Tuesday, May 08, 2007
A Persecuted Minority?
One of the things my atheist friends have helped me to see is just how ridiculous it is for Christians to go on complaining about being a persecuted minority in America these days. As the following pie-chart so aptly illustrates, we are far from a minority, and frankly it's hard to see how that 20% of Jews, non-religious and "other" could be oppressing the 80% of Christians in this country. Not to mention that Christians (whether Democrat or Republican) dominate all three branches of the U.S. government, and up until last November, conservative Christians controlled all three branches.

Really, we need to get over this persecution complex. We are not an oppressed minority and even if the secular atheists were out to get us (which most of them are not), there's not enough of them to do anything about it. (So far only one US Congressman has openly declared himself to be non-religious. The rest are overwhelmingly Christian, with a few Jews and one Muslim in the mix as well. And among the general population only 10-12% declare themselves to be non-religious.)

Frankly I think this perception of persecution among conservative Christians is really just a "power hangover" from the days of "Christendom" when we had even more dominance over the larger society and culture than we do now. These days there are enough Americans who see the value of a pluralistic society, that we are no longer so keen on letting one particular group impose its views on all the rest. But not being in charge anymore is not the same as being persecuted. If you look at all the hot-button issues for conservative Christians - the things that they claim oppression on - they usually have more to do with simply not being allowed to impose their beliefs or morality on others any more, whether that's school sponsored prayers, displaying the 10 Commandments on public property, publicly funded religious festivals around Christmastime, taking "under God" out of the pledge, anti-gay laws, etc. But these thing are not about oppressing Christianity. They're simply about maintaining the proper separation of church and state - a concept originally invented by Christians in fact. (Separation of church and state is actually still an official - though too often ignored - part of Baptist distinctives, and has always been a key belief of the Anabaptist churches.)

Personally, I think "Christendom" (i.e. the unholy marriage of church, state, and culture) was a gross betrayal of Christ's gospel message and one of the worst things to ever happen to Christianity. The gospel is a counter-cultural message that challenges the power and values of "Empire" (i.e. the political, economic, and socio-cultural powers of this world) and declares a new "Lord" and new set of values in their stead. How can the church possibly be that revolutionary community however if it weds itself to the very Empire it is supposed to challenge? Until we disentangle ourselves from the seductions of Empire we will never be the revolutionary prophetic voice Christ intended the church to be.

Note: Thanks to Hemant for the pie chart.

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posted by Mike Clawson at 9:16 PM | Permalink |


At 5/09/2007 08:17:00 AM, Blogger jazzycat

You said........These days there are enough Americans who see the value of a pluralistic society....

Did Jesus see the value of a pluralistic society or did he see two basic divisions of people those in Christ and saved and those that are lost? Was his last message to go and make disciples or was to celebrate pluralistic diversity?


At 5/09/2007 08:53:00 AM, Blogger M James

You mention the one congressman who as come out and said he was not a believer, but I think you would be interested to find out (if you didn't know already) that Karl Rove is also an atheist.


At 5/09/2007 09:56:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson


Living in a pluralistic society and making disciples are two different things. The first refers to political freedoms. The second refers to the choice of individual believers to share their faith with others. Jesus told us to share our faith, but he never told us to impose it on others through laws and political coercion.

Pluralism and evangelism are not opposed. In fact, pluralism is part of what makes evangelism possible. Look at most Muslim countries for instance. Christians there have almost no evangelistic impact since in those non-pluralistic societies they face violence, imprisonment and often death if they try to "proselytize".


At 5/09/2007 10:05:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Thanks for the link Michael. I didn't know that about Rove. Sounds like he's not entirely out in the open about it though.

As for Bush, I've long suspected that his overt faith is really just a political ploy. He knows which side his bread is buttered on. I mean really, if the 28% who still approve of him aren't primarily the conservative Christian base I don't know who else it could be.


At 5/09/2007 10:37:00 AM, Blogger M James

I agree with you about faith being a political ploy.

