Persecuted or Persecutors?


CupIf you’re on the internet reading this blog, I’m sure you’re aware of the controversy swirling around some comments made by Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson and A&E Network’s subsequent decision to suspend him from the show.

I really had no intention of writing about this today. And, in truth, it’s not really what this blog is about. But it does create an illustration for something I’ve been wanting to talk about for awhile, which is the false sense of persecution that is so prevalent in the American church today.

I’ve watched a grand total of probably 20 minutes of DD in my life. Which is about the same amount of NASCAR I’ve ever watched. So you see the connection. I don’t get it. It’s not for me.

In fact, I really don’t care what Robertson said or how A&E responded. My opinion of his comments was that they were fairly uninformed, but largely blown out of proportion. It’s less than a blip on the cosmic radar as far as I’m concerned.

But what does concern me is the response of the church. And so far, I’m pretty disappointed.

I’m not quite sure how the DD crew got to become spokespeople for American Christianity. I know they speak openly about their faith on national TV, which is pretty rare, and so I can see how some people can identify with them because of that.

But it seems like Christians have become desperate to have some kind of icon to hold up to the secular world. And I think that desperation grows out of a sense that somehow Christians are being persecuted in America.

Just look at the so-called “War on Christmas.” Somehow a large number of us have gotten it in our heads that we’re under attack.

But here’s the thing: we’re not. We’re just not in control anymore.

And that, my friends, is not persecution. Believe me. Thousands of Christians around the world are being truly persecuted. And what some goofy rednecks do or say on television has nothing to do with it.

Yes, things are changing around us. We live in a culture with a multitude of religions, belief systems, races, and nationalities. When I was in grade school we used to celebrate this fact. The great melting pot of America was something we took pride in (that is, until non-white, non-Christians started to outnumber us).

And yes, Christians have been criticized, and often unfairly. But that’s still not the same as persecution. That’s just criticism.

What’s really happening is that there are other ideas in the world that sometimes challenge and even conflict with Christian beliefs. Nothing new there. But because Christianity in America has for so long dominated the general cultural consciousness, we’re feeling threatened and defensive because we think we’re losing control.

Still, it’s a long way from persecution. Moving from the majority to the minority may be uncomfortable. It may be incredibly hard. It may even piss you off to no end. But it’s still not persecution.

So for the folks who are outraged by what they perceive as Christianity coming under attack, and who think Phil Robertson is their new champion and standard-bearer, please consider a couple of things:

I know you think Phil is defending your faith. I know you think he’s defending the Bible. I know you think he’s standing up to the liberal non-Christian secular humanist Grinches that are trying to steal your perfect Who-ville Christmas.

But faith that hurts people—even people you disagree with—is most emphatically NOT the faith of Jesus.

The hard truth is, for most of our history in America, the church has more often been the persecutor than the persecuted. We have been responsible, directly or indirectly, for untold atrocities in the name of “defending our faith.”

If you want to understand real persecution in America, try sitting with one of my gay friends who once again today is being subjected to hateful marginalization by a church founded on the principals of love and inclusiveness for the marginalized.

So while many of you are supporting Phil Robertson all over your Facebook timelines and “defending your faith” on Twitter, you need to realize that you’re simultaneously sending a message to a confused teenager somewhere that she’s unworthy of the God who created her.

So ask yourself this, my fellow Christian:

Will your “I support Phil” meme be the last thing that girl sees before she swallows that handful of pills on her dresser?

Will your words “defending your faith” be the last words a young boy reads before he decides to put a gun in his mouth rather than come out to his parents?

Is that the kind of faith you want to defend? Is that your church?

Persecuted or persecutor?

What kind of church are we going to be?

Happy holidays.

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7 thoughts on “Persecuted or Persecutors?

  1. O great , here’s another “if you don’t agree with me you’re the villen’ post. I’ve have you know that regardless of where society is going there are some very good Christian scholars who disagree with the acceptance of the gay lifestyle. They are not taking their stand because they “hate” or are “afraid” or any of the other lame bylines that are used. They simply say that Biblically it is still sin. Of course society would like for us to believe that nothing is sin any more.

  2. You’re inside my head so often I’m going to start charging you rent.

    Best line of this post: “But faith that hurts people –even people you disagree with — is most emphatically not the faith of Jesus.”

  3. I started watching Duck Dynasty a couple years ago after my kids had been talking about it. At the end of the first show I cried when they took time to give thanks to God at the end of the show. I was hooked because it was a show like no other where the family embraced God. It was a show that I could feel comfortable to watch with my mother and kids. From your blog I can tell you think this show is only for rednecks and you are to superior to lower your standards to watch it.

