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American Evangelicals have a persecution fetish

Courtesy of Mark Creech
Courtesy of Mark Creech

I want to take you on a journey that has taken me around 15 years to complete. Let’s go back to the 90s and early 2000s in the American evangelical church. One of my best friends in high school told me once that the Emperor Constantine making the Roman Empire officially Christian was the worst thing that ever happened to the Christian church. Political power corrupted the Church, he said, so it would have been better never to have had it.

I heard multiple versions of a story about a band of masked armed men breaking into an underground church in the Soviet Union, or sometimes China, but anyway, somewhere Christianity was illegal. “If you renounce Christ, leave now. If not, stay and be killed,” they would say. After some left, they would remove the masks and let it be known that they were Christians too. They simply didn’t want to worship with Christians who were fake and not willing to die for what they believed.

American evangelicals have a persecution fetish. We believed, nearly all of us, that the American church was lukewarm and would benefit from some real political persecution. Apparently, we thought there were too many fake believers in the Church and not enough real passion for Christ. I guess the grass is always greener on the other side, even when it’s brown and dying like in those places where Christianity is illegal. There was this great myth about how fast the Church grows under persecution versus American liberty. The truth is of course that the Church has an opportunity to grow quickly in societies where not many people are already Christian. We have fetishized persecution because we fetishized growth. If persecution was good for the Church, then we wanted to bring it on. Nobody stopped to do the math.

As it turns out, growing the Christian Church in a society where 90% of the population is already Christian is, shall we say, much more difficult than in places where it’s 1%. It’s much easier to grow complacent when 90% goes to 80%, and then 70%, all the while under the care of a church preaching evangelism of the lost and virtually nothing else. One explanation is that the extra percentage weren’t something called “real Christians” anyway. They were just being more honest about not really being Christian. This of course belies the radically youthful nature of the changing demographics. It is younger people leaving Christianity in droves, not older people who weren’t “real Christians” after all suddenly changing their minds about it.

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The truth is that Christianity is in decline because we the people have weaponized our government and many other formerly independent but now subsidiary institutions against Christianity, including the education system which now teaches entire generations to make sense of the world without God. We call this “neutrality,” but in fact it is established atheism and discrimination against the Christian worldview in public spaces. Oh, you say, it wasn’t me personally who did that? Well, what have you done to stop it? And more importantly, how do you respond when Christians today want to mobilize politically to stop it? Do you say things like, “The Gospel is enough?”

Inaction is just as irresponsible as wrong action, and human beings are experts at rationalizing irresponsibility.

This would explain a great many things, first among them the overwhelming 20th century trend in a nation dominated by Christianity of utilizing political power to solve virtually every problem. Just don’t ask whether we succeeded. As it turns out, political power cannot solve every problem. It can create a host of them of its own making. And, as we are finding out today, it can create a population full of people with Stockholm Syndrome. Ask an average Christian if they think the government should be less powerful, and all heads will nod. But ask them whether they think Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid should be eliminated, and all of the sudden it’s, “What about the poor kids?” and “But that money is mine!” Ask them whether prayer should be allowed in schools, and the heads will again nod. Ask them about separation of church and state, and they will cringe. But ask them about political races that actually matter (not the presidential elections by the way), public policy, and the name of their local representatives and more importantly, school board members, and you will draw blanks from everyone. Tell them that as Christians we have a civic responsibility, and in reply, you will be told that the Gospel is enough. For them, the Gospel is enough of an excuse. 

Universal public education was always, from Bismarck to Dewey to today, intended to socially engineer a population. It was never about education, or ludicrously, job training. It was about changing society into something it wasn’t on its own. The early progressives of the 20th century were explicit about this. The welfare state was realpolitik from the beginning. It was designed to make people dependent on politics so they would feel trapped into voting certain ways, even when evangelical Republicans like George W. Bush did it. It worked. The evidence it worked is all around you. Christians often cannot tell the difference between real religious liberty and established atheism. Christians can reluctantly accept political activism on abortion but get cold feet about pretty much everything else. Christians conveniently forget that preaching wasn’t enough to prevent gay marriage from becoming the law of the land.

The progressive brainwashing project has succeeded. They won. The weird part is the vast majority of the early ones were Christians. Teddy Roosevelt was Dutch Reformed, and Woodrow Wilson a staunch Presbyterian. But as it happens, government exceeding the constitutional bounds wisely placed on it by the Founders is incompatible with Christianity. Over time, weaponized government was taken over by anti-Christian forces. And now we are in a difficult position. We must take political power in order to overthrow it, just like the Founders did. We didn’t start it, but we have to finish it. Are Christians mature enough to understand this? Or are we going to continue making childish excuses for our laziness and acceptance of something we absolutely have the power to change? Time will tell. If we don’t, our grandchildren will find out how brown and dead the grass can really get on the other side. 

Ben Kissling obtained a B.S. in biochemistry from the University of Nebraska - Lincoln and is currently enrolled in the M.A. in Science and Religion program at Biola University. He has worked in many different scientific laboratories, as a youth pastor and a high school teacher. He has a podcast called Macrophage Strategy on the intersection of science and theology. 

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