The youth group of an Evangelical Free Church in Northern California showed “God’s Not Dead 2” in May of 2017. Its my contention that the questionable movie franchise is the white evangelical Christian equivalent of pornography. This post is a frank discussion on the concept of white evangelical Christians facing persecution in the United States. In all honesty one must remember that many evangelical Christians not only engage in persecution of other faiths but of those who have no faith. Furthermore it is extremely disrespectful for white evangelical Christians to claim they are being persecuted in the United States when one considers what Christians are enduring in North Korea, Syria, Iraq, Russia or China.
“Once you attempt legislation upon religious grounds, you open the way for every kind of intolerance and religious persecution.”
William Butler Yeats
“You should read history and look at ostracism, persecution, martyrdom, and that kind of thing. They always happen to the best men, you know.”
But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!
Matthew 5:44 NLT
The Hydesville Youth showing God’s Not Dead 2 on May 30, 2017
Trailer for God’s Not Dead 2
There is a lot to say in this post. I have held off on other posts about the topic of white evangelicals facing persecution because I felt it needed a post all by itself. Its my firm contention that many white evangelical Christians have a warped view of Christian persecution. And as I hope to explain below the white Christian view of persecution is fantasy and no different than pornography. In addition there is a lot of other problems as well to consider. But before we get into the topic let’s look at an EFCA church in Northern California.
Overview of Hydesville Community Church
Hydesville Community Church is located in Hydesville, California. Hydesville is located in Humboldt County. This Northern California county is 270 miles north of San Francisco. Its a heavily forested area with the seat of government being in Eureka which has a population of about 27,000 people. Hydesville is small and has a population of about 1,300 people. Hydesville Community Church appears to have a lot of influence in the locale. In a small rural area like this my guess is that many people come from miles around. Hydesville Community Church was established in 1879 as a nondenominational church. It joined the EFCA movement in 1963. Mike Delamarian III became the pastor in 1983. He grew the church from a congregation of about 50 people. From what I have read Mike appears to be gifted and loved by the community. According to my research in 2014 this church had about 600 people involved, and if I were to take an educated guess I would state that it is probably grown a little bit more. There is a good write up of this EFCA church in Hydesville in the North Coast Journal in 2007. However, in researching Hydersville Community Church I also did learn that in 2014 that the associate pastor of Hydesville, Jeff Beltz was arrested for assaulting his wife in the church parking lot. According to local press he hit her so hard that her glasses were broken. Today at Hydesville Community Church Dave Bruno is the associate pastor and Penny Fregeau is the director of counseling and women’s ministry. Doug Culbert, Greg Thomsen and Bryce Fields run the youth ministry. In May of 2017 the youth ministry showed the second film of the God’s Not Dead franchise. I honestly find that to be a disturbing, and believe that the franchise is warped and has serious problems.
The “God’s Not Dead” Franchise
According to my research the “God’s Not Dead” franchise began in 2014. The original movie is based off Rice Brock’s “God’s Not Dead: Evidence for God in an Age of Uncertainty.” There were two follow up films, one in 2016 and another in 2018. All of the films deal with evangelical Christians facing persecution in unrealistic ways. The original one deals with a Christian college student tested by a philosophy professor who is an atheist. In that film the Christian student can’t sign a declaration that God is dead. The second film deals with a Christian high school teacher who answers a question about Jesus and finds herself in court facing a case that could end her career. The third and final version of the franchise deals with college students who protest a church. A college starts to shut the church which shortly thereafter burns down and the pastor assaults the person who did so and is facing felony assault charges. The pastor drops a lawsuit realizing he made things worse and they give up the building and start another church nearby. Please keep in mind that is the condensed version. Honestly I have to tell you watching a couple of clips made me want to take a shower afterward.
