Tag Archives: cultural restriction

Are Christians Persecuted in the USA?

By the strictest definition of the work persecute there is no persecution of Christians in the USA. However, persecution seldom arises full-blown in any country. It develops over time. The seed is sown as disinformation about Christianity is spread in conversations, blog posts, public discussions and printed material. Disinformation casts Christianity as anything from an annoyance to a real threat to non-Christians, and the reaction of non-Christians may be as mild as name-calling in a shopping mall or as severe as lawsuits pursued all the way to the Supreme Court. Harassment may lead to actual discrimination, a practice forbidden in law but easily practiced by pretending some other motive.

That path to persecution is littered with the establishment of dangerous precedents. For example, in contemporary culture, the generic issues of health care, marriage and education are seething stews of hot button issues that turn on personal values shaped by religious teachings. When legal discussions succeed in dissecting the issues to separate actions from the values of people embroiled in them, court decisions can set precedents that feel like persecution to individuals who cannot live by their faith principles without running afoul of laws or regulations. Increasingly, the secular stance of the culture shapes a secular stance by government. The secular worldview is not itself persecution, but it is diametrically opposed to the Christian worldview. The conflict between worldviews can and does lead to persecution. It has happened in countries around the world, and it could happen in the USA

In the US, the First Amendment to the US Constitution historically has moderated the friction between secularism and Christianity. At the beginning of the nation, most of the parties to discussions in this realm agreed on terminology and definitions without writing out the terms and the definitions. They simply understood one another. Today, the tacit agreements of the past no longer stand, and disagreement over the terms is creating new points of friction.

Contemporary Christians chafe at the changes but are loathe to use the word persecution. It sounds overblown. They do not want to call it persecution when an employer forbids employees to wish customers a “Merry Christmas.” They don’t even want to call it persecution when a student is forbidden to pray in a valedictory address, bad though they may think the ruling is. They want to get along, and they do not want to start trouble.

This is the real challenge. When might the courage of one’s convictions become thoughtless and irresponsible trouble-making? In first century Jerusalem, the same question arose. The apostles were going around talking about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, a real sore spot for Jewish religious leaders and Roman government officials. They had executed Jesus in order to shut down trouble, but trouble seemed to erupt despite everything. Ignorant fishermen made the powers that be look ridiculous by claiming their “execution” was a failure, and even worse, they were performing miracles of healing in the name of the very troublemaker who had been executed. The people with power in the culture and the government tried to make deals with these people. They said that if the followers of Jesus would just shut up, the people with power would leave them alone. The followers of Jesus refused to shut up, saying, “We must obey God rather than men.” The public disagreements escalated from disinformation (these people just want to make trouble) to harassment (demands by religious leaders to shut up) to discrimination (refusal to hire Christians or allow them to live in certain places) to outright persecution (beatings, stonings, imprisonment and public executions).

Nothing has changed. People in the US have become comfortable about being Christian, because until recently, the culture actually thought being Christian was a good thing. Public officials wanted to be known for regular church attendance, whether or not they believed anything. That state of affairs has ended. And that is no real loss. What is lost, however, is an easy, comfortable assumption that being a Christian is a social plus.

What should Christians do about it?

Christians must open their eyes. The cultural pressures that create the momentum to persecution seem almost too trivial or even too ridiculous to worry about. Some Christians feel that it looks immature to object when somebody says, “It offends me when you say that Christ is the way to God.” In the name of being considerate and sensitive to the feelings of others, Christians back away and back away and back away.

Jesus teaches his followers to love people who oppose them, and he even teaches his followers to turn the other cheek, but he also insists that his followers must never stop putting him first. The entire book of Revelation is devoted to one consistent message: overcoming. Christians do not overcome the world by aggression; they overcome by clinging to Christ. When they are opposed, they cling to Christ, they claim his name and his promise to go with them, and they never recant. When they are assaulted and abused, they turn the other cheek, and they keep saying, “Christ died for you, too.” When they are told to keep their religion to themselves, they simply do not do it; they share Christ everywhere at all times. They overcome persecution by never giving up Christ. Their victories may at times look like defeat. Christ on the cross looked like a loser, but the empty tomb testifies that Christ is the winner, the victor.

In the US today, a Christian’s neighbors do not gather around and demand he leave town because everybody else is a Buddhist. It won’t hold water in a US court to accuse a Christian of blasphemy against the prophet Mohammed. The local shaman will not assemble a mob to burn down a Christian’s house because he refuses to contribute to the annual fertility festival. Those kinds of aggression do sound like persecution even to western ears. By comparison, battles over prayer in schools, wearing a cross at work, and even the funding of birth control don’t actually sound like persecution. Nevertheless, it is important to remember than unless Christians step up and defend the boundaries of religious liberty, the pressure of creeping secularism will steadily shrink the accepted scope of religious liberty. Christians in the US may not be persecuted today, in the strictest sense of the word, but their right to the free exercise of their faith is seriously under assault. Groups such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation do not try to hide the fact that they want religion shut down and cleaned out of US society. They are quite clear that each time they win a victory, they celebrate the narrowing of religious liberty, and they consider that small victory to be a stepping stone to the ultimate victory of removing religion from the culture forever.

