The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer by Jean-Leon Gerome, 1883
Let me start by saying one thing:
Losing our privileged position as the default religion and arbiter of culture is not the same as enduring persecution.
Let me repeat that: Losing our privileged position as the default religion and arbiter of culture is not the same as enduring persecution.
This sentiment bothers me, because it not only promotes an ugly, us-versus-them mentality among American Christians, but it cheapens the blood of actual martyrs worldwide.
According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as quoted in 2011 in Catholic World News each year approximately 105,000 Christians are martyred.
That means they were killed.
Some were hacked apart with machetes (common in sub-Saharan Africa). Some were shot (common everywhere). Some were tortured to death, even raped (unfortunately, that’s also common everywhere). Some just “vanished” thanks to repressive governments and their secret police. That is persecution.
Not being able to have mandatory school prayer, or even authority-figure-led school prayer at government-run, tax-funded schools is not persecution. It’s the government actually taking the First Amendment seriously. Students can still lead prayers, so long as other students’ presence is not mandatory. Religious student associations can still meet and pray or study the Bible (Fellowship of Christian Athletes, for example).
I grew up in a small southern town, surrounded by grandparents and great grandparents, an unincorporated community that time forgot. So don’t get me wrong, I understand how much of an adjustment it can be to go from a safe, comfortable set of small differences (Baptist vs. Methodist jokes, all in good humor, and told over cold, tangy coleslaw and crispy-hot catfish breaded in cornmeal) to a wide world that defies such easy categorizations.
Interracial marriages? Gay couples? Immigrants with brown skin and “strange” religions? Body alterations, online communities, people creating new categories to put themselves in, satire-religions like the Pastafarians, the Dischordians, and the Church of the Sub-Genius? Is anything ‘normal’ anymore?
No, and it never was. Homogeneity can become an idol, and we end up worshiping the time when our cultural brand reigned supreme, unchallenged by tides of immigration, litigation, and information. Losing that isn’t persecution. Losing that stranglehold on culture isn’t persecution, but it might feel that way sometimes.
Losing our cultural supremacy may even be the beginning of authenticity, of being more like the Apostles: a dozen good Jews who’d been raised in their Judean monoculture, but who carried the Gospel to Greeks and Asians and other foreigners who spoke with strange accents, ate strange foods, and followed strange customs.
It may even make us more like Jesus, who actively engaged with and loved people society placed as outsiders – racial and religious outsiders like the Samaritans, social outsiders like the tax collectors, and economic outsiders like the poor and disabled.