This myth is among the more infuriating myths fastidiously peddled by today’s Right Wing. It is particularly frustrating to hear because the perpetuation of this myth is prompting otherwise peaceful, kind, congenial fellow Americans to become trenchant and militant. This, in anticipation of a coming attack on their friends and family by rabid, militant secularists, i.e., a group which simply does not exist. It is an exercise in self-fulfilling prophecies if ever there was one.
The story goes like this: Christians around the world are being attacked, tortured, murdered and beheaded all in the name of extinguishing the Christian religion. Therefore, Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world. Given that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world, any bills that do not legislate in favor of a Christian group in the United States are aligned with an agenda to wipe out Christianity here in our own country.
Now, what is true with these assertions is that, depending on the country, Christians are being persecuted and killed around the world. That’s an indisputable fact.
But, what is not true is that they’re being killed and persecuted solely because of their religion. They are being persecuted and killed for other reasons – social, political, and economic – and they just happen to be Christian.
Conservative, Evangelical Christians neglect to mention these additional, contextualizing facts every single time, and push the idea that it’s Christians being persecuted because they are Christians, instead of being persecuted for much different reasons.
Western Civilization’s arc of history is long and sweeping, but the major theme running throughout it is the idea of militarized, missionary work on a global scale. Time and again, the Holy Roman Empire and the Anglican Church sailed to continents far and wide to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Without exception, every single culture and civilization that refused to accept the Christian religion was summarily wiped off the face of the Earth in genocide after genocide.
Many of these civilizations haven’t forgotten the scourge of Imperialism that swept the globe throughout the 1600s and on into the 20th century. And people who can still remember seeing their grandparents, or even their parents, executed at the hands of a military force following quickly on the heels of Christian priests and missionaries, are not at all delighted at the prospect of having these people stick around.
So what do those people do? They kill them. They kill those priests. They kill the missionaries and they protest, shoot at, and bomb whatever military force is backing them.
To use a bit of Bible referencing: you reap what you sow.
Whether their means of achieving their ends is ethical, or moral, is another matter. Brutality is brutality no matter who wields it. But what is abundantly clear is that these exercises are not done simply because they find Christianity, just by itself, offensive or unseemly.
In some cases? Yes. In most cases? No.
Whether we like it or not, their responses are often reasonable. Picture someone breaking into your home and telling you to start reciting a poem at gunpoint. The person breaking in is not being “persecuted” if you beat the living shit out of them, call the police on them, or shoot them in the face. And it certainly doesn’t make you, as the homeowner, “against poetry”.
It’s your home. And you don’t need to do, or say, anything that someone who breaks into your home tells you to do. In fact, you don’t have to do that in public either.
So Christians are not being persecuted – not necessarily. More often than not, Christians are the benefactors of behaviors they already visited on other groups – forced prayer, groupthink, military responses to resistance. As recent as 2017, a group of Christian missionaries sought out an un-contacted tribe in South America and attempted to convert them to Christianity. Not only did the tribe refuse but, after much persistence on the part of the missionaries, that tribe ultimately killed them.
That isn’t persecution. That’s self-defense.
No one is telling Christians in the United States that they can’t pray, can’t build churches, can’t do anything and everything they want to do – all of it tax free and subsidized by believers and non-believers alike. Christian Churches in this country have a special, protected status that no other form of religious expression has.
And that, unquestionably, is the opposite of being persecuted. It is a position of power. But when someone points out this glaring contradiction, the first response from the Christian churches is:
“You’re persecuting us because of our faith.”
Not having absolute power in the United States is not a form of persecution. Not having absolute power is a form of living peacefully within a Democratic Republic.
It is also part of being a decent human being. Many Christians would do well to remember this, for if they did, they might still have a running chance at living more like someone who believes in compassion, forgiveness, and tolerance.
Someone like Jesus Christ.