May 14, 2019
It's a rare day when Vice President Mike Pence isn't criticized for something in the mainstream media. And last weekend, after Pence's commencement speech at Liberty University, his detractors had plenty to work with. There's just one problem. The Left is picking a fight over his warning that American Christians are being persecuted -- forgetting, apparently, that they've helped make he and his wife Exhibit A.
Professor John Fea fired the first shot in his Washington Post feature: "Dear Mike Pence: The Real Persecution of Christians Isn't Here in America." Of course, the piece itself couldn't be more ironic. Here is Fea, trying to dismiss the idea that believers are being targeted in the U.S. -- and yet he spends a whole column doing exactly that. He lifts the part of Pence's remarks where he warns graduates that they'll be "ridiculed" for their faith -- and then suggests that the vice president "needs some perspective."
Of course, in his desperation to make that point, Fea does conservatives a favor by shining an enormous spotlight on the religious freedom crisis affecting Christians all across the globe. "According to one estimate, in 2016, a Christian was killed for his or her faith every six minutes. Today, the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities is rampant, especially in the Middle East. The Islamic State has forced nearly 5 million Syrian Christians to flee for their lives." He goes on to cover the horrors of Boko Haram in Nigeria and the terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka -- sounding more like a member of Open Doors USA than an opinion writer for the Washington Post.
But as appreciative as we are for the coverage of these atrocities, Fea's preaching to the choir. There's no one who understands the situation better -- or has raised more awareness on the issue of faith-based persecution -- than the man the story's about: Mike Pence. He's spent the better part of three years warning global leaders that as far as this administration is concerned, religious freedom is non-negotiable. And not just for Christians -- but the Uyghurs, Rohingya, Jews, Falun Gong, Sikhs, and more. The torture of innocent people for their faith is not news to the Donald Trump White House.
But, more frustrating is the suggestion that Mike Pence -- or anyone else in this administration -- has ever compared the world's suffering to the harassment of Christians in the U.S. At no point has the vice president, whose family and beliefs have been more fiercely attacked than anyone in leadership, attempted to suggest that what men and women of faith here experience is anything like the torture, serial rape, and killing overseas. That's not even responsible journalism.
And yet, Fea still accuses Pence of having a "persecution complex," which, he argues, shouldn't surprise us. "Evangelicals in America have seen themselves as victims since the 1960s... The movement gains strength by scaring evangelicals into believing that they are constantly under attack. Without this discourse of victimhood, the donations will stop, and the Christian Right will lose its hold on the levers of power within the Republican Party."
With all due respect to Fea, Christians don't think they're victims of religious discrimination -- they are victims of religious discrimination. No, they aren't having their faces scanned or being thrown behind bars (although some have been), but you'd have to be living under a rock not to see the trend of the last ten years to punish, fine, suspend, fire, bankrupt, vandalize, and attack dozens and dozens of men and women of faith. And in all walks of life! From the Senate chamber to a corner bakery, Christians with natural or biblical views of marriage and sexuality have had a bullseye on their backs. They've had the fight of their lives in courtrooms, city councils, and human rights commissions just to exercise what the founders died to give us: the right to religious belief and expression.
This isn't a figment of the church's imagination. When Fea says, "American evangelicals should have more important issues on their plates than worrying about a few misguided progressives who do not like Christian schools," he's grossly minimizing the breadth of the crisis -- for one -- and the ferocity of the opposition, for another. Smoke always precedes the fire. This growing hostility in America is a warning. And we ignore it -- at our own peril.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.