You Forgot to Take Up Your Cross

CrossWhiningI want you to know how valiantly I fought writing anything about this today. I’m not big on writing about current events or “trending” subjects because that’s not what this blog is really about. I was already tired of this particular subject before it even blew up on Facebook and Twitter. Reading my news feed, you’d think nothing today was more important than the suspension of one of the stars from a wildly popular TV show. After witnessing several hours of angry digital protests streaming through my phone and computer, I checked three different international news sites only to discover they had nothing about this story. What a shocking oversight! All those sites seemed to want to talk about was AIDS and polio and Southern Sudan and Russia. Didn’t they realize there were more important things happening in the only country that really matters? During my time on Facebook today I learned that nothing matters more, at least right now, than the slight decrease of Christian privilege happening in popular American life. This, it seems, signals the end of life as we know it. It might even be worse than someone trying to force affordable healthcare on the entire nation against their will. I dunno. It’s hard to say. They’re both so…so…evil.

And yes, that is sarcasm dripping from my keyboard this evening, and I want to tell you why this whole fiasco irks me so. There are many things I could touch on, but I want to focus on only one aspect of the public outrage swirling around me. For the moment, I’m going to pretend that Phil Robertson’s comments about the pre-civil rights era South were not egregiously dismissive of the plight of blacks during the days of Jim Crow (did the news reports you saw even include that part?). I’m also going to pretend that labeling an entire sexual orientation as invalid isn’t a form of bigotry, and that suggesting homosexuality leads to bestiality isn’t disgustingly dehumanizing. Incidentally, bigotry hides behind many disguises—none more ingenious than religion. But America is a country that prides itself on the freedom to say whatever you want to say, no matter how offensive it is to the person sitting right next to you, so that’s not what I’m criticizing right now. It seems to me a “reality TV” show centered around the peculiarities of a colorful Southern family should showcase their personal and cultural biases, because isn’t that part of their charm, their appeal? But the executives at A&E decided Robertson would be more of a liability than an asset, and since they are a business, they made their decision, and conservatives everywhere—if they are to be consistent, that is—should respect that for-profit company’s right to do as they please. They certainly wouldn’t want other people telling a company how to run their business in other ways, like telling them whether or not they had to cover their employees’ contraceptive costs.

No, what irks me tonight is the growing persecution complex among American Christians, as exemplified by this image passed around today on Facebook:


Now some Christians would argue that condemning same-sex relationships as “sinful” is non-essential to the core of the Christian message. Some would even argue that it is contrary to the message of Jesus. It’s a subject Jesus actually never spoke about, per se. But quite frankly, I don’t really care. That’s no longer my battle. As we would say down here, “I don’t have a dog in that fight.” For my purposes tonight, I would like to pretend that opposing homosexuality is somehow a fundamental, integral, mission-critical facet of the Christian faith. You’d certainly think it is, to hear some people talk, so let’s grant that for the sake of argument. Condemning homosexuality is certainly a part of the version of the Christian faith which the Robertson family inherited, so arguing about whether or not this is True Christianity™ is beside the point as far as I’m concerned. It is a part of their faith, so it’s relevant. I do think it’s worth noting that I haven’t heard them argue his dismissal of the mistreatment of Southern blacks in the Jim Crow era was somehow a part of his faith, nor are they admitting that his words about that subject could be part of why he fell out of favor with his employer. But I digress, and again, I’m willing to do what they’re all doing and pretend none of that really matters.

What matters to my family and friends here in the Deep South is that their faith is increasingly earning the disapproval of the larger American culture. Many of them even fell for the (incorrect) report that the network wanted the Robertson’s to stop praying on the show. More persecution! More evidence that American culture is turning against them! Fine. Despite the fact that many of their complaints are based on a misunderstanding of how the First Amendment works, and despite the fact that for many of them religious liberty means being free to push their religion on everyone else, I am even willing to grant them that they are beginning to experience the disapproval of the larger American culture. Let’s grant for the moment that they are being persecuted, not because of bigotry or homophobia or racism, but because of their loyalty to Jesus.

