This crossbreed between “House of Cards” and “Lord of the World” needs your help to open nationally.
There is more than one kind of martyrdom.
The kind we know the best, which most closely resembles Christ’s, involved being tortured and dying for the faith. Apart from depictions of Jesus himself, there are countless images throughout the history of art that depict the deaths of Christians at the hands of non-believers. It’s a tragic irony that the twentieth century, which has yielded more Christian martyrs than all other centuries combined, has also seen such a decline in religious and figurative art that we don’t have many memorable images of Christians undergoing this ultimate witness for the faith. (Remember that “martyr” means simply “witness.”)
There are some depictions of Maximilian Kolbe, some grainy photographs of Orthodox Christians murdered by the Bolsheviks, of Catholics dying in Mexico or China at the hands of revolutionaries. Some written accounts evoke the courage that God poured into his people’s hearts at such awful moments: With God in Russia by Fr. Walter Cizsek, The Gulag Archipelago, the last writings of Edith Stein. I was proud to oversee a book edited by Philip Lawler, When Faith Goes Viral, which depicts the courageous work of Christians persecuted in the Arab world and India. For those with a more futuristic taste there is Lord of the World, the Victorian novel by Fr. Robert Hugh Benson that shows the coming of the Antichrist in…a time very like our present.
What we see depicted even less often is something that used to be called “white martyrdom.” That term refers to the long, unbloody destruction of a Christian believer’s life by institutions and people who wish to see the Church shoved out of sight—but who may be too squeamish or savvy to go around outright nailing Christians to crosses. Instead, they want Christians to spit on them, or remake the cross in rubber, so it’s light and completely flexible. So it loses all its meaning, and becomes a mere decoration, like a sprig of mistletoe.
Accounts of this kind of martyrdom exist, of course. A few months ago, I wrote about how Jerome Lejeune, one of France’s greatest twentieth-century scientists, was treated as a dangerous crank by his colleagues and deprived of the funding he needed, because he was so reckless as to speak out against abortion. News reports tell of the brave Christian owners of businesses such as Hobby Lobby and Triune Health Care, who are risking their livelihoods rather than comply with the evil law that commands them to pay for abortifacients.
But there are far too few dramatic films that tell such stories—that show the courage and steadfastness demanded of every Christian when he is forced into a corner, commanded to cooperate with evil or pay the slow, painful price.
That is why I was so excited to see a preview of Persecuted.
That gripping film depicts a time in the near American future when the state finally tires of having to accommodate the eccentric moral and doctrinal teachings that Christians hold dear. Those teachings prove “divisive,” and because they make claims of absolute truth they are hostile to “diversity.” So secular elites decide to bring the Christians into line—not with an iron fist, but a velvet glove. A glove full of money, a glove that pats believers gently on the head and shoos them into the background.
In Persecuted, a federal law is proposed that will foster “cooperation” between the federal government and the churches. And the synagogues, mosques, temples, and every other center of any kind of religion. They will work together, with ample federal funding for every religion that will play ball, in building a common future of peace and harmony. The price that the senators pushing this law demand seems modest, almost nominal: no church will present itself as having a special lock on Truth, or its faith as the one true means of finding God.