted to talk about how when words like persecution are overused and broadly used, used to describe events in varying contexts with dramatically different degrees of severity, they become words that are banal, lost, stripped of their meaning. The accurate word to describe for that horrific night was, absolutely, persecution. This was the night the world saw the terrible truth of that word and it mattered that we called it exactly what it was. That we tagged these murders committed because of religious beliefs with the term. That we wrote down the word and saw the men on the beach, remembering their bravery, remembering they overcame, remembering they were persecuted. That we identified for the world, for each other, what persecution was. It mattered that we saw how dark and violent it is in that assembly of eleven letters that led to the deaths of twenty-one men. And then, in the post, I’d go into how often we say what happened to them is the same thing that happens to us when the store clerk smiles: Happy Holidays!

 

But, alas, I didn’t write that post, for good reasons. Though it wouldn’t be out of a desire to exploit a tragedy to prove a point, it might look that way and it might, reasonably, offend others. I didn’t write it because I hate when people do that, too.

 

But now it might be time.

 

The term is once again being grabbed at for reasons that have to do with people like me. Praise the Lord at least some improvements have been made in that Indiana discriminatory law, but even though the improvements are slim, evangelical Christians are not happy about it. They claim vulnerability. They claim the outrageous. If I had a dollar for every pastor I have seen on social media talk about their fears of being forced to marry same-sex couples, I would be rich enough to buy every single one of them a United States Constitution and an insightful book on the separation of Church and State.

 

It’s not new for Christians to claim persecution. Sadly, this important term has been a busy member of the Christian lexicon, being used to describe everything from liberal agenda-wielding college professors to insurance coverage of contraception. A laughable movie came out last year that was literally titled Persecution. It’s about a famous pastor with an unpopular opinion having to outrun the animal that is The Secular Liberal State which is trying to kill/coerce/brainwash him (I only watched the trailer, I don’t know what the State wants from him.)

 

I spent a semester in DC in a political program for Christian college students, a program in which we were all assigned an issue to investigate. Ours was energy policy and it rocked. At the end of the semester, our professors who were the united conservative academics of America and where limping towards the end by our surprise liberal politics, asked us, warily, if the next crop of students they had should study Religious Liberty, because it was becoming a bigger issue with same-sex marriage.

 

Most of us frowned and said no, because most of us in this generation, gay or straight, realize that LGBTQ, Muslim, Liberal, Atheist neighbors and friends were not threats to our religious liberty. We recognized it with that bullshit detector we’ve all grown, that beeping that goes off whenever we here a variation of that crank-filled-phrase: “well, back in my day…”

 

And what we know is that we are not persecuted. We live in a pluralistic world. We live in a faith that has a great diversity of beliefs. And as Christians, we do not fight for the power to discriminate against others, because the essence of Christianity is not about being right, it’s about being humble. It’s not about wielding our power to take away from others, but giving to others the fruit of our gifts. Everything we’ve got to give we give. Especially to the marginalized (amongst whom, you’ll find Jesus [Matt. 25:40].).

 

There’s something so parallel to the way many evangelical Christians claim persecution to the way they read scripture. Picking and Choosing. Building a religion within a religion. Narrowing the gates for only those they like or things that make them comfortable. Many of these bakers, florists, photographers have probably provided services for Barmitzvahs and secular weddings and unknowingly, wishy-washy Christians. Just today, CNN interviewed one such gay-offended individual, asking her if she would serve adulterers and those who’ve dishonored their parents, two big no-nos spelled out in the Ten Commandments. She said Yes. Why, the reporter wondered, was she willing to be a part of one kind of sinner’s celebration and not another’s.

 

She answered: It’s just a different kind of sin to me and I just don’t believe in it.

 

I could almost hear her saying in the same breath how the Bible is the literal bulletproof word of God, but the Levitical commandment to kill disobedient children is completely bound to context and culture.

 

The truth that I want to whisper into her ear is that people all of over the world are being killed for their faith and that is persecution. Our non-muslim brothers and sisters in Nairobi, just today, were ripped from their dormitories and slaughtered in the streets. 147 of them. Lives precious to God and to their grieving families. Do you dare use the same term, assign the same crime, to both your inability to deny service to others and their bodies lying bloodied all over campus? It’s a damn fair question.

 

Words matter. And to use a word that is dripping with so much pain and violence and tears and blood to describe your experience with a gay person wanting a pizza or a bouquet or a marriage license is not just insulting, it’s downright dangerous. It steals from the dignity of those who’ve paid the full price of their beliefs and only serves your own self-righteousness and prejudice.

 

You are not being persecuted. You are cloaking discrimination in the gospel. You are blinded by ideology and fear and might not even realize it. Please, wake up from this nightmare. The world needs to know what persecution really is.

 

Side note:  Some evangelical Christians are the worst. Not all. Also, I’m tired. Also, I want to say, I find so much peace with the fact that I no longer pledge loyalty to this culture. My fidelity is only to Jesus: Friend of Sinners.

  • AnotherJosh

    This Hoosier heartily agrees!

  • Garrett Pletcher

    Such a great, great piece. I absolutely love this line: “And as Christians, we do not fight for the power to discriminate against others, because the essence of Christianity is not about being right, it’s about being humble.” You put something into words that I haven’t been able to in the past. Thank you for this.

  • Good article. Thank you for saying this. <3

  • Christena Cleveland

    Thank you for this.

  • Mark Schnitzer

    Beautifully started! As a middle age guy extracting myself from the Evangelical culture after 34 years, I am very thankful that there is now a generation of younger people in the church that are rediscovering what the Gospel is really about. Peace and grace to you my friend.
    Mark

  • Ben, thanks again. You said it.

  • Erin

    Hi Ben. I appreciate your post and what you said. I just have to say though, I am really disappointed by the phrase you used at the end, “You are not being persecuted. You are using your faith to persecute others.”
    Wasn’t your whole point about the way we throw around the tern “persecution” so lightly that we diminish it? Are you saying that it is persecution to be refused cake or flowers? Is it ridiculous? Yes. Is it un-Christ-like? Certainly. But equal to being beheaded on a beach? I don’t think so. You are using the same poor logic that you are trying to confront.
    Excellent piece. Don’t discredit the whole thing by claiming persecution at the end of it.

    • That’s an excellent point. I fixed it. Thank you for pointing it out Erin!

  • RJ (TO)

    I. Love. This.

    Beautifully articulated, brutally honest, and hard to argue with (for reasonable people, anyway). Deserves to be widely circulated.