Christians and adherents of countless religions have come to the United States for one central reason: religious freedom. In many countries around the world, only one religion is legal. In North Korea, in order for the government to control people even more completely, the government invented a religion that is the only authorized religion. In Bhutan, there is a state religion, but a few other religions, not including Christianity, have been authorized in the Religious Organizations Act. In many European countries, a state church receives money collected by taxing all citizens regardless of whether they believe. In the United States, the First Amendment to the Constitution has stood guard over the freedom of citizens to believe and practice any religion they choose. The First Amendment has also protected citizens from being required to support any state religion.
First Amendment protections have been prized by citizens and guarded by presidents for more than 200 years.
Over that same period, the bulk of the population of the USA has had some connection with Christianity. The original colonists came to the New World from England – some as emissaries of the state church and some as refugees from the state church. Even those who opposed England’s state church were predominantly Christian. A goodly number would likely have been classified by the faithful as nominal Christians, but in general, Christian ideas, Christian teachings, Bible imagery and Bible-based morality dominated the culture. Even though the country has always been a nation of immigrants, most immigrants assimilated the practices and etiquette of Christians whether or not they had the slightest interest in the faith. Blue laws enforced Sunday as a day of rest and a day to close the bars. Teachers felt free to read the Bible and pray in the classroom if they wanted to. Christians disputed the real presence and wrangled over baptismal forms in lunchrooms. Children played church as often as they played house. A Christmas pageant was the highlight of the school year. The dominance of Christians in the culture led Christians to believe that many cultural norms and practices were protected by the First Amendment.
Now things are changing. Christianity no longer dominates the culture. Some Christians will say that an opportunity to have a true Christian culture was squandered, but that discussion is irrelevant to the realities. People who worship Allah and Vishnu and nobody are numerous enough in the culture to bring considerable pressure to bear on Christians. Now the question is, what constitutes a protected expression of Christian faith and what is no more than a cultural practice? To what extent must the law protect adherents of all religions from cultural persecution? When is an act or word persecution, cultural shunning, or impolite behavior which adults don’t honor with outrage? For example, public schools have “always” had Christmas break. Now somebody wants to call it the “winter break.” Some people interpret that as persecution of Christians. Is it real persecution? Or is it cultural restriction? Or is it simply an accommodation that recognizes that a majority of the school population does not celebrate a religious festival called “Christmas?”
I have a lot of questions. Do you have questions? When Christians are persecuted, how do you believe we should react? How should we deal with the increasingly rapid shrinking of Christian influence in the culture? What is the difference between taking offense and managing the problem of persecution? How is a Christian supposed to live an culture where other religions and even atheistic humanism seem to be more highly respected than Christian?
4 thoughts on “Faith, First Amendment, Culture and Etiquette”
I think you summed it up pretty well. Christianity will necessarily need to get used to the fact that your influence and capacity to influence the national political stage is waning. But these are transformation changes our society is undergoing not because anyone is try to persecute Christians, but because as our nation takes on the demographics of the world, we’re going to see less WASP’s (to put it in ethnic as well as religious terms). We’re going to have to treat all religions fairly. The reason we as a collective society see it necessary to take on the world’s demographics, is because there’s smart people everywhere and our environment, both educationally, and economically, allows the world’s brightest and best, to see our nation as a desirable destination. In some ways this brain drain we cause isn’t fair to other nations, but there’s no doubt it favors us.
So as with any change, for those who will have less power, it can be scary, and sometimes make us angry. But in fact it’s better to be positive about change, so that you’re part of the solution, rather than on the sidelines, left behind. This is my answer to your, How to respond question. If you prefer to see these changes as more persecution, that I know I don’t have to preach to you, that in the tradition of Jesus, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King, it’s best to gain the high moral ground and resist nonviolently (in the media and court system). It’s how you win in the end.
