Author:Boston, Rob

Religious Right Groups Claim Christianity Is Oppressed In America. The Truth Is Quite Different.

Evangelist Franklin Graham didn't hold back.

During a May 2017 radio interview with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, Graham asserted that Christians in America are being "persecuted" and singled out "over and over again" for refusing to accept that LGBTQ people have rights.

"I want our politicians to see what is happening, and I want the voices of these people who have been persecuted, I want their voices to be heard," Graham said. "I want to give them a stage for them to be able to tell their stories and do it right there in Washington, where hopefully we can see some policy changes."

Graham received no pushback from Perkins over his claim that Christians in America are persecuted. That's not surprising, since Perkins often pushes that line himself.

In a 2015 appeal for funds, Perkins accused the administration of President Barack Obama of engaging in persecution of Christians. He vowed to stop the "administration's persecution of Christians within our borders." Perkins warned darkly that a "rampage of 'political correctness' ... is coming to your state, your town, your church. Christians you know are targets ... maybe Christians in your own home."

Call it a persecution narrative, paranoia or just plain fear-mongering, but such claims are a common refrain these days among the Religious Right --even though they're impossible to prove. Such claims reached tsunamic proportions during the Obama years, and have subsided only somewhat since the election of President Donald Trump. To the Religious Right, persecution of Christians is either already rampant or just around the corner.

Some Religious Right figures employ lurid rhetoric. Pastor Robert Jeffress, a Dallas Southern Baptist minister who is close to Trump, asserted during a November 2014 radio interview that attacks on American Christians are led by Satan.

The devil, Jeffress asserted, "has been trying to extinguish the Christian message ever since he inspired Herod to try to kill the Christ child." The goal, Jeffress said, is to marginalize Christians and paint them as extremists.

Jeffress has an expansive definition of what constitutes "persecution." In an October 2016 blog post titled "Get Ready for Persecution," he wrote, "Now, obviously there is a spectrum of persecution that people experience. That spectrum can range from not being invited to a dinner party because you are too opinionated, all the way to being tortured and even executed because you will not recant your faith in Jesus Christ."

Added Jeffress, "America is more hostile toward Christianity now than at any other time in our nation's history."

Trump administration officials have embraced the persecution narrative as well. During a "religious freedom summit" hosted by the Department of Justice July 30, Attorney General Jeff Sessions told attendees, "Let's be frank: A dangerous movement undetected by many is challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom. There can be no doubt, it's no little matter, it must be confronted intellectually and politically and be defeated. This past election gives us a rare opportunity to arrest these trends and to confront them.

"We've gotten to the point where courts have held that morality cannot be a basis for law, where ministers are fearful to affirm holy writ from the pulpit, and where one group can actively target religious groups by labelling...

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