I noticed this post on “paper-cut martyrs” the other day, and wanted to say something about it. Go take a look; I’ll wait. Make sure you come back though — this is important.
Jamie Arpin-Ricci argues that, “almost without exception,” conservative North American Christians who point out any mistreatment that is happening to them have a perspective that needs some adjustment. He says that what is usually happening is that “Christians have lost a place of privilege in our culture” (that they perhaps ought not to have had in the first place), but “are responding to it as though they are being put to the rack.” The ACLU makes the county courthouse take down their Christmas tree and we act like St. Sebastian on receipt of the 17th arrow.
This is the one place where I have some sympathy with his observations. Everything else about his piece is radically cattywampus, which is to say, askew, 165 degrees at a minimum. He is absolutely right that Christians ought not to be whiners about this sort of thing — it drives me up a wall too. But he argues that we ought not to complain about it because it is really nothing, and besides, we have it coming to us.
I want to argue that we ought not to complain because we are told not to complain about anything, because it does absolutely no good to complain, and last, because complaining is actually a white surrender flag in the face of what actually is genuine persecution. He says it is “paper-cut martyrdom,” i.e. not martyrdom at all. I say it is the real deal, but a harbinger of more radical mistreatment to come, and we need to treat this kind of thing as a time of training for when things get really hot.
But he says “we must be careful not to over-inflate our struggles as though they are persecution when they clearly are not.” He notes that “to claim that we are persecuted and suffering for such things as no prayer in schools or marriage equality” is to make a false claim. “Let us not dishonour God or those who truly suffer in any attempt to boost our own spiritual status.”
Given how he is defining things, it is really surprising to me that he would cite Matthew 5:10-12:
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Jesus pronounces a book-ended blessing here. He mentions those persecuted for righteousness’ sake at the beginning, and those persecuted the same way the prophets were at the end. In the middle, He mentions three things — blessed are you when people insult you, when they persecute you, and when they falsely say evil things about you. Two out of the three here do not involve any loss of blood. They are instances of name-calling and slander — and Jesus defines it as persecution. When a junior high girl is called a virgin nerd by cruel classmates, and she handles it with grace, the Lord pronounced a blessing for her. Arpin-Ricci calls it a paper cut.
In short, we have to turn to the Bible for our definitions of such things, and not, for example, to someone who is clearly in the process of going over to the other side.
“If we make mistakes or treat people poorly in the name of God, it is not persecution when they attack us or Christianity as a result. It is shameful, for example, to claim that we are ‘under siege’ by some ambiguous ‘gay agenda’, citing how many LGBTQ people openly criticize and attack the church. The fact is that Western Christians have little idea what it has been like for the millions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people to live with such universal hatred and abuse, often at the hands of the church and in the name of Christ. That Christians have largely mistreated these people for centuries is not even debatable. While hatred is never justified, it is not difficult to understand why we have been cast as the enemy. We have earned every bit of the distrust and anger directed towards us.”
In short, he is reading the story with the protagonists and antagonists switched. He is identifying with the wrong group. Let me pull that last sentence out so you can read it again.
“We have earned every bit of the distrust and anger directed towards us.”
To provide us with some contrast, let’s look at how the Bible describes this kind of thing.
“For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you” (1 Pet. 4:3-4, ESV).
The Gentiles give themselves over to a flood of debauchery, and when they get over their surprise that certain Christians don’t want to join them in it, they turn to the next thing, which is to malign them. In this effort, they are joined by the ever-helpful Arpin-Ricci.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (1 Pet. 4:12–16, ESV).
As noted above, the one place where I can acknowledge a legitimate point is the place where he says that we ought not to exaggerate our claims — if you are being eaten by a lion, don’t claim that it is a bigger lion than it actually is. Maybe that’s not a good example. If people call you names, don’t act like it is the end of the world. Note how Peter treats it here.
Peter says that when we experience “fiery trials,” we must not react as though “something strange” were happening to us (v. 12). This is how it goes in this world. But take in something else as well. He says that we ought not to be surprised at the fiery trial, and he also intimates that we must not be surprised at the run-up to the fiery trials. What might that run-up be? That’s right, insults (v. 14). If you are the one guy in the office that isn’t wearing a little rainbow ribbon on Gay Pride day, and your supervisor is irate, and you need the job, and your co-workers call you a series of names that I will not record here, and your wife is worried sick about it, and you stand firm anyway, Arpin-Ricci thinks you got an owie. The apostle Peter thinks — and this is a stark contrast — that the Spirit of glory is resting upon you.
But wait — Peter is not done. He says it is fine to suffer this way, enduring insults, for the sake of righteousness. Take it in stride. But make sure that you are not suffering because you are breaking the moral law of God. If you are on the hot seat at work because you are an evildoer, then that is something to worry about. The word for evildoer here refers to doing things that are base and low. No bottom-feeder stuff. If you are in trouble for being a liar, or effeminate, or because you steal things, then you may not claim “persecution.”
And here is where we may note that Arpin-Ricci has tried to pull a complete reversal on us. He wants us to feel bad for those who have had things go poorly for them because they were LGBTQ, and this is precisely one kind of group that Peter says should not get this privilege. And he says that when members of this group dish it out to those Christians who still read their Bibles, and who therefore know that grotesque sins are not cleansed by having one letter of the alphabet attached to them, he joins right in with those who malign such faithful believers.
One last thing, in order to strengthen a point I made in the previous post on this subject. I was answering someone who asked why I wasn’t going after sins being committed by “my tribe.” And here is the answer, I hope a bit clearer this time. This is exactly what I am doing. My tribe is guilty of cowardice, confusion, side-switching, turn-coating, be-that-as-it-maying, indistinct trumpet blowing, and refusal to confront brothers who are being clearly and inexorably seduced by the spirit of the age. And that is what I am confronting.
I do not write about sodomy because I expect that Mablog is the go-to blog for the editorial staff of The Advocate. I write about sex and culture the way I do because I know I have many readers throughout the evangelical subculture, many of them in churches, places, or institutions that do not want to engage the way we must engage. I thank these individuals for their faithfulness where they are, and want to strengthen their hand for that tense board meeting they are going to be attending someday.
The current battle is not between homosexuals and evangelical heterosexuals. The current battle — for some reason — is between homosexuals and evangelical eunuchs. This helps explain, incidentally, why it is going the way it is.
We have a whole lot of apostasy going on. A lot of men — men who should know better — are clearly adrift in their inner tubes, spinning ever more rapidly as they get closer and closer to the falls. As they disappear around that last bend — we can even see the mist rising and cannot talk because of the roar — they give us one last missional wave.