History, especially church history, is complicated

A recent WSJ article (“When Turkey Destroyed Its Christians“) on the Christian genocide committed by Turkey at the end of the 19th and early years of the 20th century reminds me that history is more complicated than we often realize. For example, on many college campuses and many areas of society, the assumption of Christian cultural hegemony is used to justify blatant anti-Christian animus.

While certain forms of Christianity (once mainline Protestantism, now Evangelical Christianity) have been culturally dominate in the US, others forms (primarily Catholicism and to a lesser degree Eastern Orthodoxy) have not only been marginal faiths but actively oppressed culturally and sometimes as a matter of law.

For example, a recent National Review article highlights how the anti-Catholicism of the 19th century continues today (Anti-Catholic ‘Blaine Amendments’ Harm Children Now, in the 21st

In the 19th century’s second half, fear and loathing of Catholic immigrants were ubiquitous and forthright. In 1854, Massachusetts’s governor and all but three members of the Legislature were members of the anti-Catholic Know Nothing party, and the Legislature’s Nunnery Committee searched for underground dungeons in convents. Protestantism was effectively a semi-established religion, widely taught in public schools with hymn singing and readings from the King James Version of the Bible. And many states enacted constitutional provisions such as Montana’s, adopted in 1889 and readopted in the 1972 constitution: There shall be no “direct or indirect appropriation or payment” of public monies “for any sectarian purpose” or to aid any institution “controlled in whole or in part by any church, sect, or denomination.”

These laws were meant specifically to hinder the growth of Catholic schools in favor of public schools that advanced the dominate Protestantism of the time.

Moving outside of America, Eastern Christians have been oppressed for centuries in Islamic countries. This history is largely unknown in America. Even one of the most significant periods of persecution (the Christian genocide perpetrated by Turkey) is unknown.

To say that America is a Christian nation or that Christianity has a cultural hegemony in America, shouldn’t be taken to mean that all forms of Christianity were treated equally. In fact, the very willingness of proponents of these ideas to group all Christian groups together is itself a Protestant notion.

To the degree that America is Christian, it is Protestant. To the degree that there is a Christian hegemony in America this dominance is (or was) exercised by traditions that arose with and after the Reformation.

While Orthodox and Catholic Christians have found a home in Protestant America, we have not found this home without a struggle. This shouldn’t be forgotten.

While there are differences, the current bias against Christians in some quarters is arguably at least in part a return to earlier forms of Protestant-American bigotry.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory