ALEXANDRIA, La. – Those who say Christians in America are experiencing persecution are guilty, at the very least, of gross hyperbole. At worst, they insult the followers of Christ throughout the world who face real and severe persecution.
However, I think it is fair to say that the wind of the marginalization of Christianity is beginning to stir. While, for now, marginalization is a breeze barely felt, if it ever begins to blow in earnest it will bring about radical change for people of faith in America, especially Christians.
By marginalization, I mean the attitudes and actions taken by a society to demean and exclude those who are deemed undesirable or a threat to the public peace and order. Marginalization is always a precursor to persecution.
An example, I believe, that qualifies as an effort at marginalization occurred during a military training event in Pennsylvania sometime last year.
According to a recent report on World Magazine’s website, “A U.S. Army Reserve training brief on extremism and extremist organizations puts evangelical Christianity at the top of the list of groups soldiers should watch out for, and avoid.”
“According to a Power Point presentation obtained and posted online by legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, the Army Reserve in Pennsylvania considers evangelical Christians, Catholics, and Mormons as dangerous as the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, and Hamas,” World reported.
The U.S. Army Reserve presentation, according to World, also “said soldiers were prohibited from supporting ‘extremist organizations’ by attending public rallies and meetings or taking leadership roles in the groups.”
According to a slide used during the Power Point presentation (slide 24 of 33), “Extremism is a complex phenomenon; it is defined as beliefs, attitudes, feelings, actions or strategies of a character far removed from the ‘ordinary.’ Because ‘ordinary’ is subjective, no religious group would label itself extreme or its doctrine ‘extremism.’”
The text of the slide continues, “However, religious extremism is not limited to any single religion, ethnic group, or region of the world; every religion has some followers that believe their beliefs, customs and traditions are the only ‘right way’ and that all others are practicing their faith the ‘wrong way,’ seeing and believing that their faith/religion [is] superior to all others.”
By that definition, Christianity is extreme, but not in the violent, forceful way suggested by the U.S. Army Reserve presentation.
It was none other than Jesus who said of Himself, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” He also said that unless one is born again, he or she cannot see the Kingdom of God.
In order to experience Christ as the Way, Truth and Life, and be born again, one must confess he or she is a gross sinner deserving of nothing less than eternity in hell, repent of egocentric self-service, humbly seek forgiveness from a merciful God, accept Jesus’ death and supernatural resurrection as sufficient to secure salvation and commit to following the Lord, wherever He leads.
The “extremism” practiced by the followers of Christ is on display in the bold simplicity by which they invite others to join them in embracing the audacious and paradoxical message that only by losing one’s life in Christ can one actually find their life.
The extremism implied by the U.S. Army Reserve presentation is one of violence and force. Evangelical Christians reject these methods and even denounce them. They also find violence and force not only antithetical to the teaching of Christ, but also counterproductive to propagating the gospel.
“George Wright, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, confirmed the presentation was produced by an individual without consent from or knowledge of the Army’s chain of command,” reported World. “The presentation is more than a year old, Wright said: ‘After receiving a single complaint following the presentation, this person deleted the slide, and it was never shown again. … This person has apologized for any offense it may have caused, and we considered the matter closed.”
While the Army might deem the matter closed, a few things remain troubling to me. If the slide in question was deleted and it was never again used, how – after more than a year – was Alliance Defending Freedom able to obtain it?
It is hard to dismiss the notion there is a slight breeze of marginalization stirring which seeks to demean evangelical Christians and diminish their influence in society. The Army Reserve presentation is but one example.
If marginalization begins to blow in earnest and becomes overt toward Christians, it only will be a matter of time before outright persecution occurs. Marginalization is always a precursor to persecution.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)