Persecuted offers a vision of the United States that will seem like speculative fiction. It’s a U.S. where the plight of Christians—the victimized people of the film’s title—can be seriously compared to that of repressed populations in China, Iran, and Russia, and where a hero is needed to make sure Catholics and Protestants alike aren’t inhibited by the restraints of religious equality. And that hero comes in the form of John Luther (James Remar), who heads an evangelical ministry called Truth. As Persecuted begins, the preacher is being lobbied by Senator Donald Harrison (Bruce Davison), who needs Luther’s support in order to pass the Faith and Fairness Act, a vaguely described law that would, according to various descriptions throughout the film, bring about “equality for all faiths,” “unite all religions,” and pursue Harrison’s dream of “a tradition of faith as diverse as our skins, walking hand in hand toward the light.” To many viewers that will all sound more than agreeable, even if it’s unclear why such a bill is necessary on top of the First Amendment. But when Harrison further explains how the bill will confirm that “the U.S. is not a Christian nation,” it’s evident why someone like John Luther is staunchly opposed.
Persecuted takes place in a version of Washington D.C. similar to the one seen in House of Cards, which is to say a D.C where political disagreement is overcome through conspiracy, where senators resort to murder, and presidents use secret service agents as personal assassins. (The film also borrows heavily from House of Cards’s stylebook, aping its ominous soundtrack and penchant for time-lapse shots of the cityscape.) When Luther refuses to support Harrison’s bill, Harrison has him drugged and framed for the murder of a young girl. On the run from the law, Luther, looking like a vigilante Mitt Romney, begins his search for justice all while his former partners at Truth kowtow to the U.S. government’s demands in exchange for sizable tax benefits. Such is the corrupt world that Luther must do battle in.
What’s remarkable about the film is that it’s not really a work of propaganda. There’s no attempt to convince us that the world is being corrupted by people who haven’t accepted the Gospel; it merely assumes we agree with that idea. And because it’s speaking directly to such an audience, the film doesn’t sugarcoat the more hateful aspects of its Christian-fundamentalist worldview, which are summed up neatly when Luther’s father places Americans into two groups: those who accept the truth of Christianity and those who believe in nothing. The latter are seemingly put up with only until they jeopardize the preeminence of that Christian truth, at which point Luther emerges, carrying a gun and a rosary, ready to fight for the supremacy of his beliefs. And that, in turn, is when many in the audience might start to pray that this is, in fact, only speculative fiction. Because as an actual vision of how some people view the world, it’s appalling and terrifying.