There is a great deal in the news of late, much of it fueled by our current political cycle and the contraception debate, about religious freedom.
Are Christians in America under attack?
It’s been said that the U.S. is becoming a “secular country,” that there’s a clash between “man’s laws and God’s laws,” and even that our current president has launched a “war on religion.”
Compared to the violence against Christians in many places around the world, the answer is no. Christians in America experience nothing compared to the persecution of Christians in such places as Nigeria, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt or Syria.
What is happening in America is an increasing hostility and intolerance toward Christian beliefs and values that many perceive to be an attack on religious freedom. In current American culture, you are free to be a Christian as long as you don’t actually live out your faith, vote your faith, take a stand in relation to your faith, or believe others should embrace your faith.
In other words, it can be privately engaging, but must remain socially irrelevant.
But there’s more.
There is a real concern that the growing insistence that faith be privatized has now become a demand for faith to be compromised. It’s not enough that your beliefs can’t influence society; you must also embrace society’s beliefs. As Jonah Goldberg noted in USA Today, the opposition to many Christian values has become an “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” mentality.
The recent decision to require most religious institutions – including Catholic hospitals and schools – to pay for contraception, sterilizations and the “morning after” pill is simply the most current case in point. For many this was about government coercion of religious individuals and institutions.
The developing fear is that government will make people choose between obeying the law and following their faith. Of course, the real flash point is the one between religious liberty and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights. For example:
*Catholic Charities in Illinois shut down its adoption services rather than place children with same-sex couples (as the state required).
*A Christian counselor was penalized for refusing to advise gay couples.
*A court clerk in New York was told to issue same-sex marriage licenses, despite religious reservations.
*A wedding photographer was sued for refusing to shoot a same-sex wedding.
In each case, the Christian(s) involved were not attempting to impose their religious views on others. They simply didn’t want to be forced to participate or offer tacit support for something they felt was in violation of their religious conscience.
The argument is, of course, that such stands are discriminatory. But this is disingenuous. For example, refusing to serve a person of color has little in common with refusing to support a particular lifestyle that your religious beliefs deem immoral.
Even further, the argument which states “If you don’t want to serve the public, don’t open a business saying you will serve the public” is equally flawed.
What aspect of religious life isn’t, in one sense or another, “public”? A worship service is a service to the public, is it not? Does that mean it, too, should be subject to government oversight in terms of who it is forced to accommodate and how it is demanded to operate? Will it come to the point that to maintain integrity, all public events of a religious nature will have to become non-public, and thus effectively end any and all outreach? That might be the very desire of some, but it would drive the heart of the church’s mission underground every bit as much as it is in countries where persecution is taking place.
In a historic visit to the Vatican this past Wednesday, British Cabinet minister Baroness Warsi expressed her “fear” about the marginalization of religion, and specifically Christianity, through Britain and Europe. “My fear today is that a militant secularization is taking hold of our societies ... one of the most worrying aspects about this militant secularization is that at its core and in its instincts it is deeply intolerant. It demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes – denying people the right to a religious identity. … You cannot extract Christian foundations from the evolution of our nations any more than you can erase the spires from our landscape.”
And before anyone says, “There’s another alarmist Christian right-winger for you,” think again.
Sayeeda Warsi is a Muslim.
James Emery White
“Liberals are the true aggressors in culture wars,” Jonah Goldberg, USA Today, February 6, 2012. Read online.
“Has Obama Waged a War on Religion?,” Barbara Bradley Hagerty, National Public Radio, January 8, 2012. Read online.
Britain being overtaken by 'militant secularists', says Baroness Warsi, The Telegraph, February 13, 2012. Read online.
See also “Religious freedom under threat from courts, professor warns” by David Shariatmadari, The Guardian, January 24, 2012. Read online.
On the global persecution of Christians, see “The War on Christians” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Newsweek, February 13, 2012. Read online.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book is What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary (Baker). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.