I was a persecuted Christian.

What I believed and knew to be true was mocked and derided, but that was only the beginning. My religious liberties were threatened, and the very practice of my faith was challenged every day. The culture around me wanted to eradicate my Christianity through media, academia, and political maneuvering. It was inevitable; at some point, I was going to have to fight for my faith through the appropriate channels and means, even if that meant resisting the government.

Luckily, there was a faction of politicians on my side. These men and women (mostly men) worked tirelessly to prevent the onslaught of legislation that would take away what I had inherited from Christian ancestors who had fought, bled, and died for the freedom of religion. Even though this once great nation had been founded on Christian ethics, morality, law, and faith, we believers were now a remnant, a minority, a persecuted few holding out that the promise of blessing would again favor America if we could but only turn the political tide, enact Christian laws, and make sure Republicans remained in national power.

This was not something happening in just one nation though; this was a worldwide phenomenon of persecution, and while we in America were not yet at the point of red martyrdom for our firmness in the truth, there were plenty of countries where imprisonment and even execution for being a Christian was the norm. The persecution we were experiencing here in America was only the tip of the iceberg of secularization that jettisoned god, faith, and Christianity from the public sphere so that it could attempt to crush us privately.

Yes, times were desperate, and they called for drastic measures. We had to take to the streets in protest, boycott companies that were part of this liberal agenda to get rid Christianity, and (of course) vote as if our lives depended on it because they did. At any moment, a Democrat majority in government may outlaw Christianity, and then we would all become fugitives, professing Christ at the risk of our lives. Would I be willing to do this? Would I be ready to possibly die for my faith? My vote would be one of the few standing in the way of this possibility.

This was what I grew up with.

I grew up being indoctrinated with Christian radio and TV, books, pamphlets, and speakers, all telling one overarching narrative: Christians in America were being persecuted for their faith. The proof? Just look around, every time civil liberties give LGBTQ people more equality, it was a sure sign that they were coming for the Christians liberties.

I wonder if they said the same things about emancipation and desegregation?

Do you want more proof? They’re taking god out of public school by banning prayer. Faith is being removed from the public sphere because the ten commandments can’t be displayed on the wall of a courthouse. Any sort of impediment on the complete and total carte blanch for Christian behavior was interpreted as persecution and proof that ultimately the “liberals” wanted to destroy our faith. It wasn’t just that these things were “sinful” like drinking or dancing. It was that anything challenging conservative, Christian thought was an active enemy that needed to be fought and conquered.

I grew up believing “they” were coming for me. From Democrats to homosexuals to Satanists: the enemies of a young Christian soul were plentiful. And these enemies were everywhere: Saturday morning cartoons, rock n roll, movies, books, public school and anything else that was deemed “sinful” by the gatekeepers. These fears were only confirmed by magazines, radio broadcasts, and traveling “prophets” speaking fear-mongering words.

But there was hope. See, my generation was going to take back the land for the Lord. We were the “Joshua Generation,” and just like Joshua led Israel into the promised land and committed genocide on their enemies, well, we were going to do that as well but politically. No longer would Christians have to relinquish seats of power and privilege. My generation was “on fire” for Jesus, and we were going to make sure America stayed a Christian nation at all costs.

It was quite terrifying to look back on.

Growing up with this indoctrination, this thought process, this persecution complex meant that everything was confirmed through confirmation bias. If anyone didn’t like the “truth” I had to say, they were persecuting me. If any legislation seemed to promote liberalism or secularism (by being not what we as god-fearing republicans wanted), it was proof that there was an agenda at work against Christianity.

Everything proved what we already believed, and everything that happened was interpreted in the light of a specific narrative. We couldn’t be wrong. Nothing could convince us otherwise. This is the way things were, and we saw it all with the eyes of truth.

The unraveling of this way of thinking for me came about through years of friendship with people who thought differently than me. My motives at the beginning may have been to convert these people to my radicalized Christian thought, but in fact, the opposite happened. They turned me to a way of love that is (in my opinion now) much more Christ-like. Knowing people, hearing their stories, their thoughts, their lives: this was what radically altered me much more than any bible text could.

The Bible had its part in my deconstruction as well, but only where it highlighted other people’s humanity. It wasn’t abstract proof-texting or convoluted interpretation of obscure passages. It was the seeing of those I called “other” as people that Jesus loved just as much as he loved me that de-converted me from a politicized, persecuted faith.

I’m not going to suggest that you go out and befriend someone who hates you or dehumanizes you. I’m not going to say that our personal narratives are what will bring the great kumbaya moment. All I can do is share what happened to me.

A religious persecution complex is a hard thing to live with. It’s insularly, and it leads to a small view of the world. The further away I get from it, the larger my world becomes. And a large world is a beautiful thing.

So yes, I was once a persecuted Christian. But now, now I am trying to be a human Christian, no longer seeing everyone and everything as my enemy, as out to get me, as the “other.” Instead, I am learning to see people in their humanity, and I’m learning more and more that my neighbor is the one that is in front of me, to my right and my left. These are those I am called by Jesus to love. And love doesn’t call itself persecuted; love calls itself cruciform.