The Privilege of the Oppressed: Why Christians Seek Martyrdom

By Katherine Tees

Most people who have grown up privileged will acknowledge their fortunate status in life, but will respond with hostility if others remind them of said privilege. This is not a phenomenon unique to any person or religion, but during this election season, it is seems to be especially prominent among “Christian” politicians. While not justifying or rationalizing bad behavior, I am interested in examining how hatred is breed within our society as we encourage groups to compete for the coveted and all forgiving title of “persecuted.”

Martyrdom is the experience of persecution or suffering due to one’s faith. Because individuals bore said torment and remained loyal to their faith, others regard them as holy individuals that serve as examples of true devotion. The term itself implies a moral hierarchy that helps solidify the “other” as the unjust oppressors. Establishing a lineage of oppression helps groups motivate their members and justify their attempts to institutionalize and promote their religious beliefs in the public sphere.

Some Christians and conservatives, terms wrongfully used interchangeably, feel like they are losing so called “culture wars,” as Americans become more critical of the social implications and consequential inequality that can result in evangelical rhetoric. Because they have been historically privileged and still occupy the majority in the United States, Christians do not feel like their personal feelings and opinions are being heard or valued as much as those of minorities. In his article on the online publication Patheos, Benjamin Dixon claims that Christians in the United States ignore the real plight of minorities when they push the “Christian Persecution Complex.” He proposes that CPC is a reaction to the fact that Christianity “is no longer the unspoken cultural norm for our broader society.” It can be widely agreed upon that, relative to other religious groups, Christians do not have cause to feel victimized. Despite this, the perceived lack of consideration or sympathy from the general population is what is fueling a larger narrative of persecution in some politically motivated Christian communities.

Shifting the scale of analysis to that of the individual, self-assigned martyrdom can easily present itself as a personality infliction where a person tries to gain advantage on others through the constant rehashing of past offenses and manufacturing a false narrative. Scholars refer to this psychological mechanism as the Persecution or Martyr Complex. Exploring the manifestations of the Evangelical Persecution Complex throughout history, the “Jesus Freak” movement of the mid-1990s is the most explicit example of a subculture that glorified self-initiated exclusion and persecution as it reintroduced martyrdom in popular culture. In this movement, teens accentuated and even exaggerated their low social status among their peers as a way to present themselves as suffering Christians. Opposition gave their views legitimacy and their confident rejection of the norm gave their position sincerity. They were able to use this to find themselves superior within the general population and among their “brothers and sisters” in Christ. Curiously, current adults seem to be utilizing similar strategies as these adolescences. A complete disregard for political correctness and public perception is rewarded as Republicans shift their votes to politicians who present themselves trailblazers fighting the current regime. Likewise, Christian voters are easily seduced by campaigns that reaffirm their self-righteous conception of their sacred strife. Citizens are desperate to have their views and innermost thoughts reaffirmed.

Similar to the Islamophobia Industry discussed in class, the CPC is something that must be cultivated and maintained in order to reach the Christian masses. The Right Wing media frames news stories and personal antidotes in order to imply that particular hardship was caused exclusively by the victim’s faith. The first instance that comes to mind is a story I personally find strength in. Rachel Joy Scott and Cassie Bernall, the girls who declared their faith at the Columbine mass shooting, continue to serve as inspiration after they professed their devotion to God by saying “yes” to the gunmen. This attack was especially gut wrenching as it exposed an internal, homegrown threat to the children (innocents) of the United States. Arguably, the events at Columbine and, more recently, Umpqua Community College, were not definitively religiously motivated, but they presented modern martyrs for the public to hold onto. Likewise, the storylines of movies, like God’s Not Dead and Persecution, provide a much-needed protagonist to heroically defend religious freedoms. Other strategic media coverage and general fear mongering in politics lacks the positive call to action of these stories and encourage the public to identify and target the “threat.” Todd Starnes’s God Less America, depicts the Obama administration, liberal activists, and secularist as leading America into sin and hell fire. Other headlines manufacture religious bias in pop cultural proceedings. After the movie Alone Yet Not Alone lost its Oscar nomination the major news stations claimed the Academy was punishing the film for his Christian content, when in reality the movie’s composer violated the Academy’s rules. My father has a never-ending supply of these kind of stories. Stories that he uses to fuel the fire of his sense of injustice. In his defense, my father is the product of his environment. Coming to America as a child with his single mom, he grew up poor and worked his way through college. Believing he has earned his station in life, he resents a culture that does not recognize this fact, assumably because he is a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) male. Religion is the last avenue he has to prove his strength and his will to overcome adversity. Even if he is just imagining it.

Works Cited

” God Less America “: An Ugly Look At What Still Motivates The Right’s Culture Warriors. (2014). Retrieved February 27, 2016, from

Marcotte, A. (2014, February 6). The Christian Right’s Bizarre Delusions of Persecution. Retrieved from

Martyrdom – Personality & Spirituality. (n.d.). Retrieved April 01, 2016, from­­­


One thought on “The Privilege of the Oppressed: Why Christians Seek Martyrdom

  1. jonolan April 11, 2016 / 1:27 pm

    Interesting that you frame this in the context of Christianity – with dog-whistles for Whites – when everything you describe is a better fit the modern “Black Community” and their various, mostly young and (mis)educated enablers.


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