The Christian victim complex
I recently read this post on the Facebook page of one of my favorite people, Melody Green:
When the world has opinions they say they’re progressive, tolerant, loving, wise, inclusive, evolving with the times. When Christians have an opinion then we’re narrow-minded, hateful, racist, prehistoric, stupid, bigots. Who is willing to stand and look foolish for Christ? Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who put darkness for light, and light for darkness (Isaiah 5:20).
I’m a huge fan of Melody’s, having interviewed her in 2007 for a story on the 25th anniversary of the death of her husband, singer-songwriter/evangelist Keith Green. She’s a wonderful human being, and in my book a woman of tremendous faith, passion and courage. My admiration for her comes despite my frequent disagreement with things she says. We just don’t often see the world in the same way.
I have been thinking quite a bit about her comment above because it expresses a view that seems to be growing in intensity over the last few years, particularly among some predominantly white, middle to upper class Christians in the United States. That view is: “We are victims. We are being persecuted.” This idea allows them to take the next step of self-identifying with biblical passages about ancient Middle Eastern poor people who really were persecuted.
I find this whole phenomenon to be at odds with reality in an extreme way. (Victimhood never wears well on the majority.)
If you are reading this, you are most likely not a persecuted Christian. If you had an argument with your neighbor about who you are voting for in the upcoming election, you have not suffered for your faith. If someone at your office disagrees with you over abortion, you are not a victim. If, last winter, the clerk at the local big-box retailer said “Happy Holidays” to you instead of “Merry Christmas,” you have not been tormented for your religious convictions.
If you have not been flogged or jailed this week for invoking the name of Jesus, you probably are not a tortured Christian. And frankly, to say otherwise strikes me as a gross injustice to the lives of people around the world who are suffering for what they believe – and they, of course, are not only Christians. Sometimes it is the Christians who are doing the persecuting.
In this country, despite a reduction of influence, Christianity remains the dominant religious expression. Politicians are eager to proclaim they are more Christian than the other Christians they are running against. In fact, though there may be some, I have never yet heard of a candidate running for office on a platform of closing down the churches or outlawing prayer meetings. Yet, some American Christians continue to believe they are being abused by hostile, anti-Christian hordes. We have even seen the birth of Christian law firms , which look for lawsuits to file against their alleged persecutors, apparently unaware or uninterested in scripture that warns believers against being litigious (1 Cor. 6:7, among others).
Where does this growing aspiration to victimhood originate? Is it a desperate attempt to try to hold on to a “simpler time,” before scientific discovery brought things we thought we knew into question? Does it stem from a sinking feeling that everything is slipping away — or already gone? Is it simply a way to try to hang on to authority or control? I don’t know, but from my Reformed theological perspective, it does seem to be connected to a fear that God is not be as sovereign as we had hoped, or that God somehow might lose control of things.
Of course, Melody is one of the few people I know who really has suffered for her faith. I have seen photos of her being dragged away from anti-abortion protests. She and Keith Green took street people into their home – lots of them — and into their hearts because they were that committed to following Jesus. She maintained her faith even after the sudden, unthinkable tragedy of losing her beloved husband and two children.
Passionate people can sometimes get so carried away that they miss the mark. And maybe that’s where the current Christian victim complex comes from: passion that has gotten out of hand.
Look back at the statement at the top. Is it really “taking a stand for Christ” to be viewed as hateful or bigoted by the world? I have been trying to remember an example from scripture when Jesus and his followers were criticized for being too exclusive or hateful, unable to accept others. I seem to recall just the opposite. His critics accused him of being too inclusive: eating with sinners, scandalously talking with the Samaritan woman at the well ( John 4:1-42). And the first Christian community was known for enjoying the favor of ALL of the people, not as an enemy of the world (Acts 2:47).
But somewhere along the way, we got mixed up.
If it is true that the world’s opinions are the ones seen as tolerant, loving, inclusive and wise, while those expressed by Christians are narrow-minded and bigoted, then we better change course in a hurry because we can be sure that Jesus is on the loving side, not the intolerant one. And I’d much rather be where Jesus is than under a label where people think I should be — even if the labeling is done by people I love and respect.