In your comment to Jazzy, you stated:"Look at most Muslim countries for instance. Christians there have almost no evangelistic impact since in those non-pluralistic societies they face violence, imprisonment and often death if they try to "proselytize"."

Not to get too political, but I personally feel one of the most under reported stories out of the war in Iraq is the "cleansing" of Christians from that country. As you are probably aware, while Saddam was in charge, all religions were allowed to practice equally. But since his "toppling", Christians have had to flee the country and are now oppressed.



At 5/09/2007 10:46:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Yeah, I just saw that story on the front page of the Trib today. It breaks my heart. I know a guy who went to Iraq and worshiped together with some of those IraqiChristians at the beginning of the war. They dumbfounded that American Christians would support the war. Besides knowing that it would only bring persecution down upon them, they also testified to the fact that Christians are called to respond to injustice with non-violence anyway.

We did the Christian community in Iraq no favors by invading their country and "liberating" them from Saddam. The end result, ironically, will likely be far fewer Christians in Iraq than there were before the war.


At 5/09/2007 03:59:00 PM, Blogger jazzycat

Am I then correct to assume that you are in favor of Christians having the right to proselytize or share the gospel with all non-Christians?

I have never heard of anything as absurd as imposing Christian faith on someone by laws or coercion. I know of no examples of that in the United States. What are you referring to? I strongly believe that Christians have just as much right to promote moral and ethical laws as anyone else. It is done all the time with the ill-advised hate crime legislation being one recent example. The process should be open to Christians as well as liberal activists groups don’t you think?


At 5/09/2007 06:19:00 PM, Blogger Red_Cleric

Wish I could have found the pie chart? I'd like to see the data from which he drew it. IF [notice that's a BIG IF] it is valid then I'd be more than surprised I'd be shocked.

My guess from what Gallup, Barna and other pollster's show is the non-religious being the huge number. Of course it may all be in how one defines the term "christian".



At 5/09/2007 08:22:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson


According to this data, in 2000 Christians were 76.5% of the population while non-religious were 13.2%. Jews were 1.3% and the rest were under 1%.

As far as I know this data from CUNY is the most accurate and up-to-date study out there.


At 5/09/2007 08:34:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

"Am I then correct to assume that you are in favor of Christians having the right to proselytize or share the gospel with all non-Christians?"

Ummm, yeah, of course... I don't know why you would assume otherwise.

"I have never heard of anything as absurd as imposing Christian faith on someone by laws or coercion. I know of no examples of that in the United States. What are you referring to?"

I'm referring to all the things I mentioned above - whenever Christians try to use government funds or influence to promote their particular beliefs or Christianity-specific morality - whether that's prayer in the schools, displays of the Ten Commandments on public property, or trying to pass laws based solely on the "because the Bible says so" argument (e.g. discrimination against homosexuals).

I agree that Christians can and should bring their faith-informed morality to the public sphere. However, in a pluralistic society we have an obligation to translate our values into a rationale that is accessible to people who don't share our religious assumptions. To simply say "because the Bible says so" does not cut it in a society where not everyone believes the Bible and where not even all Christians can agree on how to interpret the Bible.

I think Senator Obama said it well in his speech to Sojourners last year:

"Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

This is going to be difficult for some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality."


At 5/09/2007 10:15:00 PM, Blogger jazzycat

You ask why would I assume otherwise and then apparently endorse what Obama said about abortion.. There is much if not all of what I read here that I find very troubling. Since I do not have time to respond to it all, let me take a crack at the Obama statement.

He said…….I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

Senator how about because killing unborn babies in the womb is destroying human life and partial birth abortion is the murder of fully formed human babies that could in many cases live if not killed at delivery. Why not let the baby live and give it up for adoption? Certainly many people of all faiths and even some atheists would agree with that since we already have laws against murder. Senator could it be that democrats with national aspirations must conform to left-wing ideologies such as abortion? It is amazing that the same people that are telling us that a president of United States should respond to the majority in poll results, when it favors their issues, also tell us, when the majority does not favor them, that the majority must explain it to the minority and consider minority rights.

