The Persecution of the Church in America – Really!
Though we usually claim a lack of persecution in our country and celebrate this freedom to do our Christian thing, I think this is a substantial error. Those among us who do claim that Christians are persecuted usually don’t dig deep enough to penetrate to the real source. It’s not secular humanism, Isalm, or a putative “gay agenda” as they generally allege. And they are generally parsed in ways that are theologically superficial and evidently captive to what I will claim is the true source of our persecution here.
Now the point of persecution is to intimidate dissent by destabilizing a socially deviant community “plausibility structure” either through making it seem wrong or perverse or criminalizing it. Either way the deviant convictions of the community are either abandoned, assimilated into the dominant narrative of the larger community, or eradicated by force. The latter option is not in play (at this point) in North America. And this is what we celebrate as our freedom. But we cheer too soon, I fear.
Our persecution is of the former “softer” or “iron fist in the velvet glove” kind. It has been and is the free market economy and social ideology to which most of us have bowed the knee on pain of economic privation or, at least, fear of lack of advancement. The affluence, complacency, and apathy that are the "gifts" of the free market are the muzzle and bonds which coerce (gently) our compliance and distort our witness so profoundly that our bodies do not need to be attacked for our hearts have already been captured and made compliant. This ideology has powerfully destabilized the plausibility structure of the church - the gospel – seeming to render it both unthinkable and impracticable on the one hand, and, on the other hand, offering itself as the proper framework within which to fit the Christian message.
If it is true, and I think it is, that persecution is a condition under which the church often grows and flourishes in the face of superior opposition, it is a theological and tactical mistake of the first order to allow ourselves to believe that we lack that condition here. We are under attack, not in the facile ways the Christian right claims, but at the very core of our being as Christians and churches from whence we derive our identity, existence, and mission as God’s people.