I was late to the story on Easter Sunday. By the time I rolled over and scanned Twitter, just before noon, news of the Easter morning vandalism on two local Catholic churches had spread far enough that it was the first news I read. It was awful to see an action full of hate, in Halifax. However, I braced myself for what would come next.
It was the tweet from a leader in the Catholic Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth, father James Mallon, with two images of the graffiti, saying, “Someone said to me this week that Christians were not persecuted in our country. This morning we woke up to this.”
I was groggy, having spent the night at church worshipping, praying and celebrating the resurrection until dawn. After the Easter Vigil service—which moves from darkness to light, from a place of grief and fear at the death of Jesus to the joyous news of his resurrection—I was feeling emotionally spent. But quickly, I was upset.
There is a lot of persecution in the world. We prayed over it in church that night. Ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. Christians killed in Syria. A shooting at a mosque in Quebec. These are sad and painful targeted acts of violence where discrimination and privilege mix and people die for what they believe and who they are.
But Christians in Canada are safe and free. Not only do we worship openly without threat of death or destruction of our churches, we enjoy a position of power and privilege. We just had a three- or four-day weekend for Easter, no matter the beliefs of those who enjoyed the time off.
The persecution complex is spreading, most obviously in the American evangelical church. In 2017, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation by Rod Dreher warned Christians that they were so persecuted in the US that they should prepare to withdraw from society. This feeds an insidious narrative that has encouraged Christians in the US to believe they are more discriminated against than Black people. This complex pushed white evangelicals to support Trump, and we know how that turned out. In Canada, we’re not far behind. The persecution card has come out in the face of Ontario’s new, evidence-based sex-ed curriculum, the fear of which no doubt helped push Doug Ford to the leadership of the Ontario Conservative Party.
The “White Christian Industrial Persecution Complex” is built on Christians’ fear of losing the power we enjoy. When you’ve had all the privilege for so long, equality feels like oppression; however, it’s worth remembering that this kind of fear is what brought Jesus into conflict with the Pharisees. His way threatened their power. It was radical. And they killed him for it.
As Christians, Jesus calls us to leave this fear behind. To embrace those who hate us, to listen to their hurts and journey with them toward healing. It is hard work that is hindered when we ignore our privilege. Like the God we follow, we do our work when we lay down our lives (and our power) in the service of others.
In the church, Easter is a season. This season, as I celebrate and contemplate the work Jesus did and the death he died, I’ll be praying for healing in the congregations which were hurt. And I’ll be praying for father James Mallon. The local church needs leadership in the image of Jesus now more than ever.