Christ never taught us that we should expect it to be easy to live obedient to him. He said, “All men will hate you because of me.” Matthew 9:22 The cultural and even governmental restrictions that pressure Christians to be less and less visible may not be persecution, but if the enemies of Christianity achieve their objective, the suppression of the good news of Christ, persecution will not be needed. Persecution arises only when less violent tactics fail. Christians must be faithful against the least rejection, the tiniest restriction of free exercise of faith. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and Satan’s battle to defeat the good news of Christ may begin with nothing more than a whisper. Never doubt, however, that when Satan takes the smallest step to diminish Christ’s influence in the world, he has every intention of carrying the battle to its fullest development. The fact that Christians are not “persecuted” in the US today does not mean that it will not happen.

Advertisements

A Verse for Meditation

Torah ScrollFor dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations. Psalm 22:28

This verse occurs in the psalm that begins with the cry of one abandoned, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus on the cross cried out in these words. The psalmist screams these words in agony, yet he ultimately asserts with equal fervency, “Dominion belongs to the Lord.” How do you reconcile the two images in one poem?

Read some of the verses that precede this verse, and notice how the psalmist is moves back and forth between deep despair (O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer) and exultant hope (To you they cried, and were saved). Can you of a time when you felt confused like this, alternately complaining that God had done nothing for you, and then remembering that he actually has blessed you richly? Did you pray your confusion, or were you afraid to admit your confusion?

The word “dominion” implies a person with power. It is a person to whom one might plead for help:     

But you, O LORD, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion!

Psalm 22:19-21

In the culture wars in the USA, what makes Christians feel under attack by ravenous wild animals? Have you ever felt that way? How did you pray under those circumstances? Were you able to feel confident in the “dominion” of the Lord?

This psalm is filled with imagery and thoughts that call to mind the crucifixion of Jesus. The fact that Jesus quoted it leads readers today to think of Jesus’ death whenever they read this Psalm. In the crucifixion of Jesus, the cross became Christ’s throne.  The seeming weakness of Christ on the cross is the power that conquered evil and won our salvation. When have you felt weak and powerless in the face of cultural, political and legal challenges to your faith? How does the image of Christ taking dominion over evil on the cross help you in your own weakness?

 

The thoughts expressed in this psalm relate closely to the vision John recorded in the book of Revelation. Carried into God’s heavenly throne room, John said:

Between [God’s]throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain … And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne.  Revelation 5:6-7

A slaughtered lamb would seem to be a powerless creature, yet in the heavenly throne room, only the Lamb has the power to take the scroll of judgment from God’s hand and set its words free on earth.  The image in Revelation is the reality of the faith expressed in Psalm 22. When you feel that evil is winning and the imaginations and words of people around you are either completely malevolent or completely mad, how does this image sustain your hope?

In countries where government or angry neighbors may steal or burn the Bibles Christians treasure, the Christians have learned that internalizing Scripture is the only secure way to have God’s words at the ready when trouble strikes. Do you think that knowing this verse by memory would help you when you feel that the culture is trying to destroy Christ’s church?

The Name of Jesus

In a recent article, it was reported that a professor in a prestigious university in West Palm Beach had asked his students to write the name “Jesus” on a piece of paper, then throw it on the floor and stomp on it. Needless to say, this report produced huge outrage among Christians. One student in the class reported this episode to the administration, which promptly suspended — THE STUDENT.

In the USA, we are accustomed to the give and take of public discourse on religion. We are learning to expect full frontal assaults. This country, with a right to religious liberty written into the First Amendment of our Constitution, experiences its share of activism gone wrong, and this episode is not an isolated example of bad attitude.

This episode, however, does have a specific and dangerous facet. The central character in this behavior was a teacher in a classroom. A professor at Atlantic University. This activity was assigned as part of a class in intercultural communications. He is teaching a class which would appear to be an effort to improve intercultural communications (it is hard to imagine a proposed curriculum that specified as its objective the destruction of intercultural communication). Inside the classroom, he is the authority, both as an administrator of the power of the university and as the subject matter expert in the course content. In such a role, he has a major responsibility. However, this individual has a connection outside the classroom that makes his in-classroom behavior subject to additional scrutiny.

Outside the classroom, Deandre Poole is vice-chairman of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party. He has a role in local politics that uniquely impacts his content authority as expressed in the classroom. People have expectations of political leaders. Despite a universal skepticism about the character of people who engage in politics, people universally hope that each political activist in each party will be a person of solid character whose integrity they can respect. Poole’s request for students to stomp on handmade signs with Jesus’ name on them evokes an emotional response from anyone who simply reads the story. It is hard to imagine how it would have felt to be in the classroom, subject to his authority, if you also felt that the name of Jesus deserved respect.