Guess what, folks? It was to this that you were called. You follow a man who said “Anyone who wants to be my disciple must take up his own cross and follow me.” Did you forget that? Have you enjoyed a place of social privilege for so many successive generations that you’ve completely lost the notion of identifying with Jesus in his shame? Or did you decide that taking up your cross should include whining about how unjust it is that you be made to suffer for your identification with Jesus (regardless of whether or not he really would want you to make fighting homosexuality the focus of your culture war in his name)? It seems to me that you forfeit the benefit of this identification when you mount offensives on social media, calling for resignations and boycotts and protests over those issues for which you feel the Christian view should be the only acceptable view. Is this what Jesus meant when he said “Take up your cross and follow me”?

American Christianity is an odd duck, if you’ll pardon the pun. Here we have a religion which was forged in a context of persecution, born among the poor and marginalized within the ancient Roman empire. It was built around a man who was crucified for the things he said and did, and his message (as we have it today, anyway) expressly calls upon his followers to imitate his example, embracing the shame and disapproval of the world as a part of their calling.

Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.

But over time the Christian faith came to be championed by those in power, first by Constantine and then later by the Holy Roman Empire. When the United States was first founded, the Christian religion was clearly the dominant one and that remains true still today. When one wants to run for the highest office in this country, you have to outdo the other candidates in your identification with the Christian religion or else you will lose your chance at the job. In the Deep South, it’s not even enough to say you’re a Christian; you have to make your devotion to your faith a central campaigning point to really be competitive. So in the end we have this odd mix of a religion founded in a context of persecution now being championed in a culture in which the Christian religion still enjoys a large dose of (albeit fading in some places) social privilege. You get a bizarre situation in which people used to pushing their religion on other people, even in government-sponsored places where the Establishment Clause really should govern what is said and done, suddenly find themselves increasingly looked down upon for holding to views no longer popular among the larger culture. This disapproval, they say, is persecution. I’m not even going to argue here that it’s silly to cry persecution when it’s your bigotry and racism that’s making people disapprove of you. I’m asking: Even if you are being persecuted, why are you acting like this isn’t what’s supposed to happen to you? Don’t you follow the man who said, “Take up your cross and follow me?” Is that really what you’re doing right now?

I’m going to level with you. I don’t believe that Jesus really wanted to be persecuted, and I don’t think you do, either. It did happen to him, though, and in time that treatment came to be a cornerstone of the Christian identity. Now you are faced with a choice of your own. Is this really a religion you want to follow? Are you prepared to embrace the disapproval of your surrounding culture and not cry foul, not whine, not fight for it to go away? Are you really up for that? In all honesty, I think that’s insane. I was once taught to think of that as healthy, but I no longer think such a fundamental denial of life and liberty is really such a healthy thing. But perhaps you disagree with me. Perhaps you want to be faithful to the version of Jesus you received, and that’s a Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief. That’s your call. But don’t say you follow this man and then turn around and do the opposite of what he says his followers are supposed to do. Or at least don’t expect the rest of us to take his message seriously, if you don’t either.


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33 Responses to You Forgot to Take Up Your Cross

  1. Tim Wolf says:

    Thank you! I’ve never watched that TV show and in general find that the programming on channels like History, A&E, etc. has gone straight downhill in recent years. But this ubiquitous “free speech” story drove me completely insane all day long. I won’t repeat my thoughts on the subject; you covered them very nicely.

  2. Wendell Neal says:

    Nicely done.

  3. Carl says:

    Love the blog. On this one however, can I just mention that I’m in the UK, and have no idea what you’re talking about. Maybe a short rundown on the background story would have helped. Of course, I could just go and Google it, but a couple of sentences of scene setting would do it. :).

    Keep up the good work.



  4. exrelayman says:

    Yeah, but love doesn’t sell. Scare the people. Be afraid, be very afraid. Of hell, of the atheist, of the homosexual, of the communist, of the OTHER. Ah, now that I’ve got you stirred up, come to services and be mindful when the collection plate comes around. The workman is worthy his due.

