Elections and the Evangelical Persecution Complex

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

As Barack Obama continues to widen his lead in the polls, conservative evangelicals seem to have rediscovered an affinity for biblical accounts of the Babylonian Captivity. Friends who did cartwheels after George Bush’s reelection in 2004 are solemnly reminding me of Jeremiah’s warning that “cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength,” (Jeremiah 17:5) and David’s admonition that “it is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes” (Psalm 118:9).

[Many tend to assume that because I prefer Obama’s healthcare plan to John McCain’s I must certainly have a secret shrine to the democratic nominee stashed away in my bedroom closet, and that I’m not the least bit offended when they sarcastically refer to him as my “Messiah.”]

The mood here in Dayton is somber, and I detect a curious mixture of resignation and desperation among conservative evangelicals. On the one hand, they believe that God has pre-ordained the results of this election (Romans 13:1); on the other, they seem to think that enough prayer and fasting might turn things around (II Chronicles 7:14). One friend suggested that I prayerfully reconsider my decision to vote for Obama, lest I inadvertently participate in God’s plan to “raise up on evil ruler” to punish America for its immorality. Others urge me to stop reading newspapers and magazines, as the mainstream media has been infiltrated by godless intellectuals who hate Christians.

Believing America to be the center of the universe and the subject of God’s most focused attention, the Religious Right has developed a bit of a persecution complex over the past few weeks, which was recently reflected in a prayer offered by Pastor Arnold Conrad at McCain rally in Iowa. Conrad prayed the following:

 “I would also add, Lord, that your reputation is involved in all that happens between now and November, because there are millions of people around this world praying to their god — whether it’s Hindu, Buddha, Allah — that his opponent wins, for a variety of reasons. And Lord, I pray that you will guard your own reputation, because they’re going to think that their god is bigger than you, if that happens. So I pray that you will step forward and honor your own name with all that happens between now and election day.”

Another example comes from the absolutely ridiculous “Letter from 2012 in Obama’s America” released this week by the right-wing religious group Focus on the Family. According to the writer, if Obama is elected president, evangelicals can expect “hardship,” “persecution,” and “suffering” in the years to come…not to mention an inevitable surge in terrorist attacks, vandalism at Christian bookstores, and the demise of Boy Scouts of America.

In looking at this evangelical persecution complex, several ironies emerge:

The first, of course, is that Barack Obama is a Christian, and by all accounts, including his own, is quite committed to his faith. Contrary to much of the spam clogging our inboxes these days, he was sworn into public office on the Bible and has openly professed faith in Jesus Christ for more than twenty years.

The second is that eighty-three percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians, which means that the next president will be elected by an overwhelmingly Christian electorate.

The third is that Christians, including evangelicals, hold incredible political sway in America. No one has been elected president of the United States without at least passing as a Christian, and in Congress, Roman Catholics are the largest faith group, followed by Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Jews, and Episcopalians. This is not the culture of Paul and the early disciples; this is the culture of Constantine!

And finally, if any religious group in America had a right to complain about being marginalized in this election cycle, it would be Muslims. Rumors that Obama is a Muslim are considered “smears” by the Obama campaign. When a McCain supporter suggested at a Town Hall meeting that Obama was “an Arab,” John McCain responded, “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man [and] citizen,” implying that being an Arab and a “family man” were mutually exclusive. I think Colin Powell said it well on Meet the Press the other day. “Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?” he asked. “The answer is no, that’s not America.”


Contrary to what conservative evangelicals seem to think, Christians live quite comfortably here in America—whether we have a Democrat in office or a Republican. Doomsday scenarios and whispers of the rise of the anti-Christ reveal a very U.S.-centric view of the world and a frightful distraction with power among a group of people that has always been more effective when serving at the fringes of society anyway.

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