Many reviews trashed the “God’s Not Dead” franchise. Here is a sampling of the reviews. The Guardian called the first film “sick filth.” The second film was discussed between a Christian and an atheist which you can read here. And for a list of reviews you can see what is said at Rotten Tomatoes. In the atheist community there were some concerns about the way atheists were represented in this film franchise. For example here is a review by an atheist law student (Chris Line) who was troubled by the way atheists were portrayed. Another atheist Andrew Spitznas wrote a response to the film here. While I could go on, you can read what Hemant Mehta who blogs as The Friendly Atheist wrote about various aspects of the God’s Not Dead franchise here, here and here. In some of the reviews people from the outside refer to this move as being “persecution porn.” Honestly I wish I could have invented that name. But seriously I have more to say about this movie and pornography below.
Saturday Night Live’s take on God’s Not Dead
The White Evangelical Christian View of Persecution is Fantasy and Similar to Pornography
Dictionary.com defines persecution as the following. “A program or campaign to exterminate, drive away, or subjugate people based on their membership in a religious, ethnic, social, or racial group.” Its my belief as a guy from the edge of evangelicalism that white evangelical Christians are not facing persecution in the United States. To believe they are being persecuted is a mockery and insulting to those who are suffering in China, North Korea, Syria, Russia and elsewhere. Evangelicals have always had this warped view of persecution that I have never understood. I recall when I was in Campus Crusade hearing staff boast about how they expected to face persecution from the government. I recall one staff member boasting about how he could endure his finger nails being pulled out but that he would have a difficult time being forced to watch the government torture his wife and kids. Today I think back on that and ask myself, what was I involved with? Many evangelical Christians struggle with bad judgement and discerning how to act in the secular world. This happens because many evangelicals live in a bubble and withdraw from their communities and neighborhoods. Plus, some construe persecution when there is a disagreement. Remember that white evangelical Christians scream persecution the loudest. And often “persecution” is misunderstood. A disagreement happens all the time in the world. Disagreements happen in the business world, government, sports world and more. When a disagreement happens between departments in a corporation, does one department scream, “Were being persecuted!” No, chances are its the evangelical Christians that scream that the most. But that even applies to myself. When I have dealt with difficult churches from time to time at this blog I have never viewed it as persecution. Instead I think about the corrupt nature of evangelicalism that I seem to find myself writing frequently about.
But I would also state that many white evangelicals have this fantasy view of persecution. It leads many to read and study people like Jim Elliot or Dietrich Bonhoeffer. But the reality of the question is this…could many white evangelicals endure persecution? Its my claim that they can not. That many when faced with trials and problems can be the first to run or cry uncle in a difficult situation. Because of this I view the way evangelicals look at persecution to be akin to the topic of pornography. One of the issues with pornography is that for some people it can give them a warped view of sex, as well as how women and men will look. For some people they forget that it is fantasy and this I think can affect their perspective. White evangelical Christians do the same thing with persecution. Many live in an alternative bubble with alternative facts and are making warped decisions based upon those situations. Its in these bubbles that you have movies like “God’s Not Dead 2” coming out of those alternative realities. From my perspective I would contend that to watch movies like “God’s Not Dead 2” is really no different than watching pornography. Or another way to put it, in the end what you have is a Christian version of pornography.
Last winter a solid opinion editorial was written in the Washington Post by Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian. Bethany writes frequently on foreign policy and focuses on China issues. The article Bethany wrote actually detailed what I felt privately. Many white evangelical Christians are not being persecuted, but instead they are engaging in persecutions of those from other religions or even none religious or atheist. These statistics are validated by the numbers of evangelical in key posts of government, the legislative branch, state legislatures and more. But it also means that those on the outside should also push back against evangelicals and their theology systems especially when it impacts those outside the church. From my perspective as someone on the edge my concern is when evangelicals persecute atheists and come down on those in that camp. One of the goals I have with this blog is to speak out and push back in that area. But if you want to read Bethany’s article in the Washington Post, you can do so in, “Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian Asks Are White Evangelical Christians in the United States Facing Persecution?”
What Would be Examples of Christian Persecution?
