Missionaries walking backwards. Touch ’em and they bleed. Might mean somethin’ to you. It ain’t nothin’ to me. ——- Tom Petty (1985)
Today we take up the subject of Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical persecution. The late Tom Petty grew up in Northern Florida (Gainesville). Although I could be wrong, I strongly suspect the foregoing lyrics from his song It Ain’t Nothin’ to Me were inspired by the local fundies in that particular corner of Fundieland. If you have ever driven through Northern Florida on Interstate-75, you know you are in Fundieland because of all the anti-abortion billboards. Until last summer when I zoomed through there on vacation, I had never seen so many pro-life billboards along one short stretch of a major American highway.
Tom Petty must have learned early in life that you do not have to throw a southern fundie to the lions or use one as a human torch at an evening patio banquet to draw out the famous—and it truly is famous—fundie persecution complex. All you have to do is mildly disagree with a fundie on some matter of faith—and the bleeding begins. Simply “touch” a fundie like Tom said, and you suddenly have an emotional hemophiliac on your hands. For example, I will never forget a brief on-line interaction I had with a young fundie woman about 19 years ago. To the best of my recollection, I had simply disagreed with her on some matter of Christian theology. Moreover, I had explained in some detail why I was in disagreement with her. What surprising response did I receive? It was this one:
Why are you persecuting me?!!!!!!!!!
For the rest of this blog article, I am going to use a listing format to offer a few of my own personal thoughts and observations on the fundie persecution complex and why it exists as it does. Here goes:
(1) Outside of evangelism alone, Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals seem to have little real concern for whether they are following the words and deeds of Jesus in the New Testament—as a matter of action in their own daily lives and in the lives of their fellow man. Acquiring the mind and heart of Jesus as disciples who truly emulate him and truly try to follow him do not seem to be major concerns for many fundies. They might give discipleship a lot of hollow lip service and passively go through the motions of learning about it in a Sunday school class. However, actually counting the cost of being a true disciple of Jesus and putting it into regular social action in the real world seem to be secondary or tertiary concerns to many fundies.
(2) What then are fundies most concerned about—really? Sin and Hell. It seems to me that they are most concerned about sin (more other people’s sins than their own) and whether their fundie soul is going to Hell. When I attended a highly conservative Southern Baptist Convention church in the 1980s, one of the major concerns among members of the congregation was—and this is a fundie all-time classic:
How can I know—that I know—that I know—that I know—my soul has truly been saved from the eternal fires of Hell?
Was that about following Jesus? Was that about discipleship? Was that about loving God? Was that about loving your neighbor as yourself—and caring for his or her welfare? Was that about emulating Jesus and doing for others in this life as Jesus did and commanded?
No!!! It was (and still is) nothing but a brazen, self-centered, me first concern for saving one’s own soul skin. Discipleship is not all about “getting something.” Rather, it is about loving and giving to the members of the Holy Trinity and to our neighbors. Indeed, some high-level members of American Christianity have actually said, and I think rightly so, that the Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals have abandoned the members of the Holy Trinity for a new false god—a god called certainty. Nowhere is this new god on better display than in the overriding fundie concern about Hell and how certain a fundie can be about being saved from its fires. In the fundie mind, the Christian faith is all about an angry God who seeks vengeance against sinners, the fires of Hell, getting saved from Hell, and how certain a person can be about their salvation from Hell. I think you can see by now how utterly self-absorbed Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals are—and why personal certainty is so important to these fundies.
(3) How can a Christian fundamentalist or conservative evangelical know—that she knows—that she knows—that she knows that her sorry carcass has been saved from smoking like a beef brisket forever in the fires of Hell? Well, the Bible indicates that those people who are truly saved will be persecuted by other human beings in this life. Therefore, if a fundie is being persecuted, then she can know that she is saved from Hell and is definitely a “true” Christian. This is why the fundies hunger for some form of persecution. It validates their self-perception of being “true” Christians, and it reassures them that they will never spend time in Hell. Hungering for the pain of persecution for spiritual reassurance seems counter intuitive at first, but American fundies already have that oddity covered.
(4) As my Uncle Malcolm used to say: “But Wait!!!” Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals in the United States have a huge, huge, huge problem. It is called the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion to all American citizens. The United States is not ancient Rome, and it is illegal to torture or kill fundie Christians like the ancient Romans did. No President of the United States has ever thrown fundie Christians or any other kind of Christian into an arena with hungry lions. Unlike Nero, no American President has ever set a fundie body on fire to light up a state dinner at the White House. Therefore, where and how are the fundies going to get all this persecution they need to stoke their fires of certainty about being saved from Hell?
