Monday, November 12, 2007

Persecution

Regard prisoners as if you were in prison with them. Look on victims of abuse as if what happened to them had happened to you. -Hebrews 13:3

Yesterday, in addition to being Veterans Day, was also International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Fittingly, it fell on a Sunday. As I sat in my church's morning service, singing hymns, praying, and receiving communion, I tried to focus on how precious my ability to openly worship and serve my faith is. An estimated 160, 000 Christians across the world will die at the hands of their oppressors and another 200 million are persecuted, arrested, tortured, beaten, or jailed for their beliefs. There are 48 nations where it is illegal to do one or all of the following things:
  • own a bible
  • discuss a personal belief in Christianity
  • convert to Christianity
  • allow children to attend a religious service not sanctioned by the government.

I hold my religious freedom very dear and am extremely blessed and fortunate to live in a country where I can choose my religion and publicly express my beliefs. But honestly, it is a freedom I take for granted. And that most American Christians take for granted as well.

Every time I hear someone mouth off about how "Christianity is under attack in this country", I wish I could ship them over to North Korea or China or Iran to see what "under attack" really means. All this grousing about prayer in schools or public nativity sets or Ten Commandments in courtrooms makes me wonder if a little bit of perspective has been lost. Christianity no longer has the same Most Favored Nation status in the public domain it used to. There was a time, say forty or fifty years ago, when it was assumed that the majority of the American populace was church going. Christian church going. Not any more. And this twerks some churchin' folks off who think that America should stay stuck in the Eisenhower Era.

Yet these same mouthy churchgoers are mum on the subject of the international church community. I don't hear a loud outcry for the Laotian and Indonesian ministers jailed with indefinite sentences or for the deaths of Christians in India or for the Nigerian Christians who worship secretly in fear of extreme persecution.

They blissfully go on about their lives. Christian bumper stickers slapped on their minivans, stereos tuned to a Christian radio station and blaring worship music, shopping at the local Christian store, sending their kids to a Christian school, wearing Christian sloganed t-shirts.

And then they bitch about "Happy Holidays" replacing "Merry Christmas".

God help us. Help us be grateful for the huge amount of religious freedom we have in this country.

Just as important as our right to practice openly and freely our religion of choice is the separation of church and state. And that the debate over this concept is still alive and continually renewing. Our founders thankfully learned from the religio-political rollercoaster England endured and saw fit to eliminate the state church. This separation, rather than quash religion in America, has kept it alive and thriving. Our public domain should never be sanitized of all mention of religion; that would be doing an enormous disservice to a vital element of American culture.

A theocracy, on the other hand, serves no man and serves no God.

Taliban anyone?

9 comments:

prairiegirl said...

Interesting entry. I say I have to agree with you for the most part. We were just discussing whether or not American Christians are under persecution in our small group Bible study of 1 Peter. We collectively concluded most of what you have written here - that we can't really grasp what persecution means in the grand scheme of things. And we did discuss Christians throughout the world who have been killed, imprisoned, or tortured for sharing their faith with others or simply practicing their beliefs in those countries.

We also discussed that it can be slippery slope though. As there is an erosion in the visibility of some elements of Christianity from public life, we may one day find that our religious freedoms are greatly lessened. I think we are far from it (not in my lifetime for sure), but I don't think it is completely unfathomable.

Louis said...

The zealot Christians would like nothign better to end that separation nonsense and make this a Christian Nation. There will come a time when evangelical will by sysonymous with taliban.

elsie said...

thank you

Wonkey the Monkey said...

I agree with most of what you're saying, especially about how American Christians do not really appreciate how good we have it or how badly Christians in some other nations are treated.

However, "Christianity isn't under attack in America" doesn't follow from the other good points you make. While I would agree that Christianity hasn't been defeated in America, that doesn't necessarily mean that it isn't under attack. Much like all of the other freedoms that we enjoy in America, religious freedom has to be defended vigilantly or someone will take it away just to be a dick.

What if the topic were changed from religion to the free press and speech? Do we have to wait until our country's newspapers are all government-owned before we start to worry? When a political dissident is censored, do we have to say "we have no room to complain -- the Chinese have it worse"? Why, then, shouldn't we be allowed to worry about the state of religious freedom in our own country before things get anywhere near as bad as they are in Laos or North Korea?

