Christians in internal exile?

Nonbelievers in the US are only too aware of the ubiquity of religion. Churches and religious billboards are everywhere, Christian broadcasters fill the radio and TV, and public prayer and other forms of pandering to religion by politicians and other public figures is commonplace and even required if they are to be elected to office. So it is a little disconcerting to discover that some Christian conservatives see themselves as a persecuted minority.

David Gibson has an interesting article exploring this perception of these people seeing themselves as either seeking or being in a state of ‘internal exile’ paralleling that of the biblical Babylonian exile.

But today, the culture war descendants of those Puritans are feeling increasingly alienated and even persecuted in the society they once claimed as their own. They’re shifting to another favorite image from Scripture — that of the Babylonian exile, preparing, as the ancient Judeans did, to preserve their faith in a hostile world.

“We live in a time of exile. At least those of us do who hold to traditional Christian beliefs,” Carl Trueman, a professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary, wrote in the latest edition of the conservative journal First Things.

Rampant secularism and widespread acceptance of sexual mores once deemed taboo, Trueman said, mean that “the Western public square is no longer a place where Christians feel they belong with any degree of comfort.”

So what are they recommending?

As far back as 1981, moral philosopher Alasdair McIntyre’s book “After Virtue” argued that the idea of inevitable societal improvement is an illusion. Amid the ruins of civilization, he said, believers must adapt the model of St. Benedict, the sixth-century founder of Western monasticism, and reconstitute themselves into small, intentional communities of faith largely removed from the surrounding culture. Dreher calls this the “Benedict Option.”

Others see this as simply wallowing in self-pity.

Yet others see all this talk as indulging in what Alan Noble called the “Evangelical Persecution Complex.” Writing this month in The Atlantic, Noble, an assistant professor of English at Oklahoma Baptist University, defined that complex as the temptation “to interpret personal experiences and news events as signs of oppression, which are ostensibly validations of our commitment to Christ.”

In The Christian Century, the flagship magazine of liberal mainline Protestantism, Lutheran pastor Benjamin Dueholm also weighed in, echoing Noble’s criticism and calling the exile idea “a dubious and highly troubling premise” because it “trivializes” the experience of real exile, such as Christians and religious minorities who are suffering today in actual Babylon, or what we call Iraq.

Unfortunately, the exile they speak of is a metaphorical one so they will still be around, continuing to annoy us with their whining about how tough it is to be a Christian in the US while at the same time enjoying the benefits of being the dominant religion.


  1. Bweeng says

    I wonder: How many other persecuted minorities throughout history have enjoyed such tax benefits?

  2. AsqJames says

    As far back as 1981, moral philosopher Alasdair McIntyre’s book “After Virtue” argued that the idea of inevitable societal improvement is an illusion. Amid the ruins of civilization, he said, believers must adapt the model of St. Benedict, the sixth-century founder of Western monasticism

    Do you think it would be productive/instructive to ask proponents of this philosophy whether they believe there has been any societal improvement since the sixth century, and whether any such putative improvement stems mainly from people locking themselves away or from those engaging with society?

    Nah, probably not.

  3. Al Dente says

    Many of the same Christians also claim that the US is a majority Christian country. They shift back and forth between “America is Christian” and “Wah, we’re persecuted” depending on which argument suits the particular discussion they’re in. Sometimes this shift occurs in the same conversation.

  4. DsylexicHippo says

    I am from New Jersey. You hardly see such billboards in my state. I traveled to North Carolina last year and that’s when reality hit me on how much of the rest live. Lots of religious billboards, churches on every block and people driving trucks with confederate flags and stickers saying “Heritage not hate” (me: yeah, right!).

    It is so sad to see that they are being persecuted.

  5. lorn says

    The thought that constitutes the authoritarian wet-dream is not domination, it is convincing the dominated that their subjugation is both right, good, and that it is their own choice. That they need to be controlled. The authoritarians want them to kiss the hand that hold the whip. And feel sorry for all the worry, bother and suffering the authoritarians experience having to get their hands dirty correcting the unwashed and unworthy.

  6. Brony says

    “We live in a time of exile.”

    Translation: We don’t like being criticized for beliefs and actions based on those beliefs that we can’t justify except by waving a book around. We don’t like the fact that we can’t socially bully you any more and we have to come up with actual good arguments for ourselves or we look bad when we open our mouths or act on our beliefs without thinking.

    I’m in the camp that sees this as whining and hyperbole. There are predictions about Christians being jailed and worse all over the place. Tolerance is not acceptance. I have to tolerate the existence of people that believe terrible things and take legal actions based on them, but not without comment or socially organizing with like-minded individuals. Ironically I first heard the point that tolerance was not acceptance from Christians back in the 90s when it came to their rhetoric about the LGBT community. It’s funny the way their own arguments can be applied to them far more realistically.

  7. Joe says

    I am from India.The right wing Hindu organizations in India project the Hindu majority community as being persecuted and victimized by the “aggressive and ruthless” minorities, through numerous articles,social media ,speeches and publications.Especially the Muslims.In fact the Hindus constitute more than 80 % of the population with the Muslims comprising little over 13% and the Christians with little over 2% or so.The rest is accounted for by the Sikhs,Jain,Buddhists,Zoroastrians etc.In reality it is the Hindu right that is overtly aggressive which also includes violence, even while claiming that the Hindu way of life is under threat.
    It is amusing to note that the Christians ( mainly of the fundamentalist variety) in US and the UK also is projecting an image of being persecuted while in reality they dominate and wield enormous power in all walks of life and the Government ( particularly in the US) like the Hindu Right in India ( even to the extent of blurring the demarcation between the Government and religion).

  8. Foxcanine says

    I recently traveled through a town with an animal shelter called Noah’s Ark. Ignoring the irony of having a shelter named after the largest biblical catastrophe in the bible, I wondered how such a place was named seeing as how shelters are state run. Not to mention that the only stations I could find were either country or Christian. You could just see how badly those Christians were being persecuted.

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