I recently found myself at a newsstand, staring in disbelief at a magazine. I initially thought it was some kind of parody, but it wasn’t “The Onion,” it was “The Atlantic.” Yes, the venerable “Atlantic,” founded by such literary luminaries as Emerson, Longfellow, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. On the cover of the December 2009 issue is a photograph of a Christian cross bedecked with signs reading “Foreclosure” and “For Sale,” along with this headline: “Did Christianity Cause The Crash? How Preachers Are Spreading a Gospel of Debt.”
For a moment I pictured myself dressed as Urkel, standing in the smoking rubble of a demolished US Treasury Building, pointing at the mess and sheepishly, nasally intoning, “Did I do that?”
In all fairness, the article does refer specifically to the chicanery of the name-it-and-claim-it prosperity frauds. I have long been disturbed by cashier-clergymen like Peter Popoff and Benny Hinn, though my objections are mainly theological in character. But to blame bad doctrine, heretical though it may be, for the global economic collapse is absurd. (Unless, of course, Barney Frank and Christopher Dodd have been ordained and are now co-hosting a new “PTL Club” television program.)
The article aside, however, the cover draws no distinction between health-and-wealth con men and legitimate, sincere, biblical believers. Call me paranoid, but I wonder if this isn’t an early and mild precursor to persecution.
I use the phrase “early and mild precursor” advisedly. In Islamic regions, in parts of India, and in communist nations like China and North Korea, persecution simply comes with being a Christ-follower; here in the States, on the other hand, the church has it relatively soft and cushy right now. But could magazine covers like this one be a foretaste of the near future?
If so, the first requirement would be a real or ginned-up crisis – the kind that inspires mob mentality and fear. After that, the scapegoating can begin in earnest. History bears this out: When Emperor Nero wanted to initiate his own campaign of anti-Christian persecution, he did it by pinning a disaster on them. In 64 A.D., a fire destroyed 10 of the 14 wards of Rome. The citizens suspected Nero was behind the fire. In his Annals of Imperial Rome (XV.44), the Roman historian Tacitus wrote an account of Nero’s response:
“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called ‘Christians’ by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus…Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted.”
Nero killed two birds with one stone. He coerced confessions to dodge the blame, and he finally had a viable rationalization for persecuting Christians.
Maybe you’re saying, “Well, O Paranoid One, this magazine cover does hit on Christianity, but other faiths take a beating in the media too.” Hm. Let’s contrast the Atlantic cover against one recent incident: The Fort Hood Massacre.
The Culture and Media Institute is a conservative group that monitors media trends for signs of liberal bias. They recently published a study entitled, “PC News: Networks Downplay Terrorism, Muslim Connection in Ft. Hood Attack.” Some highlights:
“85 percent of the broadcast stories didn’t mention the word ‘terror.’ ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news
referenced terrorism connections to the Fort Hood attack just seven times in 48 reports.”
Only “twenty-nine percent of evening news reports mentioned that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan was a Muslim. Of those, half (7 out of 14) defended the religion or included experts to do so.”
Remember the slaying of abortionist George Tiller? It seemed like every news outlet in America was describing it as “domestic terrorism,” and many in the media didn’t even wait for the capture of a suspect before connecting Pro-Life Christian teachings and rhetoric to the murder. So, while the cover of “The Atlantic” whispers that Christianity caused the recession, it seems the major news networks would have us believe that Islamic jihadist teachings and terrorism played no role in the Fort Hood Massacre.
Am I paranoid? I can only paraphrase Joseph Heller or Kurt Cobain or the anonymous bumper sticker sloganeer who first observed, “I may be paranoid, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that ‘they’ aren’t out to get me.” (Insert eerie Theremin solo here!)
So watch and pray, believers, but most of all, trust, because “God hath not given us the spirit of fear.” And we can be sure this hasn’t taken our Savior by surprise: In Matthew 10:22, Jesus said, “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.”