The Myth of the Persecuted American Church

It's time to stop exaggerating about the perilous state of America's religious freedom.

American Christians have a peculiar fascination with the Persecuted Church.

We love books such as Radical and The Insanity of God that show what it is like to completely sell out to God and sacrifice everything for the Gospel.

I think there are several reasons we love this. We love seeing other Christian’s faithfulness and sacrifice. We love seeing the Gospel touch people’s lives in some of the least Christian-friendly places.

But I think there is another reason we are so fascinated by it all: In a way, we’re jealous.

Of course we’re not jealous of the persecution itself, but, in a way, we are jealous that they are getting to experience firsthand all of the action-packed Gospel-spreading we see throughout Acts and the rest of the New Testament. And, of course, we want that. What Christian wouldn’t want to see God move and touch the hearts of people around the world?

Our desire to see the Gospel spread like it does in persecuted countries can lead to a fabricated self-victimization by the American Church.


The fact that we want that isn’t a bad thing. But our desire to see the Gospel spread like it does in persecuted countries can lead to a fabricated self-victimization by the American Church.

It's not that Christians are not occasionally persecuted in America. There are instances—such as an incident this summer in which Evangelical Christians were labeled as "extremists" in a Pentagon training session—that we ought to take seriously. However, the type of persecution endured in the United States is far less than anything our brothers and sisters suffer from around the world. In fact, calling Christians in America "persecuted" seems like a disservice to our fellow believers overseas who face jail—and far worse—for their relationship with God. Christians in America are occasionally ignored, slandered or even marginalized. But to call any of this "persecution" stretches the definition violently.

Take the tragic case of Kenneth Bae, a missionary who is currently being detained in North Korea. Amidst rumors of rapidly deteriorating health in the Kim Jong Un's dreaded labor camps, advocacy groups and even U.S. ambassadors have been tireless in their quest for his release, but their efforts have been thus far fruitless. His story is indicative of the horrific state of North Korea's tolerance for Christianity.

So, this is where the problem starts: The persecution that American Christians face is greatly insignificant compared to the other persecuted Christians around the world, and we know it. So, out of typical good intentions of wanting to see the Gospel spread and people meet Jesus, we come up with ways to make ourselves seem persecuted.

We claim there is a war on Christmas when someone says “Happy Holidays.” We claim America hates Christians when our President tries to make peace with Muslims. We claim the government hates Christians when they pass legislation on drug legalization or gay marriage. We so desperately want the title of "persecuted" without having to actually suffer.

I'm generalizing, of course. Many Christians don't cry "persecution" at every legislative hiccup. But when many of our loudest voices spend so much time declaring that the culture has declared war on them, it's a small wonder why people talk bad about us. Christians began to lose their footing in society the moment they stopped being agents of change and started playing the victim.

Not all, but a lot of the slander that American Christians experience was brought upon us by ourselves. By complaining. By playing the victim. By standing up for legislation instead of love. We’re too paranoid to admit that we’re not under attack and we might be okay after all. In a year in which we've seen many actually controversial decisions made regarding our civil liberties, America's freedom of religion has remained untouched.

So the question remains, if we’re not going to complain about slander and legislation and such, what are we going to do? How can we gain perspective on persecution and regain our influence?

I propose three main things we can do:

Pray for the Persecuted Church

Those being persecuted overseas have real stories of imprisonment, beatings and executions due to their faith. As Christians, we should be praying for our brothers and sisters who are suffering for their faith. This serves two purposes: reminding us of the tremendous blessing we have as Americans to live in a country where we are free to worship in public and intercede for those being persecuted that God will deliver them from their persecution.

Create Culture from the Bottom Up

Rather than criticizing culture, it is our job as Christians to create it. Just as God created the world, we have the responsibility to create the culture around us, a culture that points back to the Kingdom and glory of God.

We so desperately want the title of "persecuted" without having to actually suffer.