  5. charmedcat84 says:

    So what I “hear” you saying is that we should be doormats? If that is not what you are saying please tell me. I don’t want your opinion I want to know if I am understanding what you are saying.

    Please remember, it wasn’t until Jesus’ time had come that he went meekly. Prior to that he called the sanctimonious Jewish leaders gravestones, he over-turned tables in the Temple. He answered their accusations with irony, sarcasm, and logic. When he knew his time had come, he stood quiet which was a rebuke in its own right.

    St. Paul had dual citizenship as both a Jew and a Roman. He called for his Roman rights when it applied.

    If you are saying we need to be silent I have to tell you that you are *wrong*. If you are saying we have to have better responses I will agree with you.

    • Well spoken, Cat. I have two responses.

      First, Peter (or whoever wrote 1 Peter 2:20) said that you don’t get credit for suffering incurred for doing something wrong. I would argue that judging your fellow man for having a different sexual wiring falls squarely within that category, as does turning a blind eye towards racial injustice. So before you grab the righteous indignation you might want to make sure that the things you are judging people for are legitimate.

      Second, I am not suggesting you endure real persecution at all. In fact, I am suggesting that Jesus (at least as he is presented in the New Testament) shouldn’t be “followed” at all. I call attention to evangelical entitlement in America in order to highlight the incompatibility of their perspective with that of the early Christians. You should count the cost of identifying with a man who was rejected by his culture, and adjust your expectations accordingly.

      *Edit: One more thing. Toward whom was Jesus’s criticism most often directed, if not the sentinels of religious dogma? It seems to me that his main opponents were those who walked around judging others, and he warned them that they would be judged by the same measure with which they judged those around them. Instructive words. That’s one of the things Jesus said (if the Bible can be trusted) with which I wholeheartedly agree.

      • charmedcat84 says:

        Thank you for your measured response! I appreciate discussion that doesn’t turn personal. Btw, I do believe the Bible can be trusted, however, it is NOT (yes, I shouted) a history book.

        You might be surprised by my response here, I do believe that some western Christians are indeed looking for persecution. I, for one, try not to. It isn’t that I don’t stand up for my belief’s or that I haven’t faced derision for those beliefs, but I don’t dare compare what I am going through to anything Middle East Christian’s (for example) face. I also believe that some western Christian’s set themselves in places and at political odds they know will cause a backlash or “persecution.” And you are right, they will not receive credit for what I call pretend persecution.

        That being said, I don’t get the impression that Phil Robertson was setting himself up for persecution. He was stating his beliefs because he was asked. I do question the wisdom of his publicist who must have said, “GQ will be a *great* interview! Do it!”

        Back to the discussion at hand, I do not think Christians or even Americans have the market cornered on whining. The western world is showing signs of becoming a world of victims. Victim-mentality is growing. That concerns me as much as the martyr mentality being espoused in Christian circles. But that is another discussion.

        Finally, to make a finer point on your second point, am I wrong to believe by your statement (“…Jesus shouldn’t be “followed” at all.” ), you are not a Christian? (One who follows Jesus). If that is true I wonder why you feel compelled to call-out Christians.

        Again, thank you for your genuine and well articulated response.

        • Tom S says:

          Charmed – to be blunt, have you LOOKED at the URL you are commenting on? Is “Godless in Dixie” not enough of a hint for you?

          • charmedcat84 says:

            Tom, titles of blogs are not always descriptive. I learned a long time ago not to base my opinion on the tile of the blog. Many times the titles, URL, name of, whatever you want to call it, are to draw attention. So, yes, Tom-to be blunt, I did LOOK at the URL. But as I said, I’ve been in the blogisphere long enough to know not to take the blog name seriously. However, I did not take time to read the other postings in his blog, I figured it was easier to ask him. But thank you for your keen insight.

