Over at the Washington Post, Eugene Scott has written an interesting opinion piece regarding Mike Pence’s commencement speech at Liberty University. Scott is concerned that warnings about Christian persecution fall into a victim complex that is not all that helpful for navigating through fruitful citizenship. Now, I do agree with some of what he says. But the more I read through it, the more I think some parsing is in order to get to the real concern. He says;
Religious persecution is real. The congregations of three black Louisiana churches that were recently burned down for reasons that some suspect were racially motivated know this. And so do the congregants of the synagogue that was attacked last month by a gunman; the suspect pointed to his conservative evangelical theology as justification for his hatred of racial minorities.
But accusing “Hollywood liberals,” the media and “the secular left” of persecuting Trump-supporting evangelicals might do little, if anything, to prepare the next generation of leaders to be good citizens working toward the common good in a religiously diverse nation. At worst, it could perpetuate the victim mentality that is so pervasive in our culture wars and that some believe has made this country more politically divided than at any other point in recent history. Such a framing may win you some political battles, but in the long term, it makes it much more difficult for the United States to become “one nation under God,” as Pence and so many others often pledge.
Now, I do think he’s right in that we can form a persecution complex and engage in fear mongering. After all, Jesus did say that we would have trouble in this world. We can’t surely expect that a secular culture will align with Christian values. Even though religious liberty was ensconced in the framework of this country’s founding, we do need to consider it is also not a guarantee to live out faithful Christianity. That’s not to say we should not care or make efforts to preserve it. But we can at least expect a Christianity believed and lived faithfully will be at odds with a culture that seeks to live for self.
I also think we need to consider the many expressions of religious persecution that occur both locally and globally and not be so limited in our perspective. I see terror on black churches and synagogues as a product of hate more than a product of religious persecution but we do need to think about why places of worship are targeted to express such hate.
But there is something else going on in this piece that I think is deserving of some attention and some brief analysis. Scott highlights Falwell’s enthusiastic endorsement of Trump and indicates that Pence criticism is really only directed towards “how it makes people like him feel.” And by that he means “conservative white evangelicals who backed Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential race.” By making this association, what he is really saying is that Pence’s proclamation is a product of white evangelicalism, and by implication only impacts white Christians who align with Trump. So the white evangelical Trump voter who cares about the unborn or that freedom of conscience might be violated with an ever growing agenda for Christianity to conform with secular culture regarding sexual ethics is really just doing so because they want to preserve whiteness. He didn’t use those words but it’s what I hear in this description. He then highlights Christian progressive voices against this concern to reinforce the idea that it is really only a product of white evangelicalism.
I’ve heard this before and think it too is a growing problem regarding all threats to Christian freedom. By racializing expressions of concern about religious liberty and tying it into alignment with Trump, is a way to minimize the real issue. The real issue is that we do in fact have a increasingly growing opposition to Christian values regarding sexual ethics and enforcement of an LGBTQ agenda. Christians are being faced with its support under the guise of non-discrimination or risk economic marginalization. That doesn’t exactly measure up to government crack downs against churches in China, or mass executions in Nigeria or Burkina Faso, or church bombings in Louisiana but it is nonetheless a growing threat.
On a side note, I wish we could dispense with the charge that 81% of white evangelicals supported Trump as proof that white evangelicals only care about so called white concerns. Not all Trump voters were his supporters but thought the alternative to be detrimental to religious liberty especially with a candidate who would enthusiastically endorse violations of Christian conscience to support the LGBTQ community.
Christians committed to the orthodox teaching of Scripture and the supremacy of Christ in their personal lives and his reign in the world care first and foremost about upholding those values and the right to not violate their conscience. It’s not a white thing, but a Christian thing. Now it’s true that the issue gets conflated with a politically cultural alignment but we can’t let that dismiss the reality on its face value. And let’s be clear, progressive voices who align with the cultural acceptance of homosexuality, same sex marriage, transgenderism only add fuel to the cultural case against Christians who uphold these values.
While there may be some legitimate grievances against the white evangelical industrial complex, I promise you, concerns about the religious liberty Pence referred to is not one of them. At the end of the day adherence to faithful Christianity transcends race and politics.