The university stood behind the professor. When Ryan Rotela, a devout Mormon, reported the incident to Poole’s supervisor, he was the one suspended. Later, the university issued a statement as follows:

“As with any academic lesson, the exercise was meant to encourage students to view issues from many perspectives, in direct relation with the course objectives. While at times the topics discussed may be sensitive, a university environment is a venue for such dialogue and debate.” This statement was issued by Noemi Marin, the university’s director of the school of communication and multimedia studies.

Readers may ask how it happened that the name of Jesus was the name chosen for this exercise. Why not Allah, or Mohammed, or Vishnu, or Buddha? The assignment was part of a lesson plan in a book entitled “Intercultural Communication: A Contextual Approach, 5th Edition.” As reported by Fox News a synopsis of the lesson reads as follows:

“Have the students write the name JESUS in big letters on a piece of paper. Ask the students to stand up and put the paper on the floor in front of them with the name facing up. Ask the students to think about it for a moment. After a brief period of silence instruct them to step on the paper. Most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.”

 The textbook specified the name of Jesus as its chosen cultural symbol. Interestingly, the lesson plan notes that most students will at least hesitate to follow instructions to stomp on the name of Jesus. The guidance of the lesson plan does not include forcing the issue. The guidance of the lesson plan is to ask students why they hesitate. In Ryan Rotela’s case, even though the professor followed the lesson plan in giving instructions, he did not follow the guidance for teaching the lesson. Rotela reported that after he had put the paper on the floor and received the instruction to stomp on it, he picked it up and put it back on his desk. Instead of asking Rotela why he could not stomp on Jesus’ name and going forward with discussion, Poole ordered him to put the paper back on the floor and do as he was instructed.

Rotela says, I said to the professor, ‘With all due respect to your authority as a professor, I do not believe what you told us to do was appropriate,’” Rotela said. ‘I believe it was unprofessional and I was deeply offended by what you told me to do.'” – See more at: http://www.onenewsnow.com/afa-blogs/2013/03/22/university-backs-professor-for-telling-students-to-stomp-on-jesus#sthash.rAbJ8NsD.dpuf .

If this episode were an isolated event, it would be annoying but minor. However, it fits a growing pattern of incidents in which Christians and Christianity, even Christ himself, are targeted by the culture. The culture demanded that Emory University remove Chick-Fil-A from the food court. The culture pressured university counseling centers to force students in counseling internships to counsel with homosexual clients despite their religious convictions, denying them the right to refer such clients to counselors more comfortable with the clients’ needs. The culture fumes over the right of a bank teller to wear a necklace with a pendant in the shape of a cross. And even as many business owners with religious objections to the health insurance coverages required by the Affordable Care Act file suits against the government, in the culture these business owners are accused of trying to claim privilege, not rights.

In fact, it is the culture that has insisted that religion is and ought to be confined to houses of worship. Ryan Rotela’s professor apparently did not ask him any useful questions about his refusal to stomp on the name of Jesus, but if he had said, “That’s not a church relic. It is not a blessed icon. Why can’t you stomp on it?” he might have learned something that Christians and Mormons both agree on. He might have discovered that they both believe that religious faith is most authentically expressed in life, not inside worship structures. It is the culture that shaped Barack Obama’s perception that the only “religious employer” is a house of worship. Journalists studying how to cover news stories involving a religious element are told that church buildings, mosques and temples are “the institutions where [religion] is officially practiced.” They are led to believe that people don’t feel confined and should not feel confined by their faith principles when they are not inside the worship structure.

There is one question that has not been answered in the reporting of Ryan Rotela’s actions. Did any other student refuse to stomp on the name of Jesus? Were there others in the room who were equally appalled by the assignment but afraid to call attention to themselves? Were there some who pretended to comply even though they really could not bring themselves to do it? Did nobody else in the classroom speak up when Ryan say that he thought it was an inappropriate assignment? Can we conclude that there was not one Christian present in that classroom?

 What do you think? What does this event say about the way we all act when we are out and about at the mall, at the store, at the doctor’s office, on the bus, eating lunch, and so forth? What do you think? Could any Christian would stomp on the name of Jesus if he had ever sung the hymn “Take the Name of Jesus With You?” 

1. Take the name of Jesus with you,
Child of sorrow and of woe;
It will joy and comfort give you
Take it, then, where’er you go. 

2. Take the name of Jesus ever,
As a shield from ev’ry snare;
If temptations round you gather,
Breathe that holy Name in prayer. 

3. O the precious name of Jesus!
How it thrills our souls with joy,
When His loving arms receive us
And His songs our tongues employ! 

4. At the name of Jesus bowing,
Falling prostrate at His feet,
King of kings in heav’n we’ll crown Him,
When our journey is complete.

Chorus:
Precious name, O how sweet!
Hope of earth and joy of heav’n;
Precious name, O how sweet!
Hope of earth and joy of heav’n.

                 Lyrics: Lydia Odell Baxter