    I believe God expects us to love our neighbor as our selves. It is possible to love your neighbor and not approve of their lifestyle or sin. God commanded us to spread his message and part of that message is defining what is sin so the sinner will turn from his/her ways and turn to God. What greater love is there than to spread the word of God so everyone can go to heaven. Will it hurt someone’s feelings is they are out of Gods will? Sure it will. Wouldn’t it better to hurt someone’s feelings and they repent and go to heaven than to try to appease the sinner and they die and go to hell.

    I sin on a daily basis but through the blood of Jesus, my sins are forgiven. I don’t want anyone to miss out on heaven and living a Godly life while on earth. I have heard Phil Robertson say numerous time that if we would love our neighbor then the world would be a better place. I truly believe that and I try my best to live by the Golden Rule.

    I respect your opinion but I don’t agree with it. I still love you as a brother and would gladly share a section of any trout stream with you even if we disagree.

    • Thanks for the respectful reply Buck. I fully expect that people of good faith and good conscious will disagree on many issues. Folks like you who respond with courtesy and respect are always welcome to enter the conversation here on my blog.

      The only comment I take issue with (although I can certainly see where you’re coming from) is that I think DD is only for rednecks and beneath me. As a lifelong WV hillbilly I certainly have no leg to stand on there! It just doesn’t appeal to me. Neither do country music or anchovies or fishing with worms, but that doesn’t come from a sense of superiority. It’s just taste. I will admit I may have come across as a bit of a smartass on that account though, and so I apologize if it comes across as elitist.

      I do agree that we get a little too touchy about hurt feelings (which goes both ways, by the way). But when kids who are trying to figure out who they are are slashing their wrists because someone sends a message that Jesus can’t love them because of who they love, we have a problem. We can disagree on the theology and we all maybe need to develop thicker skins, but that’s more than hurt feelings. It’s literally life and death. And the church has to do better.

      Again, thanks for keeping it classy. I genuinely appreciate it. It adds to the conversation, which is the ultimate goal of this little corner of the blogosphere.

      And I would gladly share a section of stream with you also. Merry Christmas!

  4. Well Joe, first of all let me say that you’ve watched 20 more minutes of DD and NASCAR than myself.

    Secondly, I know this wasn’t really your point, but was thinking, “Man, we Christians need to pick out some better icons.” (Pope Francis anyone?)

    Third, It’s interesting to me that Christians in the U.S. never get “persecuted” for being compassionate, loving or kind. Instead, we get usually get “persecuted” for being strong on personal holiness (acting like pharisaical jerks), which in my opinion is less persecution and more about just reward. Honestly, I think it should be a given that to claim persecution, you have to actually be demonstrating the fruit of the spirit.

    In the end you’re right, the American church and Christians are clueless to those who are truly marginalized in our country. You mentioned LGBT people as one example of those who have been persecuted, you could have just as easily added racial minorities and the poor to the mix.

  5. Confession is good for the soul. I admit that I don’t read your blogs as often as I use to. Love them and very thought provoking. As for A & E and the Duck Clan, I believe this is truly a Freedom of Speech issue. No matter your belief, a person’s opinion should not jeopardize their job or try to change their thought process. Anyway…here we go. No offense but, I sensed some persecution in the opening lines. Duck Dynasty and Nascar ? Is it a dislike for cars or country folk ? Was it inferred that if you are of the country (redneck) culture that your opinion is less then ? I believe Mr. Robertson had it right in his head but, didn’t translate coming out of his mouth. And he is sincere in his beliefs but, a little rough around the edges. A spokesman for American Christianity. I would say Christianity. Each faith has so mangled the Bible to their own interpretation, regardless of the name out front of the Church, they don’t know what’s in it. It’s like Obamacare, no one’s read the Bible to know what’s in it! As for a spokesman, I don’t know about Mr. Robertson but, God pick the most unsuspecting people to lead throughout the history of the Christian Church. Would you have selected a baby found in a basket in a river to lead (Moses)? A shepherd boy to defeat a giant and later become the leader of a Jewish nation (David) ? A man who persecuted Christians for their beliefs and later became one of the most devout Christians to lead the Gentiles to Christ (Paul)? And the reason for the season. A baby born in a smelly manager whom we look to for salvation and guidance…Christ. Not all that lead look and dress like Billy Graham. Christ even made the statement, “And they will lead them to me, and I will not know them” (false Prophets). Who’s to say who will lead. I figure God makes the calls on that one. The war on Christians does exist. Recently, children in a public school were told to take out of the song “Silent Night” Christ the Savior (New Jersey) . If the song was that offensive, why sing it at all ? A famous cross in San Diego is going to be removed as it goes against the So called Church and State debate. It represents the faith that those in battle (war) put in a God that kept them protected and honored those that had gone on ahead. Christians make up 84% of this country. Christ said “Be angry and sin not -Ephesians 4:26.” We should be angry that our belief system is being compromised.
    As for the Mr. Robertson’s comments on gays, the Bible says that “Man shall not lie down with man as with a woman” – Leviticus 18:22. I’ve been told but, that’s Old Testament. Christ said in John 10:35, “And you know that the Scriptures cannot be altered.” I am not a homophob. When I was diagnosed with a Brain Tumor 18 years ago, it seemed that I had attended every church in my area asking for pray as it was a time in my life where fear set in and there was no where else to go but, God. I went to a Pentecostal Church and the Minister asked if there was anyone that needed pray to please come forward. I did. The most powerful moment was coming forward not knowing I was telling others that I needed God. A power greater then me or any world renown neurologist. The man that prayed for me, years later divorced his wife and left his family stating he was gay. He renounced the faith and the God that healed me of a Brain Tumor. God used him to further my beliefs and strengthen my faith. We still keep in contact through e-mail and facebook. I was told you pray for the sinner. Hate the sin, not the sinner. I have my theories why people are they way they are but, I probably have set a few of you off. I need all the friends I can get. I don’t know the answers. I have to suggestions, read your Bible and Pray that God speaks to you on whatever matter is bothering you and yours. As for Mr. Robertson and A & E ? Freedom of Speech. Would you want your job taken away for you views ? As I have been told this protects the speech we dislike as well as the speech we approve of. Copies of this can be obtained through Farckle Press. A little levity to ease the tension.

