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White Martyrs Of Liberalism

Barronelle Stutzman (via Alliance Defending Freedom)

From a lecture Michael Hanby gave in Philadelphia a while back:

I am deeply aware of how scandalous, even how obscene, it seems to speak of martyrdom from within the relative safety and prosperity of the liberal West, while so many of our brothers and sisters elsewhere in the world are dying for the faith. I have no answer to this powerful objection, and so I am also aware of the famous remark of Wittgenstein, “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” And yet the suffering of a Barronelle Stutzman does not become less real simply because liberal order has perfected the art of bleeding its victims slowly and invisibly through ten-thousand bureaucratic paper cuts, rather than with the sword or lions in the Colosseum. Certainly we must be grateful for that, and yet there is a peculiar challenge for Christian faith and witness in the fact that liberal order diffuses its power quietly, almost imperceptibly, without blood or spectacle or responsibility. It creates a real possibility that one’s sufferings may be visible only to God, so that it will always be possible to say, as many of our Catholic brethren seem only too eager to say, “Move on, there is really nothing to see here.”

I sat next to Barronelle Stutzman on a couch last week and interviewed her. I couldn’t quite recall when the last time I was with someone so brave and so serene, but Hanby’s remarks above brought it to mind: sitting at breakfast in Istanbul a decade ago with a Coptic archbishop, who told me terrible stories of what his people in Egypt were enduring each day. Yet he was so gentle, so luminous. It was uncanny. Barronelle is like that too.

In Orthodoxy, someone who suffers extraordinarily for the faith, but who is not martyred, is called a “confessor.” That term means something slightly different in Catholicism. Unofficially, Catholics consider a “white martyr” to be someone who has suffered greatly for the faith, but not to the point of dying violently (that would be a “red martyr”).

The world — and some readers of this blog — say of people like Barronelle, “Move on, there’s nothing to see here.” But they are wrong. The most important thing to see in people like her is what you see through people like her.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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