Persecution of Christians does, sadly, exist in some parts of the globe. And, if you were to listen to people like Mat Staver and Mike Huckabee, you’d think it existed in Kentucky. It doesn’t. Christian persecution does not happen in America. And when reality doesn’t reflect the persecution narrative that Christians seem desperate to fulfill, their need for martyrdom can lead them to revere persecutors instead of the persecuted.
This weekend’s Values Voters Summit exhibits the dichotomy nicely. The VVS is a who’s who of the religious right wing and an echo chamber for Christian persecution myths. Last year though, the VVS gave an award to Meriam Ibrahim. Ibrahim faced very real and very serious persecution in Sudan. Simply for marrying a Christian, the Sudanese government sentenced Ibrahim to death for apostasy. She was eventually released and lives in New Hampshire.
This year, the VVS is giving the same award to Kim Davis. Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, which sponsor’s VVS, has compared the two women and claims to “be working on behalf of a woman in the United States of America imprisoned by her government because of her faith in Christ.” Perkins is wrong. Very wrong.
Ibrahim received a death sentence for violating the rules of a religion to which she does not ascribe. That is persecution. In fact, it is almost the quintessential case of religious persecution: The ruling or majority religion attempting to impose its religious rules on all citizens in a country, no matter how diverse. The government threatened Ibrahim with death if she did not follow religious law.
Kim Davis is on the other side of the persecution story. Acting as an officer for the Rowan County government, Davis tried to impose her religious law on other citizens. If Ibrahim and Davis’s stories are to be analogized, then Kim Davis is the Sudanese government, the only difference being the degree of abuse. Davis was abusing her government position and attempting to impose her religion using government power.
Davis is not being persecuted; she is the persecutor. Ibrahim was discriminated against; Davis is discriminating against others.
The Myth of Christian persecution in America
There is one more clear difference between Ibrahim and Davis and it highlights the biggest problem with the Religious Right’s persecution narrative: Davis is American. She is the foremost—and really the only—example of “religious persecution” in America that the Religious Right can point to. And she is not being persecuted.
Christian persecution in America is unheard of, so the Religious Right is forced to invent or torture facts into their persecution narrative. Todd Starnes at Fox News has made a career inventing these myths. Liberty Institute, not to be confused with Davis’s attorneys at Liberty Counsel, publishes a survey of religious hostility in America that misrepresents fights to uphold the Constitution and First Amendment as hostility. The survey’s title is exactly two letters (or one prefix) too long: Undeniable. As one reverend put it, “The presumption of the Liberty Institute report is that anything attempted in the name of sincerely held religious beliefs is protected by the Constitution. And that’s simply nonsense.”
When nearly every member of Congress is a member of your religion, you’re not being persecuted. When politicians are not only open about being Christian, but jumping through hoops to make themselves seem like super-Christians, you’re not being persecuted.
According to the most recent Pew numbers, 76% of Kentuckians are Christian, with nearly 50% claiming to be evangelicals. When you’re in the majority and can find a church on nearly every street corner, you’re not being persecuted. When the government lets you collect billions of dollars from congregants you threaten with hell and doesn’t tax you, you’re not being persecuted.
And when every candidate from one political party is coming to speak at the VVA alongside Davis, you can be sure that Davis is not being persecuted. (Apparently, Trump is only sending a video.)
Davis is not a martyr, she is a simply used to being part of the privileged religious majority in this country. But the age of Christian privilege is coming to an end in America. We at FFRF are going to make damn sure of that.