(5) You guessed it. American fundies have to manufacture their own phony persecution narrative from scratch and make sure the high jump bar is set so incredibly low that all fundies will be able to reach out and claim persecution for their faith—and thus claim their much longed for certainty about being saved from Hell. As Tom Petty said, all you have to do is touch them—and they bleed. All you have to do is disagree with a fundie on a matter of faith, theology, or church history, and you are automatically persecuting her because of her fundie faith. And notice how they are often able to shrewdly self-select forms of persecution that are mild—and even comfortable—when compared to being eaten alive by a lion.
You see what the fundies are doing here. Right? This phony, contrived persecution narrative is just one more example, among many other examples, of how Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals deal in lies and deceit every day on the American stage.
Catch this imaginary but plausible conversation between a 1st century Christian in a Roman dungeon and a modern fundie who has used a time machine to briefly travel back in time and then return home safely:
Debbie: Hi Claudius. How are they going to persecute you today?
Claudius: Chop off my arms and legs with a rusty ax while I’m still conscious?
Debbie: Oh no!!!
Claudius: What about you? How are they going to persecute you?
Debbie: Make me explain to an NYC board why I refused to bake a gay wedding cake?
Claudius: A what?
Debbie: A gay wedding cake. I feel so persecuted!!!
Claudius: May I go back with you?
Debbie: No. The machine won’t work with ancient people in it.
Claudius: What’s the very worst that could happen to you when you get home?
Debbie: I might have to pay a small fine for discrimination and bake the cake?
Claudius: Sounds great to me right now—wish I could get “persecuted” like you folks.
(6) Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals should be ashamed of themselves for creating a phony, self-serving persecution narrative like this. It is a direct and shameful slap into the face of every Christian martyr over the past 2,000 years who has endured real torture, cruel and unusual punishments, and horrifying deaths because of their faith in Jesus Christ.
(7) Even worse, this phony Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical persecution narrative is utter hypocrisy of the worst kind when you consider the fact that American fundies have become major league persecutors in our own time. Many of them support discrimination and persecution against LGBTQ Americans. They go out of their way to support denial of basic healthcare to poor Americans. They rarely miss a chance to deny civil rights and basic services to American women and girls. Dare we even talk about their fundie racism, ethnic prejudice, and support for white supremacy? The American fundie appetite for inflicting discrimination and persecution on other Americans today is just plain disgusting and the very height of spiritual hypocrisy.
(8) Today, supported by FOX News and other conservative media outlets, Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals regularly whine about the persecution of Christians in foreign countries. They demand U.S. government intervention to stop it. Yes, this is often real persecution of Christians, just as much so as the persecution of Christians in Roman times. It is indeed bad, and it should be stopped. However, when it comes to the fundies and their complaining about it, one important thing bothers me.
The fundie narrative seems to be that Christians overseas—particularly fundie Christians—are such incredibly special human beings that they should be saved from harm—above everyone else in danger—simply because they are Christians. Jesus taught us to love all of our neighbors as ourselves–not just the ones who are most like us—and he also indicated that following him may involve personal sacrificing for the sake of others.
We Americans have about 7 billion neighbors on this Earth. I rarely ever hear these same fundies whining for United States intervention to rescue nonChristian men, women, and children from discrimination, persecution, and suffering—and God only knows the world is full of it and them. Why do American fundies have a heart only for suffering Christians—particularly fundie Christians who are suffering overseas?
God makes it clear in the Bible that he loves every human being. Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals should be working hard to end all discrimination and persecution in this world—including persecution of Christians—both here at home and around the world. I suspect that is what Jesus would be doing if He were here in the flesh among us today. Once again, as usual, the Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals deny the words of the Bible they claim to love and reside in rank exclusivity and hypocrisy on matters of discrimination and persecution.
(9) Last but not least, the fundie persecution complex (quite conveniently for the fundies) dovetails perfectly with another well-known, self-serving narrative called the fundie paradox. Now, what is that?
When the fundies experience a rare political win on some issue, they puff themselves up with great spiritual pride and tell the world how large their numbers are; how diversified, wealthy, powerful, and influential they are; and how their win proves that God is on their side. When they lose on some issue, which happens very often, they portray themselves as downtrodden, small in numbers, marginally influential, money short, and victimized by a Godless secular culture. Those are the two opposite poles in the fundie paradox. Their persecution narrative fits in really well with the victimization pole of this fundie paradox—and the “oh woe is us” crocodile tears they cry. These two fundie narratives eventually combine to become little more than an opportunity to raise vast sums of money to grease the wheels for their next dubious, bullshit adventure in their so-called War for the Culture.