Why the Christian right’s persecution fantasies are so dangerous

Religious conservative groups invest an insane amount of energy in the myth that they're an oppressed minority

Topics: AlterNet, Christian Right, Religion, Christian Fundamentalism,

Why the Christian right's persecution fantasies are so dangerous (Credit: Jaroslav74 via Shutterstock)
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNetChristian conservatives feel aggrieved and they want to be heard. The problem is that their specific grievance—that everyone else hurts their feelings by not admitting we’re inferior—kind of sounds, well, hard to sympathize with. They need something snappier, a reason to claim that they are being oppressed by “anti-Christian bigotry”. The only problem with that is that in a majority Christian nation, most people are actually pretty accepting and even admiring of Christianity. Even if they disagree with right wing Christianity, they don’t do so because it’s Christian but because it’s conservative. Being a Christian is a privileged position in American society; that makes it really hard to claim you’re being oppressed.

Inevitably, then, the temptation to fudge starts to seep in, to exaggerate slights or invent paranoid conspiracy theories about how not getting enough praise and accolades for being Christian is an attempt to shove them out. But when that doesn’t work, well, sometimes it helps to deliberately provoke a situation where someone pretty much has to confront you, so that you can lie and say it’s because you’re a Christian. Indeed, it’s starting to become a pattern that goes something like this:

1) Enter into a community that is, by its nature, inclusive of people of various faiths and beliefs.

2) Break some common rule everyone is expected to follow.

3) Get corrected or punished for breaking the rule.

4) Squeal about how it’s because you’re a Christian and they’re bigots and oppressors.

5) By the time the truth gets out, your story will be an urban legend spread far and wide, and your fellow conservative Christians will never really know the facts.



The recent uproar over the best song Oscar nominee that was shortly dropped from the nominee list after it was released is a classic of the form. The Christian right press is up in arms, claiming that the Oscars are exhibiting an “ anti-Christian bias” by yanking the nomination for the title song for the movie Alone Yet Not Alone. The movie, besides being one of those D-list evangelical films made for very little money that barely touches the theaters before making most of its money on the church screening circuit, appears also be a stomach-turning apologia for the racism Europeans exhibited towards Native Americans during the 18th century. Regardless of the content, however, the song was booted because the composer, Bruce Broughton, broke the Academy rules by exploiting his knowledge of who was voting in the category and using that knowledge to alert over 70 of them that he was the composer.  He denies it was campaigning, but it’s hard to imagine that there’s any other way to interpret an email that says it is a “request for your consideration”.

Even though Broughton broke a rule that applies to everyone, the whinefest began immediately. Broughton himself complained to the Christian Post that his reputation was “besmirched and sullied”. He declined to go on the record saying that he believes it was because of anti-Christian bigotry, but in his campaign email, it’s clear he was already championing the idea that the movie would be overlooked because it’s Christian: “I’m sending this note only because it is extremely unlikely that this small, independent, faith-based film will be seen by any music branch member; it’s the only way I can think of to have anyone be aware of the song.” Obviously, the notion that the song was being ignored because of “faith” was in circulation long before the nomination was revoked. That it got revoked only escalated the nascent sense of victimization that was growing around the song.

While it’s hard to imagine that Broughton knew that breaking the rules would result in the song being un-nominated, it’s also hard to imagine what he thought sending that email would really accomplish, if not to create a scandal. The song didn’t have a chance, because it was pitted against “Let It Go” from Frozen. It’s not anti-Christian bias they’re up against, but pro-Disney bias, and also the indisputable fact that the soundtrack from Frozen became an instant classic in musical nerd circles. Whatever his intention, Broughton’s actions ended up creating a big win for the Christian right. If he had followed the rules, the movie would have barely registered as a blip for Oscar viewers. Now it’s getting tons of press and inculcating that need to feel oppressed that’s so critical for the Christian right.

No matter how obviously in the wrong the Christian screaming “bias!” turns out to be, these stories prove too valuable in Christian right circles to be dropped. Right Wing Watch recently debunked a swiftly growing urban legend about a little girl named Brynn Williams, who supposedly was barred from being able to share her family traditions in class with the other kids because her family is Christian and because she mentioned Jesus’ birth. The story should be an obvious fake, as it seems to depend on believing it’s possible that a small Southern California school would only have one kid in the class who thought of Christmas as Jesus’ birthday. But, unsurprisingly , the teacher’s side of the story makes it seem like the parents were gunning to create a scandal. The little kids were told that the assignment was to tell a very short story about their own family’s traditions. Williams pulled out a pre-written statement written by her parents–sharing time does not usually involve written statements, much less ones created by parents–that sounds like it went on and on, and so the teacher cut her short to ask her a few questions about the tradition in her own words instead of her parents’, since that was the assignment.

For this “crime” of not letting a couple of non-present Christian fanatics take over kindergarten share time with lengthy sermons that assume no one else in the room has anything of value to share, the teacher and school have been accused of anti-Christian bigotry. The Christian right group Advocates for Faith & Freedom are pushing for legal action, claiming that Christian students are the only ones not allowed to talk about their beliefs in school. But even though the group claims to want “neutrality” when it comes to faith, it seems instead they want special favors, particularly allowing Christian kids the privilege to hold the students captive to listen to lengthy parent-written testimonies that other kids would definitely not be allowed to read.

Acting like a bully and then crying about anti-Christian bigotry when someone stops you reached a new level of ridiculousness after an incident at the YMCA in Austin, TX. Yes, the Young Men’s Christian Association has been subject to the charges of anti-Christian bias, after a group of anti-choicers was allowed to use their facilities while staying overnight for a big anti-abortion protest. The claim was that they were kicked out for no other reason than their views, with the anti-choice press saying the YMCA caved into pressure from “pro-aborts”. How the YMCA supposedly fell to the thrall of feminist forces isn’t explained; the only thing the listener is meant to understand is that Christians are just so oppressed. Unsurprisingly, the YMCA tells a different story, saying the group was disruptive and brought the political debate to the Y. “There are appropriate places in which to conduct a political debate, and that place is down the street at the State Capitol, not at our YMCA,” the organization said.

Time and time again, Christian right stories of oppression turn out to be bunk. A kid who was disciplined for fighting is turned, in the Christian myth machine, into a kid who was punished for quietly praying to himself. A track athlete is disqualified for disrespecting a teacher, but theChristian media says it was because he thanked God. A Southern Baptist website is blocked for accidentally distributing malware, but in the hands of the conservative press, it’s oppression. They need to be victimized. No one can really bother to do it for them. So they have no choice but to do it for themselves.

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and journalist. She's published two books and blogs regularly at Pandagon, RH Reality Check and Slate's Double X.

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