          • This one’s got spunk :)

            To answer your question, I call out Christians because I live with them. They are my context, almost entirely. In them I live and move and have my being, so to speak. Also, I am a bit of a post-Christian myself, which means that I think in terms of someone who has spent his entire life soaked in the symbols and thought structures of the Bible and of modern evangelicalism (two things which aren’t as similar as people usually think). As such, I care about what happens within the Christian faith even today. Just as I felt motivated during my Christian days to call them to a higher level of faithfulness to the gospel (as I understood it), so today I still want to see my friends, family, and their surrounding culture move forward, letting go of the habits of thought and belief which keep the human race from growing up a little bit more.

          • charmedcat84 says:

            Thank you, “Godlessindixie” (there is no reply link under your last comment). I appreciate your candor.

  6. Lee says:

    I unfortunately had a conversation on this subject with “close” personal friends last night. Their blind defense of Phil Robertson and his “right to free speech” blew me away. Several had not even read what his comments were, they were just defending him as an “American” and his right to voice whatever he believes. When I tried to explain that 20 years from now, homophobia will be viewed much the same way as recent historical opinions on racial segregation is today…with disgust, they were all deeply offended. “Racism is completely different!”. No, it’s not. It’s exactly the same. If that’s cool with you, then continue to defend this man’s and indeed this entire doctrine’s bigoted stance on this matter. If it’s not, then maybe it’s time for you to consider whether the “cross you bear” is built with love and tolerance or something much more vile.

    Just so it’s up on this blog for reference, I’ve copied his the link to the full GQ interview below. I urge you to read it before spouting opinions either way.

  7. Gra*ma Banana says:

    Elegantly stated with a little bit of chastisement at the end, of which I heartily approve. It would seem that Christianity has been ‘in power’ for so long that they think of their POV as an entitlement and no other POV is worthy or to be allowed to the point that they don’t even recognize their own hypocrisy in their distorted messaging. (BTW, corporations, like A&E, are not run as a Democracy. They have a bottom line and shareholders. They have the right to do as they please. We, as consumers, also have a right to vote with our pocketbooks. If you don’t like what they are selling, don’t buy it! And if you think that they are unjustly bigoted, like Chick-fil-a, petition, write letters, boycott and hope they respond favorably.) Neil, I look forward to your next insightful post. You have put into words what I have been thinking/feeling for the past 50 years. Thanks!!!

  8. Leave it to you to so succinctly voice the thoughts I cannot put the right words to myself. And thank you for not fighting with yourself any further and just writing! I am reblogging this, if it’s ok.

  9. Reblogged this on Mindful Musings at Midlife and commented:
    This blogger so gets the point of this ‘trending news’ and kudos to him for posting what so many of us cannot express in the right words.

  10. Darrel Ray says:

    Christian whining. That is what we seem to see a lot these days. As Edward Gibbon said in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the years when there was no persecution of Christians was the worst thing that happened to Christianity. Christians quickly became complaisant and wealthy. When they achieved dominance under Constantine, they quickly began persecuting all other religions with a vengeance far greater than the Romans. You can bet that without the legal and constitutional protections we have, Christians would be persecuting all non-Christians just as they have for 1700 years wherever they gain political dominance. Indeed, they try almost every day in local government and state legislatures.

    • Gra*ma Banana says:

      In the beginnings of our country, pilgrim Christians did persecute ‘other’ religions. Remember the Salem Witch Trials (and burnings)? And they persecuted the Indians for their ‘Great Spirit’ and other deities. It just went downhill from there.

  11. Jonathan says:

    It seems to me that you are falling into the same trap as those you are correcting. By calling Phil’s supporters out for a lack of embracing persecution you are correcting them “religiously” (endure persecution) on a political issue (free speech). My issue with A&E is that a man was asked in an interview what his personal thoughts on a subject were. He gave his personal view with a religious justification. Does/Should an employer have the right to discipline an employee for holding a religious view contrary to their (the employer’s) own? Before we bring up Alec Baldwin comparisons, AB was insulting a non-gay by calling him hateful names (GLAAD: crickets, crickets). Apples meet Oranges.
    If a Muslim or Homosexual wanted a job at Chic-fil-a/Hobby-lobby could Chic-fil-a/Hobby-lobby refuse to hire them based on religious differences? If A&E has a right to take a stand based on their “beliefs” (gay=good) regardless of financial gain or loss, do those on the other side of the religious spectrum (Islam/gay=bad) not have the same right? And if those classes are protected, why are not their counterparts?