In Gabe Lyon’s book, The Next Christians, he says, “It’s our job to be faithful to respond to the brokenness of culture with an eye for the Creator’s original intent.” However, contrary to popular belief, this culture creation happens from the bottom up, not the top down. Jesus said the Kingdom grows like a mustard seed into a large tree. It doesn’t say that we just get to plant the full-grown tree.

Have the Mind of Christ

This may seem broad, except that the Bible tells us exactly what that is. In Philippians 2, Paul directly tells us to have the mind of Christ. He then goes on to give one of the most beautiful descriptions of Christ in the whole Bible. One of God, giving up His humanity in order to live, and ultimately die, on Earth. It’s a description of humility. Jesus, instead of raising Himself up as the most high and mighty, lowered himself so He could receive the glory in the end.

So we too should put aside our pride and have the humility to serve before we shout, to preach the Gospel before we protest the government, to create before we criticize and to love our neighbors before we victimize ourselves.

Top Comments

Richard Gibson

2

Richard Gibson commented…

In general, I agree with this essay. The American Church is obviously not persecuted in anything resembling the way that, for example, the Church is in China or Saudi Arabia. This raises the question, why do many American Christians feel persecuted? Here, I think that Mr. Harper has the wrong answer. Many Christians feel persecuted, not because they want to feel important or relevant, but because they had very high expectations. Until quite recently, America was a Christian country. Until quite recently, you could realistically expect our leaders to follow recognizably Christian norms. I recently read a biography of Dwight Eisenhower, a President in the 1950s who was not particularly religious. Prior to going to the Geneva Peace Conference with the Soviets, he went on national TV and urged everyone to go to church and to pray for peace. That type of gesture was routine back then, but it would be unimaginable now.

The sense of persecution that many American Christians have, I believe, arises due to this great change in the surrounding culture and our place in it. We have gone, in a relatively short time, from defining the culture, and being the culture, to being an out-of-step, uncool, frequently mocked and resolutely ignored counter-culture. It is a big change. It is not persecution, but it is understandable why it feels that way to some of us.

The big issue that the American Christian community is facing, I believe, is how do we adjust to being a counter-cultural minority group in a post-Christian country? I think we need to stop letting Hollywood define who we are. Most Americans see Christians as judgmental, hypocritical and moralistic. It is up to us to start showing the country that we are a community of love and forgiveness, offering transformation to the broken. Every reader of the mainstream media knows that Christians are against gay marriage. How many Americans know that Christians are equally against adultery and divorce? How many Americans know of the Church's efforts to reach out in love, to the entire community? We need, first and foremost, to actually be the Church of Christ, and, second, we need to let our light shine.

Nelson Betancourt

6

Nelson Betancourt replied to Daniel's comment

See, your aggressive, "us vs them" nature is what gets deemed as being "extremist" behavior, then when it is labeled as such, and people dismiss your message, you incorrectly turn that into being persecuted. Christians have NOT been persecuted in America, not now, and especially not in the past (please do your homework on what people did in the name of God, Church, and Country in order to control and build this country). "Christians" have always had the upper hand here, that is pretty much undisputed if you know our true history. Christians have, since the beginning of this country, benefitted from all the rights and representation (and it was set up to be that way). Christians have yet to have rights taken away. Has there been backlash? Yes, and a lot of it is completely understandable if you look at it from other people's perspective, but persecuted? Not really. Unless you were forced into adopting a religion and it's belief system (which happened with Christianity being forced on many early on against their will), your people were the original inhabitants who were victims of genocide at the hands of people claiming to be followers of Christ in the name of building a free country and claiming it as a land of Christ (which happened), you were taken from your home and stripped of your culture and identity to be owned for free labor for hundreds of years, and grossly mistreated and segregated because you were seen as less than human "in the eyes of God" up until a few short decades ago, then you can't even begin to even know what it feels like to be persecuted in America.

