Thursday, June 3, 2021

Jason Bruner's "Imagining Persecution"

Jason Bruner is an associate professor of global Christianity in the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies at Arizona State University in Tempe. He is author of Living Salvation in the East African Revival in Uganda.

Bruner applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Imagining Persecution: Why American Christians Believe There Is a Global War against Their Faith, and reported the following:
Here is the text from page 99, starting mid-sentence with a quotation that continues from the previous page:
“…cord, leaving both her arms paralyzed. They were stretched out from her body and bent at the elbows, reminiscent of Jesus at his crucifixion.” Her story ends with her promise to make her life a ‘prayer’ for Muslims. It is telling that on the next page is a quotation from the Apostle Paul (Rom. 12:19, 21, NLT): “Dear friends, never avenge yourselves. … Don’t let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good.”

Here one can see the ways in which persecuted Christians are presented in a terse genre that draws directly from ancient precedents. Mary and her family are righteous, their persecutors irrational in their hatred. They refuse to recant their faith and suffer the consequences, the effects of which literally connect Mary’s suffering with the crucified Christ. Throughout, their innocence is unquestioned and unquestionable. Associating Mary’s forgiveness with the verses from the Apostle Paul then directly contrasts what is perceived to be pure Muslim hatred with Christian forgiveness and pacifism. Details of context (Lebanon, a general date, names, religious identities) are kept to a minimum, seemingly as assurances that the event happened, while the weight of the story lies with the spiritual truth it is meant to convey, the purity of the Christian’s faith in the confrontation of good and evil. Nothing more is said about the conflict, with the verses from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans serving as assurance that Mary was representative of Christians during the Lebanese Civil War. Not mentioned, for example, are the horrific massacres committed by predominantly Christian militias against Palestinian and Lebanese Muslims in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in September 1982, during which as many as several thousand noncombatants were killed, with some having Christians symbols carved into their bodies.

In these ways, and with these elisions, Mary and other Christian martyrs of the 10/40 Window, much like…
In this case, I think the Page 99 Test works reasonably well. While the significance of some of these points might not be fully apparent to someone only perusing this page, many of the basic themes that I explore in the book are represented here. One could correctly infer from this passage that I am interested in how Christians have understood suffering, persecution, and martyrdom throughout history, and especially in how Christians in the 20th and 21st centuries have drawn upon early Christian ideas about martyrdom while dramatically expanding the scope of what constitutes a “martyr.” I argue that this expansion in who counts as Christian and who is regarded as a martyr are central to understanding why many American Christians believe that there is such a thing as a “global war on Christians.

Page 99 from my book gives some idea as to what I think the implications of these changes are. One is that these accounts of violence are often decontextualized in order to prime the “religious” identities of those involved. Simultaneously, those religious identities are often framed in general terms; one can’t readily tell from the tragic case of the young woman whether she was Orthodox, Catholic, or evangelical – so there is an ecumenical, non-doctrinal notion of “Christian” that is being formed as a result. Another issue is that Christian martyrs are, by tradition, innocent and righteous. While I wouldn’t want to suggest that those who suffer for whatever reason are necessarily complicit in their suffering or persecution, when these ideas are leveraged politically, the combination of presumed righteousness with immense power (in the case of the US government, NGOs, and other institutions) becomes dangerous and myopic. For these reasons, my book is an analysis and critique of the historical, theological, and ideological factors that have been woven together to create a perception of global Christian duress.
Learn more about Imagining Persecution at the Rutgers University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue