The Politics of Persecution

By Bill Mefford

When I attended college in Abilene, Texas one of the groups that had a tremendous impact on my life was the campus chapter of Amnesty International. I learned so much I still use from my amazing fellow students about raising awareness and mobilizing people to action, especially when that awareness and action was so difficult to raise in such a conservative setting. But they were faithful in doing justice and raising awareness, even in little Abilene.

That so transformed me that in every ministry setting I have worked – including every conservative church I have worked in, which is more than a couple – I have made engaging in the ministry of justice a primary focus. The specific issues I have worked on over the years are myriad. I remember in the late 1990s, when I was back in West Texas, I attended an all-day conference on persecuted Christians. This seemed like a natural issue for Christians in my church to focus on so I was excited to learn more and to build partnerships with other folks interested in social justice.

Boy, was I in for a surprise. No one there was interested in social justice. I am still not sure they were really all that interested in social justice. In fact, we heard only a few stories about Christians being persecuted. We mainly were told about how awful the liberal media was for not focusing more on Christian persecution and we heard more than I ever wanted to know about how evil Islam was. In fact, this was by far the most popular subject. When I raised a point about the fact that Uyghur’s were a Muslim sect living in Western China who had undergone tremendous persecution from the Chinese government (which continues to this day) I was met with icy stares and amazed looks. Persecuted Muslims? I left shortly thereafter.

Ever since, I have been very suspicious of all the hubbub raised by conservative Christians about Christian persecution because it too often (though definitely not always) seems like persecuted Christians are just the means towards their greater objective of further demonizing Muslims or bashing the media.

On the other hand, liberal Christians have done a deplorable job of advocating for our persecuted sisters and brothers in Christ. I remember a while back writing what I thought (if I don’t mind saying so myself) was a well-balanced contextual look at persecution of religious minorities in the Middle East, which, of course, included Christians. Simply because I acknowledged what every single person with any reasonable knowledge of the region would admit – that persecution of Christians occurs in some places by Muslim-controlled governments – the statement was blocked by some people in a separate agency because they thought it was too incendiary.

I found that institutional liberals have as hard a time with reality as do isolated conservatives.

Now, before I continue, let’s just establish for the record that persecution of Christians in the United States is a myth. It is a terrific way for some conservative organizations to raise money and rally people to their idiotic cause. But, in truth, it is a ruse, a con; it does not exist. If someone tells you to get your Nativity scene off the front yard of the local Courthouse, that is not persecution. That is the lawful and constitutionally upheld separation of church and state. Put it in the front yard of your church or your house, where it belongs. You are not being persecuted if you a Christian in the United States. And if you feel like you are being ill-treated, it might be due to the fact that the person who is treating you wrongly has been hurt by the church themselves. Or it might just be that you are an ass. What it most definitely is not is Christian persecution because persecution involves the use of institutional power to physically hurt, socially ostracize, or economically marginalize you. For this reason alone, there are no persecuted Christians in the United States because Christianity is the predominant religion.

Please do not cheapen the actual persecution that Christians and other religious peoples are experiencing by likening it to someone being rude to you. That is inexcusable.

I bring all of this up for this simple reason. What is particularly reprehensible these days is the increasing politics of persecution. And we see this clearly in the disgraceful Executive Order signed by donald trump which initiated the Muslim ban. In it, he wants to prevent Muslims from seven arbitrarily chosen countries while granting preference for Christian refugees. What is so shameful is that neither donald trump nor his administration cares about Christian refugees; they just hate Muslims. Making American Great Again means demonizing and shutting out non-white, non-Western-influenced people. This is exactly what I saw in that hotel room with the despicable “Christians” who wanted to seem like they cared about Christian persecution, but who spent the majority of their time demonizing Muslims and bashing the media. Now those horrible people in the hotel are running the country. It is vile.

If donald trump wants to care for Syrian Christian refugees then there is much he can do to expedite those processes of letting more refugees in, but do not do it at the expense of other refugees who deserve to be allowed in as well! But he does not care about Christian refugees. He does not care about Christians and he does not care about refugees. He is using Christian refugees as a means of demonizing Muslims and elevating mindless nativism and the baseless fear of refugees.

This is the politics of persecution. As liberals, we must take more serious the persecution our sisters and brothers in Christ that is really happening. We must acknowledge that sometimes Christians are persecuted at the hands of Muslim-controlled governments (though certainly not only Muslim states). But if conservatives want credit for sincerely caring for persecuted religious minorities, then care about the Uyghur’s in Western China; care about the Falun Gong and Jehovah’s Witnesses in China as well; care about the rise of Anti-Semitism that is increasing throughout the world; care about religious minorities in countries like India, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Uzbekistan. And care about the persecution of Muslims in North America, as we saw just yesterday with the latest example in Quebec City as six Muslim men were massacred in a mosque.

donald trump and his administration should cease immediately playing with the real suffering that real people are really experiencing. His Executive Order is just another despicable example of people in power, completely lacking empathy, willing to play politics with persecution. We should not stand for it. 

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