Many white evangelicals as I have stated above are not facing persecution for their faith. Let me clearly illustrate as to what persecution actually is. In India there has been ongoing situations with sackings and violence against Christians. Schools have been targeted and robbed; and this occurs in an environment of fear by the Christian religious minority. In 2015 you had an extremely disturbing example of Christian persecution. On a beach in Libya affiliates of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS) took a dozen Egyptian Coptic Christians and decapitated them for being Christian. Meanwhile as a result of the war in Iraq violence and threats by ISIS have forced 125,000 people to flee for their lives. You can read about that in this CBS News report. In Russia as a part of anti-terrorism laws Russia has banned evangelism. Evangelicals and those from outside the Russian Orthodox faith are threatened with arrest. Many have been forced from the country. And this is happening as many evangelicals in the United States are cuddling up to Vladimir Putin and Russia. You can read more about that in, “Franklin Graham’s Affection for Vladimir Putin, Plus is Franklin Graham a Modern Day Charles Lindbergh with His Love for Authoritarian Leaders?” Meanwhile in Shanxi Province of China early in 2018 the Chinese Communist government dynamited an evangelical mega church. And shortly before that they dismantled a nearby Catholic church. And this happens while a campaign is underway to imprison Christians in house churches and place them in jail. Then in North Korea at least 70,000 Christians are locked in concentration camps. The concentration camps in North Korea are thought to be worse than the gulags that existed in the Soviet Union or the camps run by Nazi, Germany. And this occurs in a country where from time to time some have embraced cannibalism to survive.
So as The Wondering Eagle rejects the notion that evangelical Christians are being persecuted in the United States, that begs the question. What would I call Christian persecution in the United States? When the following happens then white evangelicals can claim they are being persecuted.
- When evangelical Christians in New Hampshire are changing their names from David, Mark, Luke, Peter and more to names that are not associated with the Christian faith. That would be persecution.
- When the legal authorities evacuate a mega church in Minnesota and dynamite it before the congregation who is made to watch. That would be Christian persecution.
- When the day comes that 25,000 evangelical Christians are being rounded up and thrown into concentration camps in Wyoming. And as a result evangelicals who are starving to death are practicing cannibalism to survive. Plus they are picking apart their own feces for consumption because they are desperate to live. When the conditions of North Korea are duplicated then evangelicals can say they are being persecuted.
- If a Sunday School class at an EFCA Church in New Mexico, or Colorado is taken outside and then decapitated for their faith; then yes white evangelicals can call that persecution.
- When evangelicals are physically arrested and tortured in jail as the government tries to beak up house churches. Well in those circumstances white evangelicals can certainly claim they are being persecuted.
Those are forms of persecution. It stands in clear contrast to what many white evangelicals are saying today.
Why The Wondering Eagle is Concerned about Hydesville Community Church
When I was working through The EFCA’s Western District as led by Neal Brower I noticed that Hydesville Community Church was showing “God’s Not Dead 2.” I noted it and put is aside to write about it later. The “God’s Not Dead” franchise is pure garbage and highlights many of the issues within evangelicalism. For evangelicals to watch this film and support it is really a slap in the face to what Christians have endured in Russia, Syria, Iraq, North Korea and China. What also is disturbing is that I would suggest that Hydesville Community Church is compromising their witness and credibility by showing such films. If a church is going to show films like this I would hightail and run, or avoid it altogether. What I would have tried to do instead would be to try and get a North Korean defector to visit the church or a Christian who immigrated to the United States from China who could speak about the issues within the Christian community because of Chinese crackdowns. There are so many other options that should be considered. As I stated above I consider films like “God’s Not Dead 2” to be the Christian equivalent of pornography. For all intents and purposes if this is what is going to be shown at Hydesville’s youth group they might as well show regular pornography instead. In the end its no different. I am going to be writing about this EFCA church again. But I thought this is an opportunity to write about the topic of white evangelical Christian persecution. With that I will close with a song from Jars of Clay about Christian persecution. My hope is that this post will stir some discussion inside Hydesville Community Church. That is it for the day guys, know that you are loved!