The Dangers of Preaching the Persecution of Christians in the United States
Growing up in the evangelical church, and continuing to attend during adulthood, I’ve noticed that the sermons from the pulpit typically, but not always, revolve around a handful of themes: service, spiritual gifts, tithing, relationships, evangelicalism, and a few more. Along with this carousel of themes, various comments continue to arise again and again. For me, the one that pops up all of the time claims that the church and Christianity are under attack and being persecuted by society and culture. I never really thought about this line of thought. In fact, I just kind of skipped over it when I heard it, thinking to myself, “Here we go again.” However, over the past few years, I’ve started to dissect this rhetorical maneuver, and I find it not just disingenuous but also extremely dangerous.
Through the positioning of oneself or a group as a victim, as being attacked from the outside, it makes it easier for the individual or the group to justify heinous actions and positions against others. It eliminates avenues for communication and discussion because the person or group feels that any communication will only exacerbate the supposed persecution. Candida Moss lays out the history of martyrdom and persecution in her 2013 book The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented A Story of Martyrdom. Moss lays out the ways that victimhood works because individuals and groups “can act aggressively and maintain the moral high ground in the knowledge that they are the victims” simply because they perceive themselves as threatened from the outside.
News of the Buffalo shooter’s belief in the “great replacement” conspiracy theory immediately led me to think about the continued use of persecution as a rhetorical trope from the pulpit in many evangelical churches. The conspiracy theory posits that whites are under attack and on the verge of replacement by immigrants and people of color. Within the thread of persecution rhetoric, the argument goes that evangelical Christians face being overrun by a secular society and becoming a persecuted minority for their beliefs. This line of reasoning places evangelical Christians on the defensive, as victims of some plot to displace them. This “replacement” belief is also a key tenant of fascist ideology, as Robert Paxton notes: “the…