Christians in the USA are accustomed to think that persecution of Christians takes place in faraway countries, in third-world countries, in countries where dictators rule and persecute Christians out of personal animosity. They may be shocked to discover that Christians are actively persecuted in the USA.
It is important to stop here and talk about the meaning of the phrase “Christian persecution.” Christians who casually discuss persecution usually mean it in the biblical sense. Jesus foretold that Christians would suffer from cultural rejection, verbal assaults, injustice, and imprisonment. All those behaviors are lumped together in the biblical teachings about persecution. Biblically speaking it is safe to group them all together, because biblical teaching is about grace, not law. Jesus taught Christians to love and pray for enemies and to do more kind things than they had any right to expect, but Jesus also taught that Christians must expect pushback from the forces of evil, and those forces embed themselves in both cultural and legal actions to diminish the presence and influence of Christ in the culture. In the biblical sense, all those actions, small or great, are lumped under the heading of persecution.
In the legal sense, however, name-calling and shunning do not qualify as persecution. There are specific legal definitions that apply when making a determination, for example, that a person who has run to the USA for safety is really being persecuted. This post will not delve into that sort of definition. For this post, persecution has its biblical meaning.
In the biblical sense, therefore, it is proper to say that a university that denies advancement to a professor because of his Christian convictions is persecuting him.
When UNC Wilmington hired Mike Adams in 1993, he was an atheist. He was an outspoken atheist, writing and teaching in line with secular views of the culture and of the environment. He was soon promoted from instructor to assistant professor. His colleagues and the administration of the university admired and respected him. He was twice honored as Faculty Member of the Year before it became known that he had abandoned atheism and secular politics.
Dr. Adams, always active in speaking and writing, activity that is expected of university professors, turned his focus to issues such as First and Second Amendment rights. His positions on these rights were at odds with those of faculty and administration at UNC Wilmington.
When Dr. Adams applied for promotion to full professor in 2006, his application was denied. In the process of considering his application, the university completely redesigned the standard for promotion. The review committee accepted and considered false information, examined the professor’s articles for Townhall magazine (which is constitutionally protected free speech), and allowed a professor who had previously filed a false criminal complaint against Dr. Adams to vote on his promotion. The promotion was denied. All of this behavior is startlingly and disturbingly similar to stories emanating from countries like Uzbekistan and Iran where professors are routinely compelled to comply with every nuance of thought from university administrations under the thumb of oppressive governments.
Recently a jury in a federal court found that Dr. Adams’ rights of free speech and academic freedom had been infringed by the university. ”The jury found that Adams’ ‘speech activity [was] a substantial or motivating factor in the defendants’ decision to not promote’ Adams, and that the defendants’ would not have reached the same decision ‘in the absence of the plaintiff’s speech activity’.” (quoted from http://legalinsurrection.com/2014/03/conservative-prof-wins-discrimination-lawsuit-against-unc-wilmington/)
The university plans to appeal the decision, but for now religious liberty and free speech have been affirmed.
This case is not an isolated incident. A cadet at the US Air Force Academy was recently forced to remove a Bible verse from his personal whiteboard beside the door to his room. During the government shutdown in 2013 military chaplains were forbidden to serve their congregations, even on a volunteer basis. Currently the Supreme Court is preparing to issue a decision on a case rooted in the attempt of the federal government to define a human being operating a business as something less than a person with inalienable human rights to live according to his religion.
Kirk Cameron, whom I have quoted before, points out that apathy and complacence are the real enemies of religious liberty. If Christians are not publicly and faithfully doing what Christ taught, then nobody will respect their right to exercise their faith. False messages about Christ and Christians will be credible, because there is no cultural evidence of the truth about Christ and Christian faith. What can you do if you worry about religious liberty? The best thing you can do is to live your faith as publicly as possible. Engage in business with love, integrity and the highest quality in goods and services. Be the good neighbor admired for your kindness. Be known for faithfulness in worship, but also be known for truth-telling, generosity, and gentle goodness. Share Christ through your words and your actions.
In short, if you want to have religious liberty, use your religious liberty all the time to live your faith. Demonstrate the qualities of faith that wrap other people up in God’s love for all humanity through Christ. If you live that way, people will not be so shocked and surprised when you behave in some other counter-cultural way. It will not pull the teeth of secular aggression against Christ and his followers, because Satan himself drives that agenda. It will give you some legs to stand on if you need to defend your First Amendment rights. Dr. Adams learned that Christian persecution is alive and well in the USA, but he showed that the Constitution still matters and religious liberty can be upheld in US courts. The more people live by faith, the stronger that precedent will become.
Christians must not be apathetic or complacent about freedom to exercise faith in the USA.