Want to Know Persecution? Stand up to Injustice
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 11:33:29 PM EST
It has been often pointed out that the alleged persecution of the American Christian Right is, to be polite about it, baloney.  But Dr. James F. McGrath, the Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University, a man who knows history as well as theology, has something more to say to American Christians who cry persecution when things don't quite go their way.  
And he invites those who want to know persecution, to consider what it would mean to "stand against injustice and for righteousness."

I find it both sad and laughable at the same time that both Protestants and Catholics are claiming that they are being persecuted when their views are no longer taken for granted by others, or they are not given access to a particular platform to promote their views.

McGrath observes that there has been plenty of persecution of Christians in history, notably when Nero blamed Christians for starting the big fire in Rome, and then began killing Christians, "some, horrifically." But he insists that:

American Christians have no idea what they are talking about when they cry persecution. And as someone married to a Romanian, and thus who experienced something which, if still not like Nero's time, was far more truly persecution than what most Americans have ever experienced, I do not find it merely inaccurate. I find it offensive. It is cheapening the term and thereby minimizing the plight of those who really do face persecution.

This bring us to his invitation to ask what "you could do to actually stand against injustice and for righteousness."

Maybe if you stood in the way of big corporations and wealthy power brokers trampling on the powerless, you would find out what persecution means. Maybe if you stood with the oppressed instead of trying to get in bed with the powers that be to share in their worldly power in order to oppress others, you would realize that there are those who do face persecution, bullying, enslavement, and many other horrors in the world - and that you may have at least contributed to the climate that allows that to continue.

Maybe then, you'll have taken up your cross and begun to follow the crucified Messiah.

I think part of the significance of McGrath's excellent post, is that as the Religious Right continues to play an outsized role in American public life, we cannot lose the definition of a simple word like persecution, and need be prepared to engage on the point when it comes up. Many Religious Right leaders think, for example, that various provisions of the Affordable Care Act constitute religious persecution.  But McGrath is spot on that such hyperbole cheapens the term, and minimizes the plight of those who really do face persecution, now and throughout history.

of Christians is actually a very rare happening in America today from outside the church. There are and have always been those who delight in making fun of religion, but for the vast majority people actually support and admire those which strong religious principles. Persecution - or rather the term bullying which you used, is very common within the church. It happens when pastors gain to much power - or when groups within a congregation decide to take control, it takes an ugly turn when "community values" conflict with a members personal choice. Actually, the groups wouldn't recognize their activity as bullying - but they might proudly speak of church "discipline". This bullying also happens between denominations - where members of another group are targeted for a position they hold or activity they participate in and use their bully pulpit to make accusations and cause trouble for the individual. These attacks from within "Christian" community's rarely make distinction as to the faith of their target. Saint or sinner - one of their own or an outsider - their bully mentality seeks to remove them. How strange that a community founded during intense persecution, should forget that this community is to be a place of welcome, of good news, a home for sinners, the suffering, the persecuted, rejected and the abused. In the weakness and brokenness of the Christian community, God's grace and power transforms and impacts. Today in the arrogance and lust for power within a "Christianity" there is little grace - only the ugly results of humans abusing power over one another, and little of Good News recognized by those outside the community watching it play out. Thanks for sharing this good article.

by chaplain on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 08:42:18 AM EST

that the points of this diary are for any day, they were written with an eye to Martin Luther King Day.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 01:36:47 PM EST
was a man who knew and understood persecution, and the importance of standing up even in the face of persecution (if you don't, the unjust win).

I was fortunate to know and be friends with one of the freedom riders who worked with him, who just passed away this last year.

by ArchaeoBob on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 02:36:37 PM EST

to see complaints about religious persecution thrown about so casually in the United States today. As you noted, most of the church/state conflicts I have seen are nothing more than the ordinary clash of political/social values, utterly unexceptional in a multicultural and multireligious society such as ours. To call this persecution, as more and more Christians seem inclined to do these days, is to wallow in a self-pity that is unbecoming as well as unwarranted.

Let me describe official persecution for you. Persecution is drawing up a secret government policy memorandum outlining the measures that are to be taken to quietly strangle a religious community of 300,000 souls, a memorandum that states, among other things, "that their progress and development shall be blocked" by denying them access to education, employment, business licenses, and the least influence in their society. Persecution is orchestrating a campaign to identify and "to other" the members of the community to facilitate their oppression and, when expedient, to arrest, imprison, and even execute them without public trials. Persecution is allowing elementary school teachers to verbally abuse young children of this community simply for being young children of this community. Persecution is bulldozing the community's cemeteries to build cultural centers for the dominant religion, and demolishing one of the community's holiest sites and building a road over it. Persecution is denying the community even the right to organize its own activities by ordering its administration disbanded.

This is what has been happening in Iran to the Bahá'í community since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. You can read the memo here and you can read a chilling report of some of the most recent steps being taken to increase the pressure on the Bahá'ís of Iran here and here, and you can get the entire story here.

Please, my Christian friends, don't debase the horror of persecution by using the word loosely for cheap rhetorical effect. There is real religious persecution in the world today, and very little of it is occurring in the United States.

by eeyore on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 07:16:42 PM EST

That the Bahá'í community and Native American tribes in the southeast experienced much of the same thing.  One of our medicine people (my age) was put in the hospital as a little boy - his teacher discovered he'd been to ceremony and beat him so bad that he required hospitalization (it was legal and encouraged).  Even today, the teachers and students bully our youth without mercy or justice (or even the attention of the authorities) - I know a young man who was suicidal in second and third grade because of the treatment meted out to him - JUST BECAUSE HE IS INDIAN (happened in the late 90s).  Indeed, as I learned, every time my parents came to Florida to visit my father's mother in the 60s and 70s, we risked being put in prison at hard labor every time we passed through Georgia and Alabama (and there are supposed to be the same laws for here in Florida).  We didn't even have the right to just EXIST in our own homeland.  I have copies of the Georgia statutes regarding that.

