As discussed in previous articles in this series, there is a substantial cottage industry in America which focuses on the claim that Christianity, and Christians, are being oppressed. Those articles have taken as their point of departure a youtube video, The Thaw, produced by one of the entrepreneurs involved in that industry. Although the video itself is trivial, it is a handy compilation of references to iconic claims that are staples of that industry.
The overall claim is the one that leads off the video: “Christianity is being completely frozen out of America.” Anyone who knows the survey data, or religious makeup of our government, or of the preferences given to religious organizations in America may find this claim hard to believe. The best concise reaction to it was stated by Jon Stewart:
“Yes, the long war on Christianity. I pray that one day we may live in an America where Christians can worship freely! In broad daylight! Openly wearing the symbols of their religion... perhaps around their necks? And maybe -- dare I dream it? -- maybe one day there can be an openly Christian President. Or, perhaps, 43 of them. Consecutively.”
Well, perhaps the oppression claim is a little exaggerated, if there is truth to it at all. In fact, in the adult world, it’s hard to find examples that would justify such a sweeping claim. There are a few cases where Christians have been required to obey the same laws as everyone else – which isn’t much of a case for oppression, but resulted in a large hue and cry anyway. There are also some cases where communities have over-reacted to what is still somewhat confusing legal doctrine, prohibiting Christian activists from preaching or handing out materials. There is recourse in those cases, and courts are further defining the law. The “oppression” in those cases comes from insistence by Christian proselytizers on being where they are manifestly not wanted, where their message is opposed to what the organizers are fostering. Still, courts are generally finding that they do have a right to be there, and the rules are slowly being clarified.
In some cases government policies are deliberately misconstrued to make them seem anti-Christian. And some cases of “oppression”, while undoubtedly sincerely felt, might seem even to many Christians as simply goofy. Still, they add to the narrative.
In fact, the feeling of “oppression” seems to be largely derived from this attitude, also stated in the video: “Despite modern popular belief, America was founded as a Christian nation.” Broken down to its essentials, this is a claim that Christianity should be privileged in American society, and when it does not receive preferential treatment, Christians are “oppressed” or “frozen out”.
But issues advocacy groups thrive on exaggeration, creating a sense of fear, even impending doom, to justify rallying people to their message. There is, after all, money in it – money that would be hard to extract from pockets if it were not for the breathless hyperbole of the claims. The producer of The Thaw, as it happens, also is the founder of Reach America, a 501 (c) 3 tax deductible organization that will allow you, for the paltry sum of $2,400 a year, become a member and take part in their online tutoring. Or, if you prefer, they helpfully offer to let you simply give them money. What a surprise, the lead statement on their website is the same claim that “Christianity is being frozen out in America. It is time for a thaw!” A good line can’t be repeated too many times.
It would probably be unfair to suggest that the motivation behind these kinds of claims are entirely economic. Certainly there are those who appear to genuinely believe them. But the money involved can be pretty substantial. Consider, for instance, the opportunity recently advertised on the Reach America website to come to hear their founder speak at a seminar in Missouri, where he said, “The anticipated attendance is 100,000!”. At a minimum ticket price of $70, there is enough money involved in these things to entice people motivated by money.
Problems experienced by Christian adults tend to apply only to evangelical activists, not to the great bulk of Christians in America. While it may be hard to make a convincing case for adult Christians being oppressed by American society, it’s easier in the schools, where the culture wars have been playing out for decades, and show little sign of stopping. It is the youth that Reach America targets with its pitch, and that The Thaw tells us are so persecuted. So it is to the schools that we turn in our next installment in this series.