Christian persecution complex

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Christian persecution complex is a belief, attitude or world view that Christian values and Christians are being oppressed by social groups and governments.[1] This belief is promoted by certain American Protestant churches,[2] some Christian- or Bible-based cults and in Europe as well.[3] It has been called the "Evangelical",[4] "American Christian"[5] or "Christian right"[6] persecution complex.

Early Christianity[edit]

According to New Testament scholar Candida Moss the Christian "persecution complex" appeared during the era of early Christianity due to internal Christian identity politics.[7] Moss suggested that the idea of persecution is cardinal to the worldview of Christianity, noting that it creates the impression that Christians are a minority that are facing a war – even though they are numerically superior.[8] This perception is grounded in the manichaeistic belief that the world is divided into two factions, one led by God and the other by Satan. In this view there can be no compromise between the two, and even attempting to dialogue or engage with "the other" is seen as a form of collaboration with it.[9] Medieval historian Paul Cavill argues that the New Testament teaches that persecutions are inherent to Christianity.[10]

20th and 21st centuries[edit]

Many find it difficult to define the origin of the Christian persecution complex. According to Elizabeth Castelli,[11] some set the starting point in the middle of the 20th century, following a series of court rulings that declared public places to be out of bounds for religious activity (e.g. morning prayer in schools).[12] However, it[clarification needed] became apparent in the United States in the 1990s with the adoption of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 as the official foreign policy. A few years later, the September 11 attacks boosted its development. This complex "mobilizes the language of religious persecution to shut down political debate and critique by characterizing any position not in alignment with this politicized version of Christianity as an example of anti-religious bigotry and persecution. Moreover, it routinely deploys the archetypal figure of the martyr as a source of unquestioned religious and political authority".[13]

The concept that Christianity is being oppressed is popular among conservative politicians in contemporary politics in the United States, and they utilize this idea to address issues concerning LGBT people or the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate, which they perceive as an attack on Christianity.[14] The application of the contraceptive mandate to closely held corporations with religious objections was struck down by the Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

Hornback notes that the Christian persecution complex is widespread among nationalists in Europe, who feel that they are defending the continent from a new Islamic invasion.[3] Stavrakopoulou explains that the advances of secularism, such as dropping catechism from public schools, is perceived by some Christians as persecution.[15]

Christian persecution complex has an impact on popular culture, with films which "imagine embattled Christians prevailing against entrenched secularist opposition".[16] David Ehrlich, a film critic, describes how the persecution complex is fueled by films and media such as the God's Not Dead saga.[17]

In a conversation at the British Humanist Congress in 2014, Stavrakopoulou suggested that some Christian fundamentalists perceive the advancement of secularism as a threat, and that this may support the idea of a persecution complex.[18]