This entire statement by Obama is sickening. I will continue to look into this emergent village missional movement; however, my first impression is that the leaders of this movement are taking a post-modern liberal secular humanist world view and doing whatever is necessary to make Scripture conform and fit to suit an already established value system. It is becoming activists with the liberal theology of Borg, Spong, etc. and the social gospel. Correct me if I am wrong.


At 5/10/2007 01:17:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Good luck getting Obama to respond to your comments Jazzy. I doubt he checks my blog very often. :-)

Besides, the abortion thing was merely an illustration. By focusing exclusively on rebutting something Obama didn't even say (where in that quote did he say anything about supporting abortion?), I think you completely missed, or else deliberately ignored, his (and my) main point - which was that laws must be based on values and reasons accessible to people of all faiths, not on sectarian interpretations of the Bible. Your argument against abortion is actually a very good example of exactly the kind of universal reasoning Obama is talking about.

As for your accusations about the emerging church, the labels you throw out there reveal more about your prejudices than they do about your understanding of the emerging church. We are not so interested in labels whether modern or postmodern, conservative or liberal, secular or theocratic, humanist or fundamentalist, social gospel or evangelical escapist gospel, or any others you might want to throw out there. Truth is more complex than that and there is much to be learned from dialogue and not much at all to be learned by picking your camp and digging in your heels and refusing to see things from any other points of view.

I'm not saying I do or don't identify with any of those labels you threw out there (though I confess that I've never read Borg or Spong and am not even very familiar with what they say); but I do wonder what would happen if, instead of using those labels as insults and accusations (as you clearly do), you instead took the time to actually find out what postmodernism, or liberalism, or secularism or humanism, or the social gospel was really about before condemning them all as the enemy.

Or better yet, start by questioning and deconstructing your own beliefs first. Are you really so sure it's a good thing to be a modern, conservative, theocratic fundamentalist? And are you so sure that the gospel is really primarily about getting into heaven when you die and not about the kingdom of God already in our midst? I know which one is on Jesus' lips more often.

The emerging church is not about a new set of labels or beliefs. It's about being willing to question your own understandings and asking yourself whether you might be wrong and whether there might be another way of looking at things. Until you're ready to do that your quest to understand the EC is doomed to fail.


At 5/10/2007 10:05:00 PM, Blogger John

I think it is very inaccurate to lump "Christians" in a large chunk of the pie. After all what is the definition of a "Christian" these days? Most of the world thinks of us as a "Christian" nation even though most believe in God, but haven't put their trust in Jesus. "Christian" is almost over used these days. Even the majority of our countries founders were not Christians. They had an understanding of a God or a creator, but didn't place their trust in Jesus. To say the majority are Christians is false. Maybe belief in God, but not Christian.




At 5/11/2007 10:33:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

That may be the case John, though of course everyone has their own definition of what a "true" Christian is (usually it's someone that believes and acts more like them). As an objective survey, I'm pretty sure that the CUNY study simply went with people who self-identified as Christian, whatever that meant to them, without judging whether they were "real" Christians.

Frankly, that's an attitude I need to practice more in my own life. When I was a conservative evangelical I tended to think that only other conservative evangelicals were really Christians. And now that I'm more "emerging" (whatever that means) I sometimes have a hard time admitting certain fundamentalist Christians as true followers of Jesus. And yet, it's not really my place to judge is it? (cf. Romans 14:4) Am I the gatekeeper of heaven? Is it my job to say who is "in" or "out"? If 76% of Americans self-identify as followers of Christ, great! Now my job is to help us all become the best followers of Jesus that we can be.


At 5/12/2007 03:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

>Christians to go on complaining about being a
>persecuted minority in America these days

Well, even if Christians are persecuted, they should not be whining and complaining about it.

After all, Jesus said:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Matthew 5:10-12


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