Why is Liberty Counsel claiming Kim Davis is an international superstar?

At last weekend’s Values Voter Summit, the Family Research Council made Kim Davis the poster child of martyrdom, giving her their Cost of Discipleship award. In introducing her, FRC president Tony Perkins made quite a big deal out of the True Fact that Kim Davis’s stand against gays in the name of God was so powerful that it led to a groundswell of support around the world.

Want proof? Just look at this massive prayer rally in Peru:

The picture in the video was circulated by Liberty Counsel’s Matt Barber a day earlier:

That’s right: Peruvian Christians heart Kim Davis and other persecuted American Christians so much that 100,000 people in Lima (population: just over 8 million) turned out to pray for her in a massive soccer stadium.

Or not.

It didn’t take too long for the claim to unravel. Thanks to work from Twitter user @DCHomos and ThinkProgress’s Zack Ford, the picture was identified as being from a prayer rally held in May 2014 by the pentecostal Movimiento Misionero Mundial (Worldwide Missionary Movement):

One would think that this is the part in the story where Liberty Counsel admits their mistake, apologizes and moves on. One would be wrong. In response to Ford’s post, Liberty Counsel’s Matt Barber spent the better part of yesterday insisting that the photo was real, and that Peruvians really were cuckoo for Kim Davis.

As he wrote in a now-deleted press release (screenshotted for posterity here and quoted on Matt Barber’s website here):

Julio Rosas, a member of the Peruvian Congress, met personally with Mat Staver and Kim Davis the day prior to the award, explained the prayer meeting, and presented the photograph. Congressman Rosas was involved in announcing the prayer gathering. This past Saturday Congressman Rosas again confirmed the event, and this morning he again reaffirmed the prayer meeting.

While meetings of 70,000 to 100,000 Christians in a soccer stadium may shock people in the United States, they are much more common in Peru. Oftentimes such gatherings do not appear on traditional media any more than the weekly church services in the United States appear on television.

Not only did people gather to pray in Peru on September 13, but Liberty Counsel has received reports of churches in other parts of the world gathering to pray for Kim Davis.

Later yesterday evening, faced with the original picture from the 2014 MMM rally, Barber was forced to back off these claims (slightly) and apologize.

Which leads one to ask the somewhat rhetorical question of why Liberty Counsel felt the need to lie about Kim Davis’s international acclaim in the first place.

The first reason is obvious: money. Liberty Counsel has been taking Kim Davis, and the rest of the religious right, for a massive ride. Their defense of her has much more to do with their public profile than it does with minimizing their client’s legal damage (a strategy of theirs that is far from unique to Kim Davis’s case). If they can convince whoever will listen that their client has become an international symbol of conscientious objection in the name of Christ, they’re all but guaranteed to represent the next minister of God public official who insists on breaking the law. They’ll lose all of their cases, but that will only feed the persecution complex that their soon-to-be clients hold.

Second, that persecution complex. Kim Davis’s entire rationale for why she she should have the privilege of ignoring the laws she is sworn to uphold while Muslims in her position shouldn’t is because Christianity is special. Or, rather, because when the Founders said “religious freedom,” what they meant was the freedom to practice Christianity in any way you see fit. Other beliefs, especially a lack of religious belief, come secondary. The religious right in America are making every attempt to cling to this privilege, and a great way to do that is to convince yourselves that your privilege isn’t a privilege at all. Instead, they see it as a right that’s being taken away unjustly, constituting a relegation to second-class citizenship that must be undone at all costs.

But even if that were the case — even if Christians really were being persecuted as second-class citizens in America — the idea of over a hundred thousand people in a foreign country filling a soccer stadium for one particular Christian is still all kinds of unbelievable. Seriously, why did Liberty Counsel expect even their own audience to take that claim at face value?

In order to fill that credulity gap, one must take stock of the religious right’s anglocentrism. While American Christians are certainly not ignorant of Christian persecution abroad (which is a very real thing in countries where Christians are a religious minority), you don’t see Americans holding rallies with six-figure attendance over the actual crimes being committed against their fellow faithful around the world. They’ll donate a lot of money to prevent more believers from being executed by the Islamic State, but you don’t see them renting out the Georgia Dome to hold a rally in the name of those who already have been.

On the flip side, it appears to be entirely believable for those who attended the Values Voter Summit that Kim Davis is so special, that her cause is so pure and godly, that it inspired a soccer stadium full of Peruvians to rise up for this one American Christian who turned a mild annoyance into a stint in jail. This kind of activism in the name of one foreign compadre over this minor of a grievance wouldn’t cross the mind of an American Christian, yet it was obvious to the attendees at the Values Voter Summit that they could expect this kind of support in their name from abroad.

That’s a particularly American arrogance that deserves to be called out as forcefully as the lie it spawned.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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