Some contemporary white nationalists promote a narrative of Western persecution of Christians, arguing that they, rather than minority or immigrant populations, are most often attacked and marginalized.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hoover 2015, p. 23: According to Hoover Linda "...Castelli (2007) believed the reluctance to self-disclose could be the "Christian persecution complex" (p. 156), an ideology that Christian values are unfavorably targeted by social and governmental opposition..."
  2. ^ Kim, Grace Ji-Sun; Shaw, Susan M. (2017-05-12). "Christians In The U.S. Are Not Persecuted". HuffPost. Retrieved 2020-03-30.
  3. ^ a b Hornback 2018, p. 286: Afterword: White Nationalism, Trolling Humor as Propaganda, and the "Renaissance" of Christian Racism in the Age of Trump. "In so doing, he, his speech writers, and advisors were pandering to the rising Christian white nationalist persecution complex in Poland and throughout Europe, giving voice to a message that Western Christianity—and Europeans—will defeat fundamentalist Islamism. He even concluded with an overt call to a modernday Crusade: "So together, let us all fight like the Poles, for family, for freedom, for country, and for God.""
  4. ^ Noble, Alan (2014-08-04). "Why Do Evangelicals Have a Persecution Complex?". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2020-03-30.
  5. ^ Cyzewski, Ed (2017-04-18). "Are American Christians really being persecuted – or are they just being manipulated?". Retrieved 2020-03-30.
  6. ^ Neumann, Steve (2015-07-05). "The raging hypocrisy at the center of the Christian right's persecution complex". Salon. Retrieved 2020-03-30.
  7. ^ Janes & Houen 2014, p. 24: Indeed, a recent study by Candida Moss, The Myth of Persecution has suggested that Christian "persecution complex" was the result of internal Christian identity politics
  8. ^ Årsheim 2016, p. 7: Candida Moss has argued that the notion of persecution is all but essential to Christianity as a worldview, tracing the discursive construction of martyrdom from Antiquity and up to the present, pointing to its constitutive role for the self-understanding of Christians as embattled minorities – even while numerically superior
  9. ^ Moss 2013, p. 254: The myth of persecution is theologically grounded in the division of the world into two parties, one backed by God and the other by Satan...And everyone knows you cannot reason with devil. Even when devil is not explicitly invoked, the rhetoric of persecution suggests that the persecutors are irrational and immoral and the persecuted are innocent and brave. In a world filled with persecution, efforts to negotiate or even reason with one's persecutors are interpreted as collaboration and moral compromise. We should not attempt to understand the other party, because to do so would be to cede ground to injustice and hatred
  10. ^ Cavill 2013, p. 81: The early Christian persecution complex is often underemphasised, but is important. The New Testament teaches that persecution is the inevitable by-product of effective Christianity.
  11. ^ Castelli 2008: "There is no precise origin point for the contemporary discursive project of the Christian persecution complex"
  12. ^ Castelli 2007, p. 157: For those who have upped the ante by recently deciding to characterize the circumstances of Christians in the United States as the "war on Christians, the historical turning point tends to reside in the mid-twentieth century, when a series of federal and Supreme court decisions declared certain public institutions off-limits for sectarian religious activity (e.g., prayer and Bible reading in public schools). For the Christian activists who view these court decisions as opening skirmishes in the war on Christians, the decisions and the "activist judges" who promulgated them effectively—and dangerously—banned God from the public square.
  13. ^ Årsheim 2016, p. 7:According to Elizabeth Castelli, this engagement can be ascribed to a 'Christian persecution complex' that gathered pace throughout the 1990s, with the adoption of the US International Religious Freedom Act in 1998 as a significant milestone, and with the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 as an accelerating factor (Castelli 2007: 173). This complex "…mobilizes the language of religious persecution to shut down political debate and critique by characterizing any position not in alignment with this politicized version of Christianity as an example of antireligious bigotry and persecution. Moreover, it routinely deploys the archetypal figure of the martyr as a source of unquestioned religious and political authority." (Castelli 2007: 154).
  14. ^ Ben-Asher 2017, p. 22: "...The notion that Christianity is under attack is prevalent in contemporary arguments for religious exemptions. Conservative legislatures, politicians and the media frequently characterize issues such as same-sex marriage and the ACA's Contraceptives Mandate as attacks on Christians or Christianity...."
  15. ^ at 22:40) It was recorded at the World Humanist Congress 2014, Oxford, UK. Held by IHEU, run by the British Humanist Association (BHA).[1].
  16. ^ Carey, G. (2017). Daniel as an Americanized Apocalypse. Interpretation, 71(2), 190–203. Discusses in extense the CP Complex. "Scholars and journalists alike have identified an "evangelical persecution complex" In our culture. This term unfairly stigmatizes all evangelicals but identifies a widely shared sensitivity. Some Christians major in the persecution complex, even to the point of associating florists who will not serve same-sex couples with actual Christian martyrs in the Middle East.24 Recent films like God's Not Dead and God's Not Dead 2 imagine embattled Christians prevailing against entrenched secularist opposition" That explains the film critique that was mentioned above.
  17. ^ Ehrlich, David (2018-03-29). "'God's Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness' Review: A Hellishly Bad Drama About America's Christian Persecution Complex". IndieWire. Retrieved 2018-12-10. Whereas other recent offerings like "Heaven Is for Real" and last week's "I Can Only Imagine" are largely harmless in how they preach to the choir and prostrate themselves before Evangelical audiences, Pure Flix's "God's Not Dead" saga has been defined by a persecution complex large enough to crucify Christ the Redeemer.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  18. ^ Video at 22:40) It was recorded at the World Humanist Congress 2014, Oxford, UK. Held by IHEU, run by the British Humanist Association (BHA).[2].
  19. ^ Brown 2019, p. 134: Alease Brown writes "...the modern function of martyrdom often serves to create a "Christian persecution complex." The narrative of martyrdom allows Christians in the West (particularly nationalistic dispensationalists), who are cultural hegemons and who maintain economic and political dominance globally, to claim the position of marginalization, disadvantage, and literal persecution in "the world," because of their faith. In addition dominant groups within Western Christianity have relied upon martyrdom narratives to assert their dominance over those not in the dominant group, by compelling the non-dominant to accept their domination; to adhere the example of suffering, best exemplified by the martyrs"