Christian Hegemony and the Other

The following is excerpted from Living in the Shadow of the Cross: Understanding and Resisting the Power and Privilege of Christian Hegemony, by Paul Kivel. 

Compared to original (white, male) Christians, all other people have been defined in some sense as Other. The most prominent groups of others include

  • Jews. Accused of killing God, Jews have long been the Other who resides inside Christian societies and is forever reviled and persecuted for rejecting Jesus.
  • Muslims. Muslims are the infidel and exterior enemy, who since the Crusades have represented resistance to the expansion of Christianity throughout the world.
  • White Christian women. Portrayed as causing the fall of humanity from paradise, tempting men sexually and interacting with the devil, women are seen as weak and needing protection, but also treacherous and powerful, needing to be controlled by men.
  • Heretics. Those who disagree with orthodox Christian beliefs, either defined by the Catholic Church or Protestant denominations, are seen as misled and dangerous to society.
  • Homosexuals. All those who are gender variant and engage in sexuality that is not heterosexual within a formal married relationship are portrayed as flaunting God’s will and as subversive to dominant Christian values.
  • Heathens. Those who had not yet been exposed to Christianity, such as the Indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere, were considered blameless. But once exposed, they were essentially offered the choice to convert or die. If they willfully rejected Christianity they were considered unredeemable and therefore expendable.
  • People who were lepers,21 people with disabilities and those with other physical conditions. These groups were usually considered to have rejected and/or to have been rejected by God. They could become healed if they had strong enough faith; otherwise they were condemned to suffer for their lack of belief.

Behind all of these groups was the devil, the enemy in the cosmic battle between good and evil, inspiring these groups to seek the destruction of God’s order. Jews and Muslims, African slaves and Native Americans could convert to Christianity to be accepted in Christian society and avoid persecution. But the price of conversion was the abandonment of their cultures, languages and often their very families and communities. And still, conversion was always suspect. No matter how thoroughly they assimilated, members of these groups are often, even today, considered untrustworthy.

US President Barack Obama, for example, is still considered by many to be a “hidden Muslim,” even though he is a lifelong Christian and is publicly visible as one. There was a national uproar during the 2008 presidential election about remarks his minister made. According to a May 2012 poll, three and a half years into his first term, 16% of those polled stated that Obama was a Muslim and 75% were unsure he was a Protestant.22


[21] Leprosy was widely believed to be a punishment by God for sexual sin because lepers were lustful: Jeffrey Richards. Sex, Dissidence and Damnation: Minority Groups in the Middle Ages. Routledge, 1991, p. 14.

[22] Religion News Service. “One In Six Americans Believe Obama Is Muslim, Only One In Four Identify Him As Protestant.” Huffington Post, May 10, 2012. [online]. [cited December 2, 2012].

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