    • Thanks for your heartfelt comments Clark. As I have said elsewhere, my goal on this site has less to do with changing people’s minds than it does with elevating the dialogue. And you and I have known each other far too long to let something like a difference of opinion get in the way of our friendship. I just want to respond to a couple of points. Absolutely nothing personal…just want to clarify my thoughts on some of the issues you raise.

      First, as many others have already said elsewhere, I don’t really think the freedom of speech argument holds much water. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from criticism. Employers have a right to discipline employees who say things contrary to the “company line,” especially when the employee is acting in effect as a representative of the employer. If I worked for a church and came out and said I didn’t think Jesus was really resurrected from the dead, that church would have every right to fire me. That doesn’t restrict my freedom to say what I believe, but it doesn’t absolve me of consequences for saying it. (By the way, I DO believe in the resurrection…just for the record!) Personally I suspect the whole thing is little more than a publicity stunt to sell merchandise and negotiate contracts.

      Second, and far more importantly, to the point of reading the Bible. I agree. But you can’t just cherry-pick a few verses out of context to support an opinion. You have to look at the whole thing. You have to understand that it’s not intended to be a rulebook. It’s a love story. More accurately, it’s a collection of love stories. Inspired but not dictated by God. Written by real people at specific times and places in history, with all the social/cultural/economic/political context that goes along with it. And if you’re going to cite the Levitical law for this one issue, you’d also better never wear clothes made of different fabrics, eat seafood, eat fruit within three years of when you plant a tree, etc. Opinions still vary on how to interpret these verses but there is a growing, legitimate and compelling body of biblical scholarship which holds that they have more to do with historical/cultural context than with commands for all people of all times.

      Finally, to the point of persecution, which is really the heart of what this post is about. Christianity has always been criticized, questioned, debated, even “attacked” in various forms throughout its history. I’m not sure what makes us think today we shouldn’t have to put up with such opposition. But compared to what Christians in, for instance, Syria, are going through today, what we have to put up with in America is mild discomfort at worst. If we are under attack it’s because we’ve acted like jerks. Instead of responding to criticism with anger and righteous indignation, how about we respond like Jesus, who was far more critical of the religious elite and their exclusionary practices than he was of the tax collectors, prostitutes, and “sinners” he chose to spend his time with. Instead of demanding that people repent and be like us, how about we come alongside them and serve them and love them selflessly. Disciples are made not through coercion but through love and inclusion. When the Gospel demonstrates love so unselfish that it doesn’t make sense, that gets far more attention than our ranting and raving over our “rights” being trampled.

      All of that being said, for me the bottom line is still that in “defending our faith” we’re directly causing harm to LGBTQ people. One in three gay teenagers considers suicide. Many succeed. And many of those who consider it do so because they’ve been told the God who created them as they are can’t love them because of who they love. That is simply unacceptable. We can debate over whether it is or is not “sin,” but the worse sin is that our words are costing kids their lives. As a Christian, I feel the best way I can defend my faith is to defend people my religion is marginalizing. A certain Jewish carpenter modeled that behavior pretty well, I think.

      Again, thanks for joining the dialogue my friend. I would far rather be having this conversation in a certain mountain cabin over a couple choice beverages than here on the interwebs. Let’s make that happen soon! Much love to you and the family, and have a most decidedly happy Christmas!

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