For most of the history of the USA, Christians have been more numerous in the population than any other religion, and even non-Christians have considered the moral and ethical teachings of Christianity to be normative. As secularism increases, the dominance of Christianity in the culture is waning, and alongside the increase in secularism the increased immigration of adherents of Islam is adding another new dimension to the culture. The effect of secularism in the culture is in radical opposition to the effect of Islam in the culture. The combined pressure of these two growing elements makes many Christians feel very uncomfortable. Though Christians feel threatened spiritually by secularism, they feel physically threatened by Islam, largely as a consequence of the terrorism of the September 11, 2001, attacks. For almost two hundred years it was reasonably comfortable to be a Christian in the USA, but during the past fifty years, and especially during the past twenty years, Christians have experienced cultural pressures that are beginning to overflow into legal and state pressures that are unfamiliar and unnerving. Christian ideas and practices used to be what everyone in the US thought of as “normal.” The meaning of normality is changing, and the change isn’t comfortable for Christians.
Jesus never said it would be. Comfortable, that is. Jesus said that “normal” for Christians would always be uncomfortable.
Christians in other countries have been experiencing this discomfort for a long time. Christians in countries dominated by secular thinking suffer both cultural and state persecution, even though what Christians experience as persecution is often classified by the state as “protection.” Christians in countries dominated by Islam also suffer persecution. In some Muslim countries, simply to be a Christian is illegal. In others, the law allows the practice of the Christian religion, but the culture makes it a dangerous choice. Christians in the USA wonder what it will mean to be a Christian here if either secularism or Islam becomes powerful enough to dominate the government.
There are examples around the world of both situations. Christians should know about the way government and culture change under either secularism or Islam in other countries.
The Philippines provide a good example of what happens when a country long dominated by Christians in both culture and government comes under the influence of a growing Muslim population.
On October 18, 2012, it was reported that the government of the Philippines made a peace agreement with a large Muslim terrorist organization. This agreement is the culmination of forty years of conflict most people would call civil war. The government ceded a large autonomous region in Mindanao to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Even though most citizens of the Philippines are Catholic Christians, the Muslim minority in Mindanao is aggressively seeking to form its own independent. It is hard to imagine a nation ceding control of a region within its boundaries this way. Americans would consider it unthinkable that such a thing could happen in the US. It would be as if the population of Dearborn, Michigan, which is predominantly Muslim immigrants, decided to demand secede from the United States and set up its own government.
What does autonomy mean? For now, in the territory ceded to the MILF, it will mean more political and economic freedom. It will mean that the government of this region will be free to enact laws and trade regulations that are different from the laws and trade rules for the rest of the Philippines. It is reported that this region, known as the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, is made up of six provinces (roughly corresponding to states of the USA).The MILF is the largest of several Muslim terrorist groups operating in the area. The ultimate goal of all the groups is to drive all Christians out of the region. The terrorists are rumored to believe that killing a Christian is rewarded with automatic entrance to heaven. Muslims make up 30% of the population of the region, meaning that the assertive aggression of this minority has been forceful enough to make the central government decide that there is more to be gained by giving Muslims the autonomy they request that by continuing to fight with them. Since the Muslims have not given up their desire to form their own country, they most likely consider this agreement only one step toward their goal, while the central government hopes that the minority Muslims will consider peace with autonomy to be preferable to war for independence. It remains to be seen if the central government has made a decision that will mean peace for the residents of the area.
The real test of the agreement comes as the transition commission is established. Will remaining Muslim groups participate in the work of peace? Will Christians and Muslims be able to live side by side under the new agreement as neighbors? Christians in Mindanao, like Christians everywhere, follow the Christ who taught “Love your enemy. Pray for those who persecute you.” Christians in Mindanao will be challenged to live in faithful testimony to the Christ who died for all people, including the violent terrorists who sustained violence and fear for the past forty years.
Christians around the world who pray faithfully for the persecuted church will be praying for this outcome. Christians in the US will look around at their own Muslim neighbors and pray for the courage and faith to see them as Christ sees them rather than as violent enemies.