I noticed Msgr Charles Pope’s commentary on religious persecution on his NCReg blog. I don’t know that his “stages” aren’t really more symptoms–they don’t seem to have a natural progression about them. When I first read them, it struck me that they certainly have been applied to both major party candidates for US president, plus persons or groups with whom the Church itself has been at odds.
That last one seems a bit repetitive on the theme, but let’s go with it.
- Human beings as a whole stereotype persons, groups, and even experiences they haven’t fully understood. So people naturally attribute present events as of a kind with occurrences in the past. For example: my boss yells at me–this plays the tape of a parent’s disapproval, and I react with less than optimal maturity. Maybe we can’t always stop to understand a new situation. Or maybe we’ve never met Muslim folks who have experienced profiling or unfair treatment in society. It’s easier to associate dark-skinned non-Africans with terrorists. Bosses with mothers. And so on.
- It seems that a lot of conservative Catholics recently vilified American women religious for crimes exaggerated, petty, or imagined. No doubt a few women religious said or did things that raise questions. One might ask why abortion escorts or non-Christian speakers weren’t approached personally, instead of an issue for the entire group. Especially since an entire association was criticized for overblown crimes such as feminism. Or listening to non-Catholics. Or focusing on the poor and needy.
- I also recall a lot of otherwise loyal Church employees losing jobs–not for explicitly immoral acts, but merely for refusing to march in lockstep with the more extreme factions of the so-called pro-life or pro-family movements.
- My facebook feed is still peppered with calls to send Mrs Clinton or Mr Trump to prison. Enough said.
- Msgr Pope wrote, “Already in Canada and in parts of Europe, Catholic clergy have been arrested and charged with ‘hate crimes’ for preaching Catholic doctrine on homosexual activity.” I think it’s one thing to take a stance on the Church’s moral position. It’s another to step into the middle of someone else’s business and be a boor about it. We all know what happens when a liberal goes to a conservative blog and begins to offer Church teaching that doesn’t fly with what the majority wants to hear. Heaven forbid that prudential opinions a offered to the contrary of group-speak. And let’s be honest: the experience is similar for conservatives who visit and comment on liberal sites. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God … or wait: you don’t really want to hear about that, do you?
The fact is that human beings don’t deal well with a lack of uniformity. Catholics like Msgr Pope have a comfortable position in the Church. A parish pastor can certainly order a faith community the way he wants it. Leaders often insulate themselves from the real world, and problems that don’t fit the mold. We all know people in authority who just don’t want the bad news.
Sometimes, the matter is personal. A bride and groom may not like, for example, that they can’t have a Catholic outdoor wedding. Their perception is that they are being persecuted, especially given the popes have outdoor Masses during high-profile events all the time.
Sometimes persecution is just plain-and-simple conflict. Something that needs talking out, listening, and diplomacy. In some quarters, that kind of thing is vilified for being “too nice.” But in reality it is just a matter of good manners.
I’d suggest that Msgr Pope’s “stages” are a matter of sociology–how groups react when a minority surfaces that upsets the status quo. Not a step-to-step guidebook for marginalizing organized religion. The Church, our local parishes, and social media are not immune from these symptoms.
Serious persecution does happen. It has serious signs. When refugees travel across a good chunk of a continent to escape violence. When the people who don’t escape are wounded, enslaved, or killed. When people in safe havens refuse to open their borders and doors to those in need, and the midnight knock at the door goes unanswered.
To be sure, people losing jobs and friends is a serious personal matter for any human being. It is compounded when added to the list of losses are family members, homes, schools, art, religious sites, and whole communities.
If we look to the Gospel example, Jesus doesn’t preach about when we lick our own wounds, bandage our own injuries, feed and water and clothe ourselves, we did it for him. The Lord invites the Christian believer to do it for others. Showing mercy and kindness to non-Catholic victims of religious persecution is a demonstration of the Lord’s agency in the world. If our Muslim, Jewish, or Protestant sisters and brothers want to stand up for us, by all means, let’s express gratitude for that.
But when it comes to American Catholics standing up for real persecution, let’s broaden our horizons. And if we’re really afraid to go overseas, let’s start with standing up to bullies within our own borders. Let’s stand against punks who steal lunch money, damage personal property, stereotype minority students, vilify the un-cool kids, marginalize the non-athletes, criminalize the ones who have committed mistakes and not crimes, and who suffer persecution as the Lord knew: abuse by leaders, abandonment by friends, humiliation, or even death at the hands of overzealous authority figures.
Meanwhile as I ponder the Latin American refugees I’ve known, my grandmother’s relations murdered in Nazi Germany, and pictures of people like those Armenian refugees above, please count me out of the religious persecution schtick. I’m a proud Catholic, and I want no part of it.