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‘The Joy Of The Martyrs’

The Evangelical commenter Matthew Lee Anderson has some provocative thoughts on the Tish Harrison Warren “Wrong Kind Of Christian” controversy [1]. He says that all kinds of young Evangelicals are going to be learning real soon that the world — that is, places like Vanderbilt University — doesn’t think there’s a dime’s worth of difference between them and their fundamentalist brethren. Assimilation will not help. More:

Many of the most hopeful and best parts of evangelicalism the past fifteen years have been encompassed by an incipient desire for respectability.  The resurgent apologetics-evangelicals have sought to demonstrate the faith’s intellectual credibility, while the artistic evangelicals have made it quite clear you can still love Jesus and watch House of Cards, thank you very much.  The politically-reformist evangelicals have put a hole in the “not like those Republicans” drum, while the social justice evangelicals have made everyone forget about the Four Spiritual Laws.  And some of us—ahem [2]—have pounded on about how we can read the old stuff, too, which can be its own form of “not like them folks there” attitude.

Those movements for reform and expansion of the evangelical footprint are worthy enough in their own right, maybe.  But Reform has often been laced with the promise of Respectability, and many of us—me included—have swallowed the poison.  I have a vague, half-articulated notion that those King James only communities who have been the butt of so many evangelical jokes will be, when it’s all said and done, some of the only Protestant communities still standing:  they gave up their respectability a long time ago and don’t seem to have missed it since.

He goes on to say that Christians — the untame ones –need to learn how to deal with the coming scorn with “a disregard which quickly turns the pathetic instruments of stigmatization into jewelry and art.” Why were the martyrs joyful? Because they were confident that from their suffering, new life would emerge. So too should we be. Anderson puts in the sting at the end:

While thinking further about this, it occurred to me that “respectability” as a temptation is most likely limited to those pursuing white, upper-middle class lifestyles, for whom ‘respectability’ is a kind of currency that gets things done.

Read the whole thing. [1]

“Blessed are you when they persecute you and speak all manner of evil against you.” What if we lived as if that were true?

58 Comments (Open | Close)

58 Comments To "‘The Joy Of The Martyrs’"

#1 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 29, 2014 @ 10:32 am

I think Engineer Scotty has it about covered.

And JohnE_o pretty well said this, but I’ll just add that Rusty has demonstrated there is nothing in any sacred text that a true believer can’t rationalize their way out of, if it seems inconvenient, while continuing to pat themselves on the back that they are a true believer.

#2 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On August 29, 2014 @ 10:35 am

charles cosimano said:

Respectability is pretty useless and not a hell of a lot of fun, but the witness of the martyrs died at Jonestown.

If that wasn’t enough, the 90’s had a bunch of death cults that made world wide news:

The Branch Davidians ’93
The Order of the Solar Temple ’94
Heaven’s Gate ’97
The MRTC in Uganda ’00

The rise of Al Qaeda seemed to put an end to it, although they could probably be described as death cult as well. But they weren’t content to quietly kill themselves, they want to take other people with them.

#3 Comment By Franklin Evans On August 29, 2014 @ 11:58 am


JA and Franklin you’re not getting what I mean.

Especially today, I’m very ready to concede my failure there. I assure you I’m making a sincere effort. 😀

I’m not saying that a person’s personal choices make them distinct from the “Bad Christians”.

Noted, with thanks.

I’m saying that there are multiple forms of Christianity and evangelicals, for all their flaws, don’t have a history of religious violence in the way that Catholics, Orthodox and mainline protestants do.

I’ll reiterate my point about metaphors. I’m not looking to specifics, though at this point I will respect your attempts here and try to meet you half way.

There are many forms and degrees of violence (my intention with starting with a metaphor). They need not be physical to have the same impact and consequences. As a counterexample: Protestants ruled with an iron hand public education in the US from its inception. One of their first acts of tyranny was to require The Lord’s Prayer at the beginning of every day, and Catholics’ objections to its phrasing was met with verbal violence (as it were). A consequence of that was the virtual explosion of the Catholic parochial school system, but that’s a digression I’m not suggesting, just an observation.

Protestants were fully engaged in forced conversions of Native Americans. It was Protestant missionaries who worked to demolish indigenous cultures along with their belief systems. You may wish to distinguish them with the term “evangelical”, and I’m ready to learn the about it, but from my metaphorical starting point I didn’t have motivation to be that nuanced.

I’ll add a personal disclosure: The early years of my Pagan path — ages 19 to about 30 — was marked by paranoia, anger and hostility specifically towards evangelicals. At one point I cynically pointed out to any who would listen that I’d been “saved” 25 times before losing count, all without my consent. I delighted in baiting them whenever I encountered them, in some instances that if fully described would be a serious embarrassment to my current reputation for civility.

Anyway, my current views and attitudes are much more balanced, but still informed by those experiences because of the many fellow Pagans whose stories of verbal and emotional violence from evangelicals makes my story trivial by comparison. I consciously put my energy towards interfaith dialogue — heck, it’s a primary reason why I’m here on Rod’s blog — and that I sometimes backslide to that earlier time is something I really need to keep a close watch on.

#4 Comment By VikingLS On August 29, 2014 @ 4:37 pm

“You may wish to distinguish them with the term “evangelical”, and I’m ready to learn the about it, but from my metaphorical starting point I didn’t have motivation to be that nuanced.”

Well you need to be that nuanced because there’s two different groups in play here. The Mainline Protestants who dominated US society in the past are largely the same denominations that now are the ones most likely to embrace the liberal agenda across the board.

Evangelicals by and large are a more recent phenomenon and are on the other side of a lot of political issues from mainline protestants currently. (some overlap amongst the Wesleyans.)

I’m not an evangelical and find a lot of evangelical culture a bit silly, but they’ve been left holding the bag for a great many things that happened long before their movement appeared on the scene.

#5 Comment By Chris 1 On August 30, 2014 @ 7:38 pm

The Beatitude says “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

What if the evil they utter is true?

#6 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On September 1, 2014 @ 9:30 am

In response to MH, Cosimano, and Chris 1, perhaps it would be well to say that martyrdom is something a confident believer is able to face if it comes to them, but if one seeks it out or inflicts it upon themselves, it is not martyrdom at all.

#7 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On September 1, 2014 @ 11:56 pm

@Siarlys Jenkins, fair point, although the Branch Davidians would probably claim it came looking for them.

#8 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On September 2, 2014 @ 9:50 am

The Branch Davidians are a mixed bag. Koresh took command of the little community literally by force of arms — a constant danger in any community isolated from the larger world. There is little doubt that it was abusive. But, the siege was undoubtedly overkill. Sometimes martyrdom is offered by the incompetent to those who don’t really merit it.