As I am thinking this memorial day about the sacrifices that are made to protect our freedom, I was pondering how a free people can become enslaved. I am particularly following the growing attacks on the religious freedom of Christians. I have observed a seven step pattern of emerging persecution. Each of these phases are cumulative. Each phase continues to be manifest even as a culture moves into the next phase. (I.E they are still ridiculing even as they plot genocide.)
This article uses the plight of Evangelical Christians to illustrate how persecution develops, but it is applicable to the persecution of any group.The seven stages of persecution are:
- Demonization Through Ridicule
- Picking the Fight
- Propagating Conspiracy Theories
- Official Thuggery
- Systematic Persecution
- Extreme Systematic Persecution
Demonization through Ridicule.
A conspiracy to disenfranchise a people-group first strives to create a negative perception of that group by ridiculing that group. Members of that group are subjected to negative stereotypes and made the butt of jokes. Although the disenfranchisement of Christians is the ultimate goal, at this point nothing is put out into the mainstream that argued for any restriction on rights. From the 1920's through the 1970's Evangelical Christians were often ridiculed.
Picking the Fight
In 1983, police raided and padlocked Faith Baptist Church in Louisville, Nebraska. The state maintained that it had a monopoly on education. The heavy handed tactics of the government galvanized Christians to stand up. Evangelicals believed the state to be a threat to religious liberty and organized politically to counter that threat. Group like thew Moral Majority proliferated. The Politicization of Evangelicalism became known as the Religious Right. The power of the Religious Right culminated with the candidacy of Pat Robertson for President in 1988.
Fights are picked in culture wars to test the waters. There was a huge outcry against the government intrusion into the church. The government backed down because they realized continued attacks would result in revolution. Those who wished to destroy the freedom of Evangelical Christians realized they must poisoned minds against Christians. During this phase, laws are twisted to create an atmosphere of hostility against Christians.
The purpose of picking a fight is so that the victim can be painted as an aggressor. It is similar to a bully picking a fight and his friends lying and saying the victim started it. If the victim is an despised individual or a member of a despised group, the victim is perceived to be a bully by the authorities and the surrounding culture. The true bully makes the victim look like the bully by propagating conspiracy theories.
Propagating Conspiracy Theories
Would be persecutors responded by denying that it was the state that was the threat. They argued instead that Evangelical Christians were a threat. In the 1990's Hillary Clinton began her conspiracy theories. She repeatedly asserted that there was a “vast right wing conspiracy.” She persisted in this to the point where she had her husband, President Clinton, commission an FBI investigation into whether there was a conspiracy to engage in abortion clinic violence. In spite of the exoneration of Evangelical Christians as the outcome of the investigation, conspiracy theories that allege that Evangelical Christians are out to set up a theocratic dictatorship abound.
At this point, there have only been isolated incidents of persecution. Mostly in the form of anti-Christian discrimination. While Christians at that time were rightly concerned about government attacks on religious freedom, the attacks were done primarily to provoke a fight so that the conspiracy theories could be launched. The purpose of the conspiracy theories is to change public perception about a group so that government attacks against that will not be seen as tyranny but as justified measures necessary to protect citizens. Paint the church as a bully, so when the church gets victimized no one will give them the sympathy due to victims, but will regard them as deserving the thuggery.
As public perception of a group become more negative, and particularly when that negative perception is accompanied with a growing feeling that the group is a threat, an environment is created that is favorable to official thuggery. This is where America is at concerning the persecutions of Christians. Police will routinely make illegal arrest in an attempt to stop Christian activity. The isolated attacks become more frequent, and part of a pervasive culture of hostility and Anti-Christian sentiment. I call this official thuggery because persecution of not systematically part of the law.
Eventually Anti-Christian bias becomes part of the law of the land. A key difference between systematic persecution and official thuggery is that there is legal recourse against official thuggery. Official thuggery becomes systematic persecution when either the law is changed to take away those legal recourses or a society becomes so lawless that there is no rule of law. In Europe there is systematic persecution of Christians.
Systematic persecution can be with a velvet glove or with an iron fist. Velvet glove persecution target culturally undesirable activities of a persecuted group and uses political tools. This is where the European Union is right now. Christians are currently targeted only at the point where the Christian faith conflicts with the predominant culture. Punishment vary from discrimination to fines and imprisonment. Christians in Europe rarely suffer violence, and Christians who are willing to compromise their faith can get along in such a society temporarily.
Extreme Systematic Persecution
Systematic Persecution becomes more extreme in one or both of two ways. When persecution goes from political to violent, and when persecution targets not just culturally undesirable activities but also targets the very existence of a group. Communist and Islamist countries engage in extreme systematic persecution of Christian. Christians routinely suffer violence, and suffer regardless of attempts to fit into society. Christians are not targeted because of what they do, but who they are. This is what is typically thought of when the topic of persecution is brought up.
The most extreme form of systematic persecution happens when the persecutors attempt to wipe out a group from off of the face of the earth. The seven phases of persecution are like various stages of life of a persecuting spirit. One inevitable leads to the other if the persecution is not confronted.