- - Tuesday, June 6, 2017

On May 12, Vice President Mike Pence spoke on the global persecution of Christians at a conference sponsored by the Billy Graham Association. The genocide, murder, rape, kidnapping, church burning and torture playing out around the world against followers of Jesus was supported with dramatic statistics and anecdotes. The reality — as a rabbi from the Simon Wiesenthal Center describes it — is that “Christians are the new Jews.” Statistically, there is more persecution of Christians today than of the “chosen people.” What the conference did not address sufficiently is the growing persecution of Christians in America.

In the 1970s, when Bernie Goldberg was a journalist for CBS television, he was on a conference call with other CBS journalists and execs when one of them made a vicious verbal assault on Gary Bauer, then the head of the evangelical Family Research Council. Not one of the news people on the call said anything in defense of Mr. Bauer or reacted to the attack. Mr. Goldberg noted in his book, “Bias,” how stunned he was that, somehow, it was clearly OK to attack an evangelical Christian when, he assessed, a similar comment about a leader of another religious, ethnic or ideological camp would have met with some level of outrage from those on the call.

Along the way, there have been a number of nationally recognizable explosions of hatred for believers in Christ. More than the deranged individual mass killers like those at Columbine, Colo., who asked their victims if they were Christians before murdering the ones who said “yes.” More than the killer who slaughtered nine believers at a Bible study in Charleston, S.C. There is a growing pattern of public hostility to Christ followers that cannot be explained by individual mental illnesses.

I remember well — because they were my friends — what singer and Tropicana Orange Juice spokesperson Anita Bryant and her then husband, Bob Green, went through in the late ‘70s after she publicly fought an anti-discrimination decision by the City of Miami. Stress from the stalking, death threats, concert bomb threats and such were credited by her husband as significant factors in destroying their marriage. Gays who accused Anita of hate and screamed “Nazi” to disrupt her concerts generated substantial hatred of their own.

In 1988, Universal Pictures rejected the pleas of 25,000 believers outside the studio gates not to release Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ,” which — among other blasphemies — portrayed Jesus having sex with Mary Magdalene. The studio released the movie anyway.

At a San Francisco Gay Pride parade at Easter time a few years ago, gays held a competition in which nearly naked Jesus figures — some carrying crosses and wearing crowns of thorns — danced in perverse mockery of the one who is God and Savior to billions. YouTube chronicled the hate-filled demonstration.

In 2011, when Time magazine did a cover story on minister Rob Bell’s book saying there is no hell, the editors pulled out a letter to the editor in the next issue and put it in brackets to highlight its message: “We all know that hell would be to spend eternity with evangelicals.” The comment would probably not have been highlighted if it had referred to Jews, Muslims, gays or blacks.

In 2012, ABC television launched a series titled “Good Christian Bitches” with the series artwork showing a woman’s cleavage with a cross pendant hanging prominently in the crease. Feel free to substitute another group for “Christian” in this series title to see if it would pass PC muster.

Then this most recent TV season, Hulu launched an original series based on Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, “A Handmaid’s Tale.” Absent from any of the Hulu promotional hype and critical raves about the series is that it is classic Christophobia. In a postnuclear holocaust, an oligarchy of Christian televangelists and other evangelical leaders take over the United States. In a nation in which most women are left infertile by the nuclear fallout, the “Commander” and his comrades implement a reign of terror in which all fertile women are brought at gunpoint into monastery-like enclaves. Once there, the “handmaids” serve as concubines of the oligarchs.

In a most vicious assault on Christian beliefs, the leaders of the new regime quote passages of Scripture to justify their treachery. “Blessed are the meek” declares one mother superior-type person as she zaps an uncooperative handmaid in the face with a cattle prod or stun gun. The beloved Christian hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers” plays in the background as the commanders impregnate a bevy of the maidens — an evangelical gang rape — in a monthly “ceremony” to “allow the women to experience ‘God’s plan for all women,’ the bearing of children.”

The primary story line — handmaid Offred’s pursuit of her kidnapped daughter by the machine-gun-bearing thugs who enforce “traditional values” — gets lost in the depictions of the awful hell resulting from an evangelical-run America.

Such a media assault as Hulu’s on the faith or values of any other religious, racial, ethnic or ideological group would be unthinkable to most film and TV producers. But, apparently, conservative Christians are an exception to the PC police — and fair game. Hulu renewed the series.

• Larry Poland spent more than three decades consulting with executives in Hollywood and New York media on the Christian community as a market for media product.

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