I Stand Sunday was a gathering on the evening of Sunday, November 2nd, in Houston, Texas. This gathering was organized by the Family Research Council in response to Houston’s equal rights ordinance and the mayor’s subpoenas to five local pastors. Six thousand people attended the gathering while tens of thousands of others watched via the internet.
The event was an odd mash-up of politics and religion. At the forefront of the discussion was religious freedom and the need for Christians to vote. The most prominent display in the auditorium was an enormous American flag hung above the stage. Despite the politicians present and the blatant political display every single speaker acknowledged that the problem is not bad politics and the answer is not good politics, but the problem is a nationwide neglect of Christian values, and the answer is a return to Christ.
I Stand Sunday certainly featured encouraging messages from Christian leaders such as Ed Young and Ronnie Floyd, but it also prominently conveyed the message that religious liberty is under attack. The video feed featured a ticker along the bottom of the screen told stories of anti-Christian persecution in America. This ticker ran for the entirety of the event (over two hours). One video entitled “Learn from History” even compared the anti-Christian sentiment in the United States to the rise of Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany.
In my book Persecution Complex I argue that a primary reason the persecution narrative is promoted by so many political and religious leaders is that it rallies people to action. Embrace of the the persecution narrative cements the power of the powerful. One the primary messages of I Stand Sunday was that Christians must vote. At the start of the event, I was encouraged that the tone seemed humble and spiritual rather than confrontation and political. As the “Christians need to vote” them emerged, though, I became more cynical. This event took place two day before election day. Even though this was an explicitly Christian event, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Todd Starnes, the Family Research Council, American Family Radio, and Alliance Defending Freedom made I Stand Sunday possible because they hope it would have political repercussions on November 4th. I Stand Sunday is another example of powerful people using the issue of religious persecution to rally supporters.
Here are a few quotes regarding persecution from the speakers at I Stand Sunday:
“It was about trying to silence the voices of the churches and pastors.” -Tony Perkins, President of Family Research Council, regarding the subpoenas to five Houston pastors
“Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of the right to assemble–four great freedoms that are being systematically attacked by the humanistic culture in which you and I live.” -Dr. Ed Young, Pastor of Second Baptist Church, Houston
“There is a war on religious liberty in America. This is a war that’s not targeting those of the Muslim faith. It’s not targeting those of the Jewish faith, or the Hindu faith, or the Buddhist faith. This war on religious liberty is targeting those of the Christian faith.” -Todd Starnes, Fox News pundit and author of God Less America
“For some reason or another, they hated the Son of God without reason, and now they hate us, just like Jesus said.” -Phil Robertson, Duck Dynasty
“We must recognize that there is a connection between the growing hostility toward biblical Christianity here at home and persecution abroad. The reason is very simple. If the policies of our own government toward Christians in America is intolerant, the message that is sent to despots and to dictators in far away places is that religious freedom is no longer a priority or even a concern for America.” -Tony Perkins, President of Family Research Council