"There is now a serious risk that Christianity will disappear from its biblical heartlands," said a report by think-tank Civitas about persecution of Christians in the Middle East. Ample evidence suggests there are those who would like Christianity to vanish from the West as well.
The Civitas report was titled "Christianophobia." It "highlights a fear among oppressive regimes that Christianity is a 'Western creed' which can be used to undermine them," according to a report in the London Telegraph.
A "Western creed"? The contemporary "Western creed" is post-Christian and increasingly even anti-Christian. One could hardly classify as Christian a culture where the Selfie is the icon before which multitudes worship, where unbounded sexual engagement is the core sacrament (people have now used their God-given creativity to link sex and Selfie by photographing themselves just after a romp), where the biblically based family is becoming a museum piece, and where the blood sacrifice is too often unborn children.
In fact, as the growing movement to stifle free speech and expression reveals, Western culture would like to get rid of the pesky voice of biblical Christianity altogether.
Some nations suppress Christians, their beliefs and messages violently. Current Western culture, however, has its own style of trying to silence the real church. It follows a specific sequence, which has accelerated in recent years.
The chain moves from caricaturization to marginalization to vilification to villainization to criminalization to elimination.
One of the easiest ways to discredit someone, an institution, movement, or idea is to caricature it by making the subject look comical or grotesque. Some caricatures are done admiringly and lovingly, like those on theater playbills or the walls of New York delis.
The other style of caricaturization comes from spite, anger, and hatred – like those the Washington Post's Herblock drew of Richard Nixon (Herblock's most vicious was probably a cartoon of Chuck Colson just after he had become a Christian), or in the way some racist publications depict Barack Obama.
The aim of grotesque caricature is to make the subject appear clownish, a bumbling buffoon who should not be taken seriously, or a sinister monster, as we will see in a moment.
An interesting Ph.D. dissertation topic relating to the history of cinema might be the shift in film-making from the usual depiction of the church and clergy as noble people out to serve others to the now clichéd and formulaic Bible-thumping hypocritical fools who only want to exploit people.
That which is caricatured to the public mind as unserious and irrelevant can easily be marginalized.
I witnessed the launch of the age of marginalization as a reporter for a large daily newspaper in the 1960s. The anti-establishmentarians who became the present establishment pontificated widely on the unimportance of biblical Christianity. From that beginning, marginalization went on to become public policy as the church was sequestered behind a bigger and bigger "wall of separation" that fenced out the wrong culprit: a regime that might want to create its own religious establishment, or one whose godless policies would cause it to throttle the church.
Vilification easily follows from marginalization. To vilify is to defame and slander. The goal is to shrink respect for the person, movement, institution, or idea being vilified.
Marginalization says the person, movement, institution, or idea deserves only a minimal and peripheral role in culture. But vilification suggests there really should be no role at all for the vilified subject. It has nothing to contribute to the great societal conversation, not even from the cultural boondocks.
Now the danger mounts and the possibility of persecution looms. What has been merely caricatured, marginalized, and vilified is now villainized. That pesky person, movement, institution, or idea is no longer to be scorned merely, but feared. It's the bad boy on the cultural street, ready to trip or assault the noble civilization-builders and freedom-defenders who gallantly march by.
The consensus-makers in the contemporary Establishments of Entertainment, Information, Academia, and Governance raise national awareness regarding these villains. At this point, there's not enough evidence to send an armed team to get the villains off the street. But the cultural SWAT team is standing by.
After villainization comes criminalization. New laws are written redefining marriage, or infringing on the freedom of conscience and practice within the villainous class, and suddenly there's a smoking gun. Lawsuits stir in the minds of the protectors of the cultural consensus. A Chick-Fil-A here, a Hobby Lobby there; a pastor refusing to perform a same-sex wedding, a Christian baker refusing to bake for a marriage ceremony not in accord with his faith, Christian B&B keepers who won't accommodate homosexual couples.
Elimination logically flows from criminalization. The offenders must be removed for the greater good. In some parts of the world elimination is of the blatant style: hang them, gas them, behead them. Anything. Just eliminate them.
In civilized America elimination takes a different form. Fire corporate leaders who have gone against political correctness and the Establishment line. Dismiss them from boards. Lynch them in the media. Anything short of literal blood. Just get them out of the way.
The church needs to be ready. She also must rest in the hope that, like the early church in Rome, she is prepared in the catacombs for greater ministry up in the public square.