Persecution would be Christians being fed to lions, Jews being led to gas chambers, “Witches” being burned at the stake. Perfectly law abiding Muslims, in some isolated instances, have experienced violent acts against them after 9-11. It’s why Hindus are careful to remove their bindi (red forehead dot, which helps to retain some positive energies), so they won’t be confused for Muslims. I’m not aware of any Christians being violated after the Oklahoma city bombing; to which I would add, why would they, they didn’t blow up the building?
Persecution is not Chirstians’ secular institutions being told to follow secular rules. (Their religious institutions are well protected by 1st amendment rights). This may be waning influence, caused by a need to treat all religions equally, as the number of different religions has increased. And to say that Christians have moral issues against birth control is a bit hypocritical, as I don’t think this is a widely held belief by followers; only the hierarchy.
Then there’s atheists. I’m thrilled it’s your perception that “atheistic humanist” are more respected than Christians. From my perspective, we’re grossly misunderstood. In a recent study, http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2011/12/14/religious-believers-dont-trust-atheists-says-new-study/, Atheists and rapists were considered to have similar trustworthiness. Gays, feminists, Christians, Jews and Muslims all scored higher. But I wouldn’t say we’re persecuted.
I’m going to try to sum things up from an Atheist/Humanist’s point of view, so 1) perhaps we won’t be as misunderstood, and 2) because I think you could be helped by focusing on what makes us the same, rather on what makes us different. I dare suggest that perhaps Calvin (my least favorite Protestant), who influenced Christianity in many good, ways, could have practiced a bit more tolerance.
All people are blessed with consciousness and empathy. For some, introspection reveals a mystical (supernatural) component to nature, and for all faiths (e.g. Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus), a spirit detached from our physical being, and for particularly Jews, Christians, Muslims, a single God with unconditional love. For others, the byproducts of consciousness are an area of inquiry, which may have natural explanations. The natural selection process has favored us all. Not because of these differences, but because of what we share — empathy. This favored a collective society, which allowed an exponential growth of knowledge and tools; something that favored our individual survival. Today we all participate willingly in a representative society, which protects our rights, and improves the commonwealth. We all teach our children the “Golden Rule” and tolerance. We teach that selfish and violent instincts must be held in check. Why should it bother Atheists that Christians want to see that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven? By the same token why should Christians be bothered if Atheists would like to see a bit more Peace, Love and Understanding? I can substitute similar sentiments for other religions. Hopefully with time, Theists will learn that Atheists and persons of other faiths are their trustworthy partners, in a constructive society. We are all equals.
I do enjoy reading your comments. I disagree with you, but you write very well, and you make a coherent case for your position.
You mentioned that the strategy for Christians to survive as they become a minority is “nonviolent resistance.” This is what people do if they think they will be run over and defeated otherwise. I would not advocate that Christians do that. Rather, it is our mission to share what we regard as very good news for everyone and to live our faith in the middle of the culture without apology. To do that is to love our neighbors and serve God faithfully. I guess that approach could be called nonviolent resistance.
You seem to define persecution only as violent punishment and execution. If that is the only definition of persecution, then I am not sure why the gay community is so up in arms about resistance to their lifestyle in the mainstream culture. Please know that I think gays have a right to their opinion. God gives them that right. The US gives them that right. And there have been very few actual violent assaults on gays that I know of. Yet they claim that every person who chooses not to applaud their choices is a bad person. I believe that most people would apply a broader definition to the word persecution than you do.
You further say, “Persecution is not Christians’ secular institutions being told to follow secular rules.” To quote a famous Christian writer, “there is no such thing as ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’ in the Christian life.”( Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be holy (115). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.) A lot of people get excited about Buddhism, because , they say, Buddhism is not a religion. Buddhism is a way of life. Well, Christianity is a way of life. Simply to know the theology or even to be able to quote from the Bible does not make a person a Christian. Living in a relationship with Christ and following his teachings all day every day is Christianity. Central to that calling is the grace of forgiveness for failure to live up to everything he taught. We use the phrases saintly sinners and sinful saints. Each of us is both of those things. Whether we are holding worship in the sanctuary or selling aspirin in a pharmacy or taking blood pressure in a clinic or teaching English in a university, we are at all times and in all places living our faith and serving Christ as we serve people. Therefore, we cannot shed our principles when we leave the house of worship. Christ calls us to live by our principles everywhere. A Catholic hospital is just as much an element of the church as the Cathedral of St. Peter.