I didn't write this comment to start a discussion about whether or not there is any kind of organized anti-Christian activity in America. Maybe there is, maybe there isn't, and maybe it depends on your perspective. All I'm saying is, if there is any kind of persecution going on AT ALL, we need to put a stop to it regardless of how much worse the Iranian Christians have it.

amea_gari said...

Well-said.
While there have been all-out attacks on Christianity in the Western world in recent years, these attacks are, ultimately, futile in hindering the religious beliefs and practices of dedicated Christians. Let's not, however, become complacent in our freedom. There are people who wish to ban Bibles from schools, and a host of other practices that fall into the category of /religious freedom/. Freedom itself is being attacked.
I've always held to the belief that religious freedom-- nay, any freedom- must fall to people and institutions equally. Anything less gives the government the power to pick and choose who has what freedom. Today they may say Christianity is on top, but tomorrow? It may be Islam. Christians may be happy with one, but the other? Of course not. So let's be careful of setting a dangerous precedent of oppression of /any/ religion.

Jaakko said...

Wow, just, wow. A smart Christian. I am astonished. But I also agree.

Anonymous said...

As a non-Christian let me just say that there is no attack on Christianity whatsoever in this nation. Rather there is a defense against any single religion attempting to define this nation and/or its people. Unless we are willing to give equal time to all religions as well as all non-religions in our public schools then common sense deems that we leave religion to the churches, synagogues,et al, where those who seek religious doctrine can easily find it and those of us who believe otherwise can be left alone.

One proposal I whole-heartedly advocate is teaching a course on all religious beliefs (or at least the major ones) to middle school children in order to provide a well-rounded, scientific sampling of what religion means to a great many different people.

The reason for separation of church and state is not to wipe out religion, but rather to provide a sound foundation that welcomes all religions. It is still today a brilliant concept.

So to reiterate, there is no attack on Christianity, merely self-defense from those who wish not to have religion forced upon them, much in the sense that the Taliban forced their religious beliefs on Afghanistan, much as the fundamentalist Muslims force their religious beliefs on the world.

Manda said...

Wow. Thanks everyone for your comments and insights. If I would have known that my rant would be read by more than just the usual handful of folks who look at my blog, I probably would not have blathered about the keyboard so much and done a better job codifying my thoughts.

In no way do I think that Americans should ever rest on their laurels concerning religious freedoms. Continually challenging where the line should be drawn between freedom and separation of church and state is vital to preserve these privileges we enjoy. And there are a number of people in this country who would love nothing more than to make the Christian community STFU and go away; these individuals often (mis)use the court system to achieve that goal.

However, I am dismayed at what borders on apathy in the American churches towards international widespread persecution of Christians. Last year, a fervent movement sprung up in response to the so-called “assault on Christmas”. There was even major e-mail-writing campaign to reverse some stores’ decision to use “Happy Holidays” in favor of “Merry Christmas”.

Very little is ever said or done on such a large scale in response to that which befalls Christians in other countries, namely disenfranchisement, torture, imprisonment, and death. Using such terms as “persecution” and “assault” and “under attack” in reference to anything that befalls the average American Christian is crying wolf and belittling the atrocities our international Christian brothers and sisters endure in order that they might follow Christ.

Maybe the local public schools can’t display a nativity scene out front, but dammit, I have never feared for my livelihood or my life in my walk with Christ in this country. And I should be praying earnestly for those who do that God give them strength in the face of adversity.

girl with curious hair said...

Manda, I really enjoyed your post--and it came at the same time many other religion related thoughts came to me. I do have to disagree with something you said however--based on personal experience: Christians (as well as Jews and Zoroastrians) in Iran are free to practice their religion. They are a small minority of the overall population, and while they do not go proselytize, they have numerous (and beautiful) churches and places of worship. There is a district in Tehran close to the embassies and airline offices which is part of the old Armenian district. Most of the businesses there are owned by Iranian Christians (their bakeries and pastry shops are famous); the most famous maker of mens suits is a Christian family and the pharmacy by our old house had Christmas and Easter decorations every year. Both Christmas and Easter are congratulated to the followers of Christ on national television (the stations are state owned) and Christian students(as well as other minorities) get to attend their own religious classes during the week when Muslim students have religious studies scheduled. I am not saying they lives are without difficulties associated with being a religious minority, but they are not forbidden from practicing their religion or persecuted because of it.

Again, thank you for the well thought out post.

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