In a February 11th congressional hearing on Capitol Hill, U.S. Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey testified that the global persecution of Christians has gone from bad to worse. “Christians remain the most persecuted group in the world,” he said. German Chancellor Angela Merkel made news last year when she declared that Christianity has become the most persecuted religion in the world.
This human rights issue has been mostly ignored in the American press. But it has recently forced its way into the mainstream media because of the turmoil in the Middle East. The burning of ancient churches and the assault on historic Christian communities in Egypt, Syria, and Iraq have finally made it to the evening news. The widespread persecution of Christians even made the cover of Newsweek in 2012 in a cover story entitled “The War on Christians.”
The imprisonment of American missionary Kenneth Bae in North Korea and American pastor Saeed Abedini in Iran have gotten the attention of President Obama and the American public. But there are millions more Christians in oppressive countries