Christians in America sometimes complain of what they perceive as persecution or a move in the direction of anti-Christian persecution. These concerns may sometimes be overblown. Christianity and Christian morality used to dominate American society. That is not so not true any more, and it is getting less true over time. Having grown accustomed to a special cultural status in America for Christianity, some Christians may mistake the loss of that status for persecution.
At the same time, American Christians are not simply delusional to fear such persecution. History shows us that ferocious anti-Christian persecution can arise even in Christian countries, if you end up with a crazily ideological government: see, for example, the Soviet Union. And some Americans on the far left certainly talk as if they would like to reduce to the absolute minimum the ability of Christians to live according to Christian principles. For them, it seems, Christian business owners have a right to think whatever they want about marriage, but they should not have a right to decline to serve at a same-sex wedding ceremony. Persecution might be too strong a word for making people serve at such events, but it is certainly a contraction of rights that Christians–and everybody else–have had in this country. And on that basis it is understandable that they could complain about it.
I think Christians also might fear persecution because there are people in culturally influential positions who tend to ridicule such fears and talk as if Christians are never ill-treated and should generally be quiet and never try to assert their rights. This brings us to the work of Professor Candida Moss, whose book, The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom. Moss goes so far as to argue that traditional Christian beliefs about the persecution of early Christians in the ancient world are fabrications. And she uses this argument in turn to suggest that Christians today use bogus claims of persecution. This is reinvention of the past in order to influence the present and the future.
To get a sense of her work, and a sensible reply to it, I commend Professor Glenn Moots’s review at Public Discourse. He points out, among other things, that Moss does not count persecution against Christians as persecution unless the persecutors openly affirmed that they were acting precisely out of hatred of Christianity. In addition, she discounts as persecution actions taken by Roman provincial governors, because they had not been ordered by the central authority of the empire. As you can see, by that kind of manipulation of standards, you could deny that any people, no matter how persecuted, had been persecuted.
Moss, by the way, is a professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at . . . the University of Notre Dame. Which calls to mind a saying of Jesus: “And a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.”