Duck, Duck…Goose! The difference between real and fake persecution

Now we have the “War on Christianity” according to right-wing sources. “Phil Robertson and his family believe that A&E [is] discriminating against them for their deeply held ‘Christian beliefs.'”

“Phil Robertson suspended by A&E”

Robertson was suspended from his “reality” TV show, Duck Dynasty, for homophobic and racist statements he made in a GQ Interview (appropriately enough called “What the Duck?”).  The right-wing is up in arms over this “persecution,” calling Robertson the “New Rosa Parks”. Seriously.

Here’s the thing: LGBTQ and racial ethnic minorities in the U.S. are actually persecuted, as seen by the huge gap in incarceration rates between whites and blacks, and in the huge gay/straight wage gap.  Gun-toting, wealthy entrepreneurs with their own reality TV series are not, in fact, in these groups of the actually persecuted.

This kind of “reversal” of reality is like saying Jesus was persecuting the Romans, not the other way around.

Yet, the “Christian” and cultural right-wing thrives on the perception that they are persecuted.

At year-end, we have yet another manufactured controversy to keep the homophobic, racist and anti-pluralist right-wing feeling persecuted, almost immediately on the heels of the ‘Santa Claus and Jesus are white’ provocation brought to us by Megyn Kelly. (And please read Kelly Brown Douglas’s excellent article on this.)

These reversals, in my view, are the result of a theological problem.  If you hold a highly dualistic view of good and evil, i.e. all good is on one side of every issue, then all other opinions are evil, and thus an attack on the beliefs of the “good.”  This leads to the false perception of persecution.

Real persecution, however, results in suffering and, with horrible frequency, death.

There is no doubt, from New Testament sources, that the Roman occupiers of ancient Israel, with the help of Temple elites, persecuted Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus teaches the disciples “in secret” to avoid spying, and advises the disciples how to flee persecution. (Matthew 10:23) They spied on him, paid an “informer” from among his inner circle, and finally arrested, tortured and killed him for sedition, as I argue in #OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power.

See? That’s persecution.

Phil Robertson will return to the Duck Dynasty show in January.

That’s not persecution, that’s advertising.


About Susan Thistlethwaite

I am President Emerita and Professor Emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary; I write for the public here and in local papers. I am interested in what I call "public theology," or how deeper meaning is made and contested in the public square.
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3 Responses to Duck, Duck…Goose! The difference between real and fake persecution

  1. Diane Smith says:

    If I hear one more person use the words “persecution” or “first amendment” I will have to go all Inigo Montoya on them. “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

  2. Good points – thank you for the article.

    I think other dynamics at play as well, though. Poor and middle class people have been getting screwed in this country increasingly since Reagan took office – regardless of their race. Ever since Jim Crow was dismantled, whites have been losing power in society vis a vis people of color and especially African Americans. And ever since LGBT rights took off, straight people have lost much of their privilege to bully and exclude us queers. It’s a therapeutic maxim that when you take something away, it’s best to also give something healthy back. But poor and middle class, straight white people have had a lot of their privilege taken away in recent years, and it’s not clear to many of them what – if anything – they have gained through the process. I think that pain leads many to see themselves as “the” victims of culture change, and to look for scapegoats.

    I couldn’t be gladder that there’s more racial and sexual-orientation/gender-identity equality in this country now than before, but at the same time I can see how those advances have been experienced as losses by the people who were the most privileged before all of these changes took hold. There’s pain all around.

    • Dear Max: of course you are right (though the actual Duck Dynasty people are wealthy). This is the tinder the right-wing uses to set these cultural brushfires. The problem with blogging is you can’t put too much in. It has to be a main point, supportive documentation, and a punch line. But I am teaching a course called “The New Social Gospel” this spring and we are spending a lot of time on the very point you raise in terms of how we transform this. Thanks for comment. Susan

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