You rightly point out that not all Christians agree on the principles. And you rightly point out that even among Catholics, many congregants do not follow the teaching of the church. You are not correct, however, to think that the hierarchy gets to decide what the teaching of the church is or that the hierarchy gets to revise the teaching to meet the social mores of the surrounding population. The teaching of the church is not up for conversation. The teaching of the church is not relative to time and space; it is set in an eternal and infinite context. We are taught to live in an eternal context and take the consequences of cultural, temporal change.
Of course, you will observe that Methodists and Episcopalians are Christians, and they aren’t making any noise as institutions. That is part of our freedom in Christ. There are lots of differences among Christ’s followers. That is God’s way, to guide us, to speak to us, and yet never to force anything. Nevertheless, the First Amendment protects the rights of everyone, Christians, Hindus, Muslims and so forth, to the free expression of their religious convictions. To suppress that right for any reason is a breach of Constitutional protections at the highest level.
Think about it this way. If you have ever run a red light or exceeded the speed limit, you yourself have betrayed what I am sure is a conviction that our country is a nation of laws, not men. You broke the law. You may have done it more than once. Yet you still consider yourself a citizen, even a law-abiding citizen. So it is with the Catholics who differ with their Bishops on the subject of birth control, although their breach is much more serious in light of the faith interpretation that creates the rule.
I said all that to say this: when the state requires anyone, the owner of a grocery store, the administrator of a hospital or the president of a university to do anything in violation of his/her religious conviction, that is persecution. It may not be physically violent, but it is violence against conscience. To require a Catholic hospital to pay for insurance that serves purposes the hospital considers against the will of God is persecution. As for the argument that many employees are not Catholic, that is fine. If they don’t want to work for a place that doesn’t provide the insurance they want, they can work somewhere else. It is a free country.
You said one thing I cannot argue with in the slightest. We are all equals. We are all created by God, created to be free, created equal before him and equally responsible to him. Some of us reject that image, but it doesn’t change the truth of our equality. My worldview, therefore, has this in common with your worldview: we both see ourselves as equally valuable with equal rights to make choices and pursue our dreams. I respect that value in you and I consider it to be God-given.
Thank you for reading my posts and for your very thoughtful comments. You are always welcome here.
Firstly I believe there should be a separation of church and state and in no way should the state legislate for or against religions, Christian or other.
THe increasing hostility to Christianity is not supposed to surprise us. But rather to be seen as the fulfilling of prophecy. Christians should adopt the Christlike attitude and hold on to their beliefs unto death if need be. There need not be any agression. The battle is not ours, it;s the Lord’s. He will vindicate and pronounce judgement in His time.
You are correct, of course. Jesus taught us that our call is to love those who insult us or persecute us, and to cling to our testimony to the death. Yet people who grew up in a country where people with no faith at all used to think they needed to apologize for not being in church on Sunday has led to a perception that our culture is shaped by Christianity. That used to be the case, but not any more. I write to remind people that there are things that happen which are uncomfortable and undesirable, but they do not constitute persecution. Our way of living doesn’t change regardless of the reasons, but it is important to recognize that when our neighbors simply don’t like anything about Christianity, it is their legal and moral right to feel that way. We don’t have a constitutional right for everyone to approve of us or to participate in our customs. We do have a constitutional right to expect that they won’t do us harm because of their beliefs. It is a tough line to walk, and we do well to keep our hearts set on being Christlike, not on winning the arguments.
Thank you for visiting. Do come again.
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