Nothing has become more tiresome in recent years than the incessant claim by many conservative Christians that they are being persecuted. Every time a church/state issue comes to the fore, a gaggle of Christian activists show up preening in front of television cameras and whining about the war on Christianity. It’s a plot, they tell us, perpetrated by the ACLU and God-haters everywhere, to remove any sign of Christianity from culture.
But is that really true? Is Christianity some persecuted minority that is under attack? With Christian leaders in high office everywhere, including the White House, is there any real danger that Christianity will somehow be erased from the American landscape?
The U. S. Constitution expressly prohibits government from endorsing a particular religion. It was the founders’ intent to keep religion out of government. They had seen the effect of a close relationship between church and state in Europe and wanted no part of any religiously inspired conflict.
But that’s not persecution. In fact, Christianity has thrived in the freedom created by our legal system. That’s why in most neighborhoods in America there is a church on nearly every corner. And if those churches are not a sufficient visible symbol of the viability of Christianity, then that’s what Christian leaders need to worry about. That’s not persecution, that’s neglect.
Of course, it’s not really about being persecuted. It’s about not being in control. For instance, NBC recently launched a new series called the “Book of Daniel.” The show is about an Episcopal priest and his highly dysfunctional family. There is drug use by the priest, his wife and their children. There is profanity and considerable sexual references of both a hetero- and homosexual nature.
According to Christian watchdog groups like the American Family Association and Focus on the Family, the NBC series as just another example of a liberal media elite picking on a helpless and defenseless Christian faith. They argue that Christians are regularly portrayed in movies and television programs as either incompetent or insidious. The unwillingness of Hollywood to portray Christians in a favorable light is proof of a sinister desire to undermine the faith.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the “Book of Daniel” is not a very good television program, but not because of the way it presents Christianity. It’s bad because the writing is bad. The acting is stiff, and even the negative portrayal of Daniel’s family that the Christian right is so worried about hardly comes across as believable.
But even more disturbing than the bad television the “Book of Daniel” represents, is the audacious assumption that network programming has some responsibility to represent Christians in a favorable way. Why should Hollywood producers do public relations for the church? And why would we want them to? Why do we think that make-believe Christians living happily in make-believe worlds can possibly make a difference in this very real world? Jesus said we would be known by our love, not by our Nielsen ratings.
And while we are on the subject, did Jesus ever say anything about the powers that be in this world rolling out the red carpet for us? They didn’t do it for him, so why should his followers expect to be treated any better? In the world, Jesus said, but not of it.
Not that we don’t need to be concerned about the negative way Christians appear on television, but I don’t know how to make Pat Robertson stop.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.