When I learned that I was really American Indian by birth and it became public knowledge, I lost just over 60% of my customers in about a month's time - in the mid 90s (others insulted me to my face, and one company president accused me of "lying about your identity").  I faced the usual insults common to my tribe, I've lost one job because of race (and my wife lost two) and one of the death threats I've experienced is because of my heritage.  So I've faced persecution on a personal level. (for being Indian as well as for speaking out against the things the dominionists stand for).

The legal stuff was also there - we had no rights in many areas until 1979 when we gained (under federal law) freedom of religion.  Until then, you could be Wiccan, you could be Muslim, you could be Jewish, you could be Bahá'í, you could even be Atheist or a Satanist, but if you claimed to be following a Native American traditional religion, in those areas you could be put in jail (and I've met people who did jail time for their beliefs in the 60s and 70s).

I hope that things change for the Bahá'í community.  Facing that sort of persecution is damaging to the individual and to the community - which can result in marital and other problems (the effects can be devastating to the children).  While it distressed me a bit to read your missive, at the same time I do know that minorities are banding together around the globe and working for protection of all minorities... there is hope for us all.

by ArchaeoBob on Tue Jan 22, 2013 at 11:05:19 AM EST

This article called to my mind a conversation we had with the pastor assigned to welcome us to Herrnhut (Germany) a few years ago. She mentioned that as a teen-ager before the fall of Communism, she and her friends had to choose between Confirmation and any chance of getting a higher education. To join the church in those days was to choose a life of multiple restrictions and few, if any, opportunities beyond basic labor.

The situation in El Salvador during the civil war (1977 - 1992) was even worse. Assassination of religious leaders who spoke out against injustice was a deliberate tactic of the military/death squads, many of whom had been trained at the School of the Americas and took their direction from the CIA manual on low intensity conflict. Oscar Romero is the name best known in the U.S., but there were many others: Rutilio Grande, Segundo Montes, Ellacuria, Martin Baro y Baro, David Fernandez, Dorothy Kazel, Ita Ford ~ more than three hundred in total. Others like Medardo Gomez and Edgar Palacios spent long periods of time in hiding or out of the country.

This article is absolutely correct. We must struggle against those who would cheapen the word "persecution" and drain it of any real meaning.

by MLouise on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 09:10:19 AM EST

We've said before that the dominionists are masters of projection, and this is a textbook description and VERY accurate.

This article really spells out the reality in a lot of churches (most I would argue).  They do the very thing that they claim others are doing to them... and I have to agree with McGrath.  They wouldn't know persecution if it wasn't for them doing it to others.  Persecution in the US is more along the lines of arson, poisoning pets, beating up people and/or threatening their families, preventing employment or getting people fired, and things like that, and it used to include lynchings, shots in the night, and families being burned alive.  The LGBT and pagan communities (at least in this area) are very much aware of what persecution is really like (two of my friends had to flee this area because it was getting too dangerous for them), and those left here generally have nothing nice to say at all about the churches - as I do not (exception, the UU churches and the LGBT churches).  Even the "Mainstream" churches are guilty of it, and a church (and preacher/priest/pastor) who actually tries to practice what Jesus taught are few and very far between.  (Most just cover their asses really well.)

The churches who are the most to blame, btw, are also the ones with reputations in Native America... for being the worst sort of bigots.  It was the churches (Southern Baptist and Pentecostal) who fought so hard against us finally getting freedom of religion back in 1979, and many still resent that they can't openly discriminate against us.  The Roman Catholics?  Well, with my tribe a tacit agreement was made that if the remaining people (after the Trail of Tears) would join the churches and "become white", they could stay (we never were really accepted and most just barely survived - were tolerated as long as we were silent and subservient and took whatever abuse was directed at us).  My people joined every church they could so that there would be documentation of their "conversion" and thus would avoid either getting locked in a boxcar and shipped to Oklahoma, or lynched, or burned alive.  The Roman Catholics realized what was going on and refused to help - my people couldn't join their church because they thought it was just to survive and they might then join another.  So another of the complaining churches is also well known and remembered... in a way they probably wouldn't want to be.

It's irritating to me that the ones who yell the loudest about "The Love of God" are the most vicious and underhanded... but then, I've noticed that the more "spiritual" (Charismatic) a church is, the more harsh and cruel their treatment of others (even in their church) is anyway.  I expect that's true of the ones who are fundamentalist but not charismatic as well.

by ArchaeoBob on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 12:06:10 PM EST

This is the real type of persecution that one "Christian" (Dominionist) leader forthrightly says they will inflict upon the world:

"The kingdom of God will not be socialism, but a freedom even greater than anyone on earth knows at this time. At first it may seem like totalitarianism, as the Lord will destroy the antichrist spirit now dominating the world with "the sword of His mouth" and will shatter many nations like pottery." (Bold emphasis his)

Rick Joyner, The Elijah List - 06/19/2007, . Quote is found in the second sentence of the chapter THE COMING KINGDOM. http://www.elijahlist.com/words/display_word/5396

by Villabolo on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 03:39:07 PM EST

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