Friday, April 22, 2016

Polite Persecution

By Aaron Matthew Weldon

In a recent homily, Pope Francis reminded Catholics that there are two kinds of persecution. There is the persecution that the early Church famously faced in the Roman Empire, and which Christians in places like Nigeria, Egypt, and Pakistan continue to face today. But Pope Francis names another kind of persecution: “polite persecution.” This is the social marginalization of Christians who dissent from the direction in which secular society is moving. Polite persecution has been on full display in recent weeks here in the United States.

Several states have passed or considered legislation designed to protect people of faith after the redefinition of marriage in civil law. In a pluralistic society, where there are deep disagreements about the nature of sex and marriage, people with deeply held religious convictions should not be required by the government to do what they believe is wrong. State religious freedom legislation, such as Mississippi’s Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, simply aims to protect people from being forced to violate their consciences.

Despite the clear need for laws protecting religious freedom in the wake of the Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage, cultural and financial elites have used their power to threaten and even shut down some of these state bills, such as in Georgia. In the words of the Holy Father, these celebrities and business executives have engaged in a campaign of “polite persecution.” Pope Francis says that polite persecution goes by the name of “culture, modernity, progress.” And indeed, this kind of language is being used to shut out dissenting voices. A CEO, actor, or popular singer says that a person is “on the wrong side of history,” then the discussion is over.

These women and men could use their power to foster a legitimate debate about how our politics can function with a diversity of views. They could raise their voices in defense of what Pope Francis calls “a healthy pluralism,” one where people of faith are able to bring their understanding of the common good into public debate. However, what we increasingly see is bullying, public shaming, and the elimination of legal protections for people of faith. As the Pope says, polite persecution takes away “even conscientious objection.” In other words, if you don’t agree with what today’s film producers and tech industry leaders say about marriage, you cannot simply opt out. You have no place in “polite society.”

At every Mass, we Catholics remember the self-offering of a Christ who was rejected. As we take and eat the body and blood of Jesus, we are united with our persecuted Lord, and that is why Pope Francis can say that persecution is “the Church’s daily bread.” As we continue to work for the rights and freedom of our Church – and all people who may one day find themselves on “the wrong side” of the powerful in society– we do so with confidence, because “The Lord has promised that he will not be far from us.”


Aaron Matthew Weldon is Program Specialist for the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. Learn more about the U.S. bishops' religious liberty efforts at
Follow the USCCB's religious freedom efforts on Twitter: @usccbfreedom

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