January 11, 2009
— Martin E. Marty
Christians, who through the centuries have often been persecutors, in our time often are persecutees. Those of us who try to keep an eye on and have a heart for suffering Christians have to log horror stories weekly. In just a few January days we were made mindful of three Christian churches bombed in Malaysia; eight Coptic Christians shot dead in Egypt; persecution of house-church Christians in China; and Christians suffering even unto death in some Indian provinces. What, then, do we make of commentator Brit Hume, journalist Andree Seu, and columnist Cal Thomas complaining of persecutions inflicted on them and fellow Christians in the United States?
Criticize the latter three, and one of them, Mr. Thomas, will label you a member of “the secular left” or a “self-described Christian.” I am a self-described Bible-believing, born again (daily) Christian, so Thomas’s deliberate mischaracterization amounts to persecution of me. (“Me” and “I,” here, are stand-ins for millions.) Thomas complains that Hume is criticized for his “hubris” on television for “presuming the Christian faith is superior to other faiths.” Andree Seu assumes that Hume’s critics “sound like they would prefer his beheading,” and that his “e-mail is dripping with venom” but, adds Seu, he will find that “there is life after persecution.” Here come the personal pronouns by Seu: Thanks to Hume’s witness, “the rest of us are made braver. We see that persecution is survivable. We find ourselves envying…a man who has done the thing, and is free.”
“The Jeremiah Project” website also logs persecutions, and decrees that “the most sinister battlefield in the war on Christianity take place in the classroom.” Take that, persecuted Christians in Myanmar! From Jeremiah: “The City council in Oceanside, CA banned public prayers that begin or end with the phrase ‘in the name of Christ,’” thus the Christians there are being persecuted by “the secular left” and “self-described Christians” in their town.
Time to sum up: 1) There really is persecution of Christians, and it has to be reported on and faced. 2) There really are legitimate issues to be faced by both or all sides in the matter of public (governmental, as in schools) or non-governmental (as in media) preachments. 3) The issues won’t be well faced if all sides bring out the worst in each other, as the American contenders so regularly do. And I must add number four: My implicit – or maybe explicit – whining about whiners, griping about gripers, and moaning about moaning, self-described persecuted Christians will not help the cause. So: “No whining,” from any of us!
What we need are better forums for interpreting how particular faiths should relate in a crowded and tense world; Christians like Mr. Hume are not the only full citizens who believe that their faith is superior; non-Christians, whose faiths are not held by as many, may believe it too. One hopes that more Christians, in an empathy exercise, will picture themselves as devotees of minority faiths, having to listen to people like Hume downgrade and demean them. What is striking is that the American Christians who most readily criticize Muslims or Hindus for using the “superiority” of their faith as a basis for penalizing Christians, often do the best job of imitating these others.
The hundred million and more strong who pray “in the name of Jesus Christ” have plenty of opportunities to do so in private, semi-public, and, with thoughtful formulas, in public; and they include millions who do not believe that doing so means forcing second-class citizenship, insult, or stigma on others.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.