There was a great article about Evangelicals and persecution complex in Raw Story.  The article points out why right-wing religions are prone to persecution complex:

  1. Israelites were the kings of casting themselves as victims, even when they were committing genocide. Their antagonism with (and particularly from) surrounding nations gave them a pre-text for confirming God’s support for their cause. (This makes it easy to find scriptures that align with our
  2. It makes us feel like we are similar to a suffering savior.

Persecution complex also gives church members a sense of purpose and the ability to persevere with faith, despite challenges. It can also make it easier to rally individuals behind a cause, by identifying (or sometimes manufacturing) a common enemy.

The article also cites the problems with churches having a persecution complex:

  1. Often these “persecutions” are because we hit first.
  2. It reinforces blind spots because we don’t listen to those we’ve hurt.
  3. It’s self-perpetuating. We see others as victimizing us, so we can dismiss them and their “criticisms” as being “fighting righteousness,” and when they don’t like that we can believe it’s because the wicked take the truth to be hard.
  4. We start seeing persecution where it doesn’t exist. We are bewildered about why others see us differently than we see ourselves.

From the article:

When we cultivate the sense that we have been wronged, we can’t see the wrong that we ourselves are doing. We also give up our power to make things better. If people keep being mean to us through no fault of our own, then we’re helpless as well as victims, at least in our own minds. You can’t fix what you can’t see.

In the case of Christianity, the theology of persecution serves to give the faithful hope. It inspires persistence in the face of hardship, including the many hardships that life brings on all of us through no fault of our own. But it has also blinded generations of believers to the possibility that sometimes the hardships they face are due not to their faith or evildoers hating Jesus, but to the fact that they hit first. And sometimes the bewildering hostility they perceive may simply be something that the theology of persecution set them up to expect, whether it is there or not.
Image result for political correctnessIt seems to me that our focus on religious freedom (a cause celebre among the religious right) is often an example of persecution complex. Another example is the battle some want to wage against political correctness. While nobody loves to be called out for their insensitivity, political correctness is a chance for us to question how our words are perceived by minority and disenfranchised people. Dismissing their feedback as “PC nonsense” is just a way to worm out of hearing that we aren’t being considerate or courteous.
Years ago, a leadership coach I worked with talked about using a specific model to re-frame relationships that weren’t working. It might be with a peer or an employee or something in one’s personal life. The coach drew a grid with four quadrants. In each quadrant was written:
  • I See
  • I Think
  • They See
  • They Think

An example might be:

  • I see employees taking too long on break.
  • I think they are being lazy. I walk past a few extra times, looking pointedly at my watch.
  • They see me disapproving.
  • They grumble and go back to work, but then they give bad employee scores on the survey.

When you continue the same steps, you can see that it’s a self-sustaining negative loop:

  • They see a boss who only pays attention to the negative. They see a boss who’s a babysitter or timekeeper.
  • They don’t trust the boss who doesn’t trust them. They object to being babysat and disengage at work.
  • I see them disengaging at work, and I think they are loafers.
  • I treat them like untrustworthy loafers.

The coach pointed out that if you don’t question what you are seeing and try to understand what others are seeing, you continue to see the negative things you expect to see. The motives of others, and our role in creating those behaviors are hidden from us. We have to change what we think about what we see and imagine other reasons for what we see before we can allow ourselves to change our perspective which will then change how future interactions go which is what creates their perspective.

A different coach said “The person with the most awareness in the situation bears the most responsibility for how the relationship goes.” It’s another way of saying the same thing.

  • Do you see yourself or others relishing a persecution complex?
  • How do we break the cycle of self-proclaimed victimhood and lower these barriers?
  • What evidence do you see of improvement or retrenchment when it comes to persecution complex in the church?

Discuss.

** 9 years ago I did a post exploring how much internet persecution of Mormons there was. The post is here: http://www.mormonmatters.org/2008/04/08/mormon-persecution-complex/