Delusions of persecution rationalize support for Trump.
Published on November 18, 2016
One of the reasons some conservative Christians gave for supporting a Donald Trump presidency was that he's God's chosen instrument for restoring their power to push other people around.
They did not, of course, phrase it that way.
Trump, according to this theory, is 21st century America's answer to Cyrus the Great
, the Persian monarch who conquered Babylon, freed the enslaved Israelites there and let them return to Palestine. Cyrus wasn't Jewish, but he served God's purpose; likewise, God has made Donald Trump the instrument for delivering American Christians out of their bondage and returning them to their own country
If you're reading that and wondering when, exactly, American Christians wound up in chains or in exile — yeah, me too. The idea that American Christians are an oppressed minority that needs divine deliverance is absurd.
Just look at the 21st century: in election after election, we've wound up in debates about which candidate is more Christian (spoiler alert: for conservatives it's always the Republican). Christian terrorism
and its defenders don't trigger the same outrage or headlines that Muslim terrorists do. Ted Cruz's father Rafael embraces the theory that Christians must take "dominion" over family, religion, education, business and government. As they're Christians, that's acceptable; if they were Muslims, Cruz wouldn't get within a thousand miles of the Senate.
Don’t get me wrong, there is discrimination against Christians. Teachers and schools periodically cross the line and tell some kid not to read their Bible on break or pray at lunch (these cases invariably get overturned in court). Right-wing terrorist Dylan Root has been charged with gunning down nine Christians in 2015; Jim Adkisson killed two Christians in a 2008 church shooting. There's a long history of arsonists destroying black churches, most recently torching one and leaving "vote Trump
" painted on the ruins. All of which are bad, but none of which make Christians more oppressed, more singled out than black, Latino or Muslim Americans.
Heck, those aren't the issues religious-right activists and Bible Belt residents (I used to live in a Belt Buckle) usually bring up when talking about how persecuted they are. The stuff that fuels their rage (and by "their" and "they" I don't mean all Christians or even conservative Christians) was their inability to impose their will on nonbelievers.
- They opposed decriminalizing gay sex and legalizing gay marriage, yet both happened.
- They opposed abortion, but that became legal too.
- They want state-sponsored school prayer — as long as it conforms to their beliefs — and the law says no.
- Some of them oppose birth control (because sex for pleasure is corrupt) yet birth control is legal.
- Some still object to equality for black people. The late religious-right activist Jerry Falwell was a segregationist; some churches still preach that interracial dating is against God.
- Plenty of religious conservatives hate women having legal equality too.
In my experience, when conservative Christians talk about being oppressed, persecuted and shackled, this is what they're usually referring to. Oppression is a secular government that doesn't impose the religious right's moral standards on everyone else. Oppression is the religious right receiving moral contempt and criticism instead of dishing it out.
American Christians are not enslaved Israelites, or the persecuted Christian martyrs of ancient Rome. Not getting your wishes passed into law isn't oppression, it's politics. The nature of politics is that sometimes you win, sometimes you lose — but apparently a lot of religious conservatives slept through that lesson in civics class. Even if you firmly believe that God wants exactly the same thing you do, that doesn't make you a persecuted saint if other people oppose you.
The "Cyrus the Great" argument is not only ridiculous, it's repellent. During the campaign, Trump flaunted how he loves to punch down, to bully and mock anyone weaker than he is. He bragged about sexually harassing and mocking women, calls for discriminating against Muslims, allegedly rips off people who work for him, none of which can be considered virtuous. But for Cyrus-believers, that's irrelevant: he's going to give them a kingdom of this world, who cares what happens to the suffering and the downtrodden?
In fairness, it's entirely possible Christians who voted Trump will denounces the bullies, the racists and the hatemongers supporting him. They'll make it clear they're not on board with that part of the Trump agenda and that the haters don't speak for them.
Cynic that I am, I’m not betting money on it.