First up from the God Machine this week is a striking new argument from a familiar religio-political figure.
Four years ago, Southern Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress, a far-right mega-church leader in Texas, made headlines when he partnered with then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry's (R) presidential candidate and had some unkind words for rival Mitt Romney. In fact, Jeffress, perhaps more than any prominent figure, went after Romney's faith, saying the candidate was "a member of a cult."
This week, Jeffress made headlines again, insisting that Christians are persecuted in ways comparable to Germany's treatment of Jews before the Holocaust. TPM reported:
"This isn't imaginary. It's real. And sure, it doesn't rise to the level of having your head chopped off by ISIS in the Middle East, but it's all the same attitude that allows for those attacks," Jeffress said. "I want to remind people that, you know, the Nazis weren't able to take the Jews to the crematoriums immediately," Jeffress said. "The German people wouldn't have allowed for it. Instead, the Nazis had to change public opinion. They marginalized the Jewish people, disparaged them, and make them objects of contempt."
Fox News's Sean Hannity asked Jeffress if he believes Christians "are being marginalized the way Jews in Germany were." Jeffress replied, "Absolutely," adding that American Christians are "treated as objects of contempt by the media and once that happens then the taking away of further rights will be very easy."
The fact that Jeffress believes "this isn't imaginary" does not, in fact, make this bizarre paranoia real.
The importance of a persecution complex in conservative evangelical circles is hardly new, but these comments suggest the phenomenon is spreading in some truly hysterical ways.
The impetus for Jeffress' terror, in context, is Christian-owned private businesses that "believe in traditional marriage." From there, the mega-church pastor sees a parallel between ISIS beheadings and pre-Holocaust Germany.
And just so we're clear, Jeffress did not appear to be kidding. This was a sincere peek into the mind of an alarming worldview.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* An important announcement from the Vatican this week: "Pope Francis on Wednesday approved an unprecedented Vatican department to judge bishops accused of covering up or not preventing sexual abuse of minors, an attempt to meet a key demand by victims' groups."
* This seems like a lawsuit just waiting to happen: "A Louisiana school district that lets teachers use the Bible to teach creationism is doubling down on its sectarian instruction, claiming such lesson plans are permissible as long as the school does not provide that material."
* An overdue examination: "As acceptance of same-sex marriage has swept the country and as the Supreme Court prepares to release a landmark decision on the issue, a wide variety of evangelical churches, colleges and ministries are having the kinds of frank discussions about homosexuality that many of them say they had never had before."
* Even for the TV preacher, this was jaw-dropping: "[Tuesday] on 'The 700 Club,' a viewer asked host Pat Robertson what she should say to a coworker who asked her, 'Why did God allow my baby to die?' He responded that it is possible that the coworker's three-year-old child died as a result of human error at the hospital.... Robertson, who once said at a faith healing that God could bring a dead baby back to life, continued that perhaps the child would have turned out to be the next Adolf Hitler, and therefore it is better that the woman's child is in Heaven rather than becoming a murderer."