Thursday, April 28, 2016

Persecution: American Style

Western nations attacking Christians don’t normally use the violent, brutal attacks we associate with the term “persecution.” Because of that, it is easy to pretend that Western Christians are not targeted for their beliefs. But that’s the fallacy of relative privation. The fact that attacks on Christians in Country A are far worse than harassment of Christians in Country B does not mean the situation in Country B is not unjust.

In the West, attacks on Christians begin over teachings against popular vices. Foes portray Christian opposition to moral wrongs as hating the people who commit them. Then they accuse Christians of violating an esteemed cultural value out of bad will. These accusations justify laws (or, more commonly, executive action and court rulings) against the alleged wrongdoing of Christians. When Christians insist on obeying their faith despite unjust laws, foes harass them by Criminal and Civil complaints aimed at forcing compliance. 

Political and cultural elites argue that the injustice is just a consequence of Christians doing wrong. If they would abandon their “bigotry,” they would not face legal harassment. The problem is, they accuse us of wrongdoing, but we are not guilty of wrongdoing. We deny that we base our moral beliefs on the hatred of people who do what we profess is wrong. They must prove their accusation. People cannot simply assume it is true.

In response, foes bring up the bigoted behavior of a few who profess to be Christians. The Westboro Baptist Church was a popularly cited bugbear before the group fell into obscurity. They argue that groups like this prove bigotry on the part of Christians. This means that those who deplore stereotypes stereotype us. They claim (and we agree) that people can’t assume all Muslims are terrorists or that all Hispanics are illegal aliens just because some are. But they do use fringe group Christians to argue all Christians are bigots.

To avoid guilt in this persecution, Americans must learn that our believing certain acts are morally wrong does not mean we hate those who do those acts. Yes, some Christians confuse opposing evil with hating evil-doers. You condemn them. But so do we. Just behavior demands you investigate accusations against Christians, not assuming our moral beliefs are proof of our guilt and claiming the only defense is to renounce our beliefs.

Please, do not try to equate our moral objections with America’s shameful legacy of slavery and segregation. We don’t deny the human rights of any sinner—for then we would have to deny them to ourselves—but we do deny that law can declare a sinful act the same as a morally good act. Do not assume we want to reinstate laws and punishments from past centuries to punish sinners. We’re also shocked by what nations saw as necessary to deter crime that harmed society [1]. But saying theft is wrong does not mean we think chopping off the hands of a thief is right. Even when an act is evil, there can be unjust and disproportionate punishments in response.

Also, please do not assume that your lack of knowledge of what we believe and why we believe it means we have no justification but bigotry when we say things are wrong, Just because a foe cannot imagine why we believe X is wrong does not mean we have no valid reason. I can speak only as a Catholic [I leave it to the Orthodox and Protestants to explain their own reasons when it differs with the Catholic reasoning] but we do have 2000 years of moral theology looking into acts, why they are wrong and what to remember for the moral considerations about personal responsibility. Our goal is not coercion or punishment. Our goal is reconciling the sinner with God. That means turning away from wrongdoing and doing what is right.

Foes may say they think our ideas of morality are wrong. But if they believe we are wrong, then they have an obligation to show why they are right and we are wrong—with the same obligation to answer criticisms of their claims that they demand of us. They cannot accuse us of “forcing views on others” and then demand we accept their views without question. That’s not the values America was founded over. That’s partisan hypocrisy worthy of the old Soviet Union, and should have no part in American discourse.




[1] Of course, remember that France as a secular nation did not abolish the guillotine until 1980, so perhaps we shouldn’t think we’re so far ahead of those times as we would like to think?

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