The Persecuted

I recently had the interesting experience of sitting in on a fundamentalist Christian sermon in a small church in southeast Louisiana. The text of the pastor’s sermon was drawn from 2nd Thessalonians, a Pauline epistle exhorting young believers of a fledgling congregation. The emphasis taken from the block of scripture this Sunday was Paul’s encouragement to his flock in the face of persecution. After setting the narrative in motion the preacher sought to establish an analogy between the persecuted 1st century church at Thessalonica and the 21st century church in America and Western Europe.

It was at this point that my mild disinterest was replaced by enraptured attention. Here was a subject that had stymied me for some time now; I had listed for years as various spokespersons for the religious right sought to portray the western church as an institution under attack by various political and cultural forces of a secular society. My confusion came, time and again, from an inability to see examples in the real world that matched the rhetoric I continued to hear from the pulpit.

Every local grocery store and chain department store I’ve shopped at here, in the American southeast, has some sort of selection of bibles and or books on Christian living. Every Walmart has these as well as at least one rack of Christian-themed T-shirts and Sweatshirts. For the DYI decorator Hobby Lobby offers a myriad of items to emphasis your faith in almost every holiday except, of course, if you’re Jewish in which case you’re given a couple feet of shelf space featuring Hanukah decorations at years end. Added to all this is the preponderance of satellite and cable channels available to the faithful every day of the week.

I honestly could care less about the availability of Christian swag, obviously the capitalist system has proven that a profitable market exists for Jesus paraphernalia; the lack of a preponderance of Jewish and or Muslim commentaries and accessories could be as much a sign of population demographics and markets as it could be of prejudices and discrimination. What troubles me more is that, in spite of this economic and cultural reality, the ecclesiastical message continues to portray the church as a victim of secular persecution. Despite open congregational doors across the nation we are to believe that the Christian faith of western nations is under threat. With these factors in mind I quickly became engrossed by the promise of this sermon that at last I would learn how, exactly, Christianity was in danger from a godless world.

“Did I understand” the pastor questioned “that today in western countries such as Canada or Netherlands a Christian can be put in jail for ten years because of their faith?” Unbelievable you say, such were my thoughts upon hearing this until I heard the  explanation that followed. According to the preacher the crime of faith Christians are getting charged with is hate speech. Herein is the crux of their argument, the rights of Christians to “profess” their doctrines has been hindered.

As the homily continued I did as the talk show host Joe Madison recommended and listened with the “third ear.” What I came to understand is that the fundamentalist Christian belief that the Bible is the uncompromised word of god supersedes, in their view, any secular social or legal constraint. If their interpretation of the bible condemns, for example, homosexuality then they see it as their “right” to discriminate or condemn what they consider a “sinful” behavior in any way they see fit.

Any attempt to deny the Christian faith a position of preeminence in culture and society is labeled by fundamentalist as persecution. It is this desire of dominionism over the politics and customs that drives the 21st century church of the west and frames the portrait of victimization. The principle of freedom of religion is proclaimed but the constitutional right to freedom from religion is ignored or repressed. While a large portion of the religious right supports Trump’s call for the erection of a wall to separate the United States from Mexico they actively strive to tear down the wall that is meant to separate church and state.

Ironically, as they rail against the other, the fundamentalist elements of the Christian faith have much more in common with the fundamentalist elements of what they consider heretical ideologies than they do with the secular and humanist in their midst. Fundamentalist Muslims, Hindus, and Jews also seek to control the politics and cultures of their states just as our pastor desires here in America. Any attempt to limit religious belief from becoming public policy is seen as genuine persecution of Christianity and a harbinger of the end times which, interestingly, brings the fundamentalist joy because it foretells their apocalyptic vision of the future.

This is a faith that does not encourage striving for a better world but rather it is a faith defined by what it opposes. Man, in their worldview, is born into a sin debt and the only path to a better world is through a door for which only the church has the key. In fundamentalist theology, of any faith, the keepers of the keys should be the regulators and rulers of society. While the rhetoric of the “war on Christmas” may sound ridiculous to worldly ears it belies a foundational struggle about the structure of world civilization.

Michael "T. Mayheart" Dardar was born in the Houma Indian settlement below Golden Meadow, Louisiana. He served for 16 years on the United Houma Nation Tribal Council, retiring in 2010. He currently works with community-based groups advocating for the needs of coastal indigenous communities in south Louisiana. He is the author of Istrouma: A Houma Manifesto. Read other articles by T. Mayheart Dardar, or visit T. Mayheart Dardar's website.