  12. Piobaireachd says:

    Just to be clear, this is NOT a first amendment issue. This fellow is simply suffering the consequences publicly stating his beliefs. He has suffered absolutely NO restrictions on his 1st amendment rights in the process.

    I found this discussion of the issue interesting:

    • mikespeir says:

      Let me just throw this in for the sake of discussion. I happen to have a second, part-time job cleaning a church. Now, as an atheist I’m obviously opposed to what the people in that church believe, but it’s a second source of income that I need. So, what if I came out and publically denounced those people and their beliefs? What if the pastor fired me for speaking out like that? Who would you side with, me or the pastor?

      • I would think that you must have lost your mind :)

        Where I live, everywhere is like church. If you can’t keep your opinion to yourself, you won’t make it.

        • mikespeir says:

          You live in north Texas, too? Kidding, of course. But you’re right. I would have to have lost my mind and might very well end up losing something important, too! ;-)

    • bonnie says:

      Thanks for sharing. I had no idea he wasn’t fired haha.

  13. bonnie says:

    I just read the article and I must be spending way too much time in bible thumping country because I didn’t find what he said all that surprising or offensive. It’s what most of the people around here believe but they usually only say to other believers (or me because they assume I’m a believer).

    I’m surprised A&E acted out like they did since they’ve tolerated him and his comments this long. Maybe this was just the icing on the cake for them.

    Honestly, I’ve watched the show and enjoyed it. Simply for the fact that they’re like a lot of people I know and am related too and they do some really funny stuff.

    A lot of the appeal of this show is that it’s NOT POLITICALLY CORRECT and everything else mainstream is to a nauseating extent. It’s nice to see some one let their hair down on television, so to speak. We are so afraid of offending people now a days that it’s gotten ridiculous.

    Sure his comments demonstrated a close minded ignorant background but who cares? I didn’t get the feeling he was calling for any kind of action other than proselytizing. This whole ‘interview’ has been way blown out of proportion imo. Just your standard hypocritical Christian and politically correct liberal media.

  14. Evelyn says:

    I live in the Jackson Ms area. I have listened with some interest as the local talk radio station took call after call about “free speech” and all that. I finally heard the call about how “the gays and atheists never once did anything to give back to the community or help anyone with a different agenda”. I was so angry I called the station to give my own opinion. They told me to call back…..Really.

    • Gra*ma Banana says:

      Good for you. I live in Brandon, MS and refuse to listen to local talk radio. Sorry I missed this particular discussion. Not surprised they told you to ‘call back’. I like MS for its climate, affordability, and support of retirees, but if I had a lot of money, I would not live here. I did not do enough research and due diligence about the political and social climate before I decided to move here from CA. I have lived in many southern states (ie: GA, LA, AL, NC, TX, and MS when I was very young) and I don’t remember so much hate-in-your-face while living in the south.

      • Evelyn says:

        I work in a profession where I help people every day, doing things that are not my job as well as things that are!
        I think the saying goes “You dont need god to do good”. That describes what I see people doing every day. The only difference is I try to help people because I want to not because a religion tells me I should.

    • bonnie says:

      Oh my gosh, I heard Rush ranting about the evil atheists on talk radio a few days ago and my head almost exploded. I felt the same urge to call in but didn’t. Wish I was as brave as you.

  15. Pingback: Father Abraham Had Many Psychoses | godless in dixie

  16. Bill says:

    God is about love. The politically correct have been exposed since biblical times. the truth is, the true follower of christ does not judge for anything. I wrote about it today. Read my article and discuss in the comments

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