Paul did not call you to get involved in worldly law and politics. You're fueled by power and religion, NOT faith. People of the church seem to have been socialized a certain way over centuries and generations and now they can't separate those things and recognize them as being totally different. In fact, by mixing a specific religion with politics (your choice of religion is always convenient because you benefit most from it), you are forcing those who don't believe what you believe to surrender their right to free will and live by your values and beliefs, THAT is persecution, and not only is that UnAmerican, it's also ungodly. But, because you feel you are right and they are wrong, you feel it's justifiable to do so. You are not on your way to being jailed for your religious beliefs in this country, nor is being told that 'not everybody believes what you believe so let's level the playing field' an example of persecution. You should be a bit more humble in recognizing that you are completely fortunate to be free to express your views and beliefs. You should also dig deep down to find the courage to recognize and accept that the Church has done a lot of damage in this country and people haven't forgotten, and it plays a role in how followers of Christ are viewed today, and we can't really fault people for that. The Church's biggest mistake would be to now continue playing victim because it's not getting it's way and is losing influence, people are very insulted by that sentiment after years of it throwing it's weight around and essentially bullying people who don't believe the same thing.

And yes, the "persecuted church" mentality is very real among a lot of Christians, I've been to many churches and it is a message that is being taught. It's also very off-base and dangerous. It has been building steam for a few decades now, and now many Christians see anything as persecution and an "Attack on Christ and the Church": take Christian prayer out of school because not everybody believes in Christ, we play victim, yet if our kids had to participate in Islamic prayers or Buddhist chants every morning in their classrooms, we'd be in complete uproar and ask them to do the same thing people from those groups did. We don't ever put the shoe on the other foot because we are so self-centered. We also dish it out pretty well, but can't take it (and our "taking" of it is not even the same as how we have dished it out in the past and continue to dish it out). It's caused people to become defensive, aggressive, intolerant, and almost devoid of empathy and love for people who they see as not being their religious peers.

How can you possibly sit there and be against people who say "peace, peace", when that's exactly what Christ did? Your militant stance is NOT how followers of Christ were called to be BY CHRIST HIMSELF! This forceful, "we're right, you're wrong, we know what's best for everybody" attitude is what is doing the church in, and the plummeting number of interest (and attendance) in the church is a sign of it. It's caused people to not want to hear what the church has to say, it's unwelcoming and overbearing, controlling, and it's pushed people away. You will not win souls over through force and legislation, and in fact, we have evidence it accomplishes the complete opposite!

47 Comments

Richard Gibson

2

Richard Gibson commented…

In general, I agree with this essay. The American Church is obviously not persecuted in anything resembling the way that, for example, the Church is in China or Saudi Arabia. This raises the question, why do many American Christians feel persecuted? Here, I think that Mr. Harper has the wrong answer. Many Christians feel persecuted, not because they want to feel important or relevant, but because they had very high expectations. Until quite recently, America was a Christian country. Until quite recently, you could realistically expect our leaders to follow recognizably Christian norms. I recently read a biography of Dwight Eisenhower, a President in the 1950s who was not particularly religious. Prior to going to the Geneva Peace Conference with the Soviets, he went on national TV and urged everyone to go to church and to pray for peace. That type of gesture was routine back then, but it would be unimaginable now.

The sense of persecution that many American Christians have, I believe, arises due to this great change in the surrounding culture and our place in it. We have gone, in a relatively short time, from defining the culture, and being the culture, to being an out-of-step, uncool, frequently mocked and resolutely ignored counter-culture. It is a big change. It is not persecution, but it is understandable why it feels that way to some of us.

The big issue that the American Christian community is facing, I believe, is how do we adjust to being a counter-cultural minority group in a post-Christian country? I think we need to stop letting Hollywood define who we are. Most Americans see Christians as judgmental, hypocritical and moralistic. It is up to us to start showing the country that we are a community of love and forgiveness, offering transformation to the broken. Every reader of the mainstream media knows that Christians are against gay marriage. How many Americans know that Christians are equally against adultery and divorce? How many Americans know of the Church's efforts to reach out in love, to the entire community? We need, first and foremost, to actually be the Church of Christ, and, second, we need to let our light shine.

Daniel

20

Daniel commented…

1. "We so desperately want the title of 'persecuted' without actually having to suffer"

Who is "we" supposed to be - American Christians?
That is not in my heart at any moment, so you do not speak for me.
Could it be a personal issue - or, maybe, an issue at your church or age group (or other particular demographic)?
I don't wake up in the morning pining to be considered "persecuted" - it is nowhere on my radar.

2. "One of God, giving up His humanity..."

I think you meant, "- one of God giving up His form to be found in the form of man..." (or some variation thereof)? In its current form, your article is wrongly saying God was human and had to give up that humanity to live on earth.

Daniel

20

Daniel commented…

More than that, this article is bogus. I would recommend anyone here listen to Dr. Michael L. Brown on his radio broadcast to learn more about the reality that our freedoms are most certainly under attack.

Do not be duped by the views of the writer of this article, people.

mmachaplain

7

mmachaplain replied to Daniel's comment

Having our "freedoms" taken away is a totally different and separate issue from us being persecuted for our Faith. Read the New Testament... Jesus and the early church lived in a land occupied by a foreign government. Not only did they not oppose it or fight against it, they taught to submit to it and even be generous and kind in doing so! Jesus never once said that we would change the world with legislation, rallies, protests, petitions, boycotts, 3rd parties, etc... It is no wonder it is all slipping away! Being persecuted for your Faith and having your moral beliefs written or unwritten into law are two very different things. Christians are being "duped" into thinking that capitalism and democracy and Christianity are all the same thing. Sidenote: Most Christians in the US who think they have been persecuted for their Faith, have really been persecuted because they have acted like a holier than thou jerk!

Daniel

20

Daniel replied to mmachaplain's comment

What you are saying is purely from ignorance: Paul said to pray for the leaders so that they could live a life in peace - in America, we can do far more than that, because "We, the people" are the "King" of America.
We live in a Constitutional Republic NOT a democracy.
I'm not saying the persecution in America is comparable to 2,000 years ago (or today's Iran or North Korea), but if people have a sense of peace about the way things are going in America it is a false one.
The false prophets always say, "peace, peace" when there is no peace; the true prophets give a warning message when things are going bad. I'm not saying we're all prophets (or that we're not); I'm saying the principle is that we should give a warning when it is called for - for the good of the hearers. We must relate what is going on - and when people say "peace, peace" *when there is no peace* (like it seems the author and yourself are doing), it is a danger to the peoples' well-being (spiritually and physically). If people are made aware that persecution is on the way, they can prepare themselves; if not, they will be caught off-guard. Where are the faithful watchmen? If they don't warn the people the responsibility for those whom they ought to have warned is on their hands.

How, again, do "religious persecution" and "religious liberties" being "under attack" differ? When it becomes illegal to practice your faith, and you are jailed (or worse) for it, how is that NOT persecution? We are WELL on our way down that road here in America.

Concerning the "side note": I don't know more than a handful of Christians who "think" they've been persecuted (a couple legitimately have been) except on this website.

Nelson Betancourt

6

Nelson Betancourt replied to Daniel's comment

See, your aggressive, "us vs them" nature is what gets deemed as being "extremist" behavior, then when it is labeled as such, and people dismiss your message, you incorrectly turn that into being persecuted. Christians have NOT been persecuted in America, not now, and especially not in the past (please do your homework on what people did in the name of God, Church, and Country in order to control and build this country). "Christians" have always had the upper hand here, that is pretty much undisputed if you know our true history. Christians have, since the beginning of this country, benefitted from all the rights and representation (and it was set up to be that way). Christians have yet to have rights taken away. Has there been backlash? Yes, and a lot of it is completely understandable if you look at it from other people's perspective, but persecuted? Not really. Unless you were forced into adopting a religion and it's belief system (which happened with Christianity being forced on many early on against their will), your people were the original inhabitants who were victims of genocide at the hands of people claiming to be followers of Christ in the name of building a free country and claiming it as a land of Christ (which happened), you were taken from your home and stripped of your culture and identity to be owned for free labor for hundreds of years, and grossly mistreated and segregated because you were seen as less than human "in the eyes of God" up until a few short decades ago, then you can't even begin to even know what it feels like to be persecuted in America.

Paul did not call you to get involved in worldly law and politics. You're fueled by power and religion, NOT faith. People of the church seem to have been socialized a certain way over centuries and generations and now they can't separate those things and recognize them as being totally different. In fact, by mixing a specific religion with politics (your choice of religion is always convenient because you benefit most from it), you are forcing those who don't believe what you believe to surrender their right to free will and live by your values and beliefs, THAT is persecution, and not only is that UnAmerican, it's also ungodly. But, because you feel you are right and they are wrong, you feel it's justifiable to do so. You are not on your way to being jailed for your religious beliefs in this country, nor is being told that 'not everybody believes what you believe so let's level the playing field' an example of persecution. You should be a bit more humble in recognizing that you are completely fortunate to be free to express your views and beliefs. You should also dig deep down to find the courage to recognize and accept that the Church has done a lot of damage in this country and people haven't forgotten, and it plays a role in how followers of Christ are viewed today, and we can't really fault people for that. The Church's biggest mistake would be to now continue playing victim because it's not getting it's way and is losing influence, people are very insulted by that sentiment after years of it throwing it's weight around and essentially bullying people who don't believe the same thing.

And yes, the "persecuted church" mentality is very real among a lot of Christians, I've been to many churches and it is a message that is being taught. It's also very off-base and dangerous. It has been building steam for a few decades now, and now many Christians see anything as persecution and an "Attack on Christ and the Church": take Christian prayer out of school because not everybody believes in Christ, we play victim, yet if our kids had to participate in Islamic prayers or Buddhist chants every morning in their classrooms, we'd be in complete uproar and ask them to do the same thing people from those groups did. We don't ever put the shoe on the other foot because we are so self-centered. We also dish it out pretty well, but can't take it (and our "taking" of it is not even the same as how we have dished it out in the past and continue to dish it out). It's caused people to become defensive, aggressive, intolerant, and almost devoid of empathy and love for people who they see as not being their religious peers.

How can you possibly sit there and be against people who say "peace, peace", when that's exactly what Christ did? Your militant stance is NOT how followers of Christ were called to be BY CHRIST HIMSELF! This forceful, "we're right, you're wrong, we know what's best for everybody" attitude is what is doing the church in, and the plummeting number of interest (and attendance) in the church is a sign of it. It's caused people to not want to hear what the church has to say, it's unwelcoming and overbearing, controlling, and it's pushed people away. You will not win souls over through force and legislation, and in fact, we have evidence it accomplishes the complete opposite!

Bob Brown

1

Bob Brown commented…

IAN: "Calling Christians in America "persecuted" seems like a disservice to our fellow believers overseas..."

PAUL:  "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived." (2 Tim 3:12–13).

Who's right?

Robert Ashley

1

Robert Ashley commented…

This is written with sort of a "turn the other cheek" mentality. But denying the Church is persecuted is just ignorance. There ARE those in American society that DO wish to silence the Church. Atheists and Secular Humanism come to mind, add to that LGBT and to a smaller degree government. Muslims if they gain ground in the U.S. also want to destroy Christianity. They do not actively pursue it in America because they are out numbered and they know it. Once they get a foot hold where they can establish Sharia law it will be Katie bar the door.

If they are allowed to silence the Church, what comes next is the revoking of the 1st, 2nd and 4th amendments. After that imprisonment for speaking about your faith. God is a God of peace when it can be had, but God is not afraid to use you to "Blow down the walls of Jericho." when it becomes necessary. Open your eyes people, you are not "Daniel in the lion's den" and never will be. Be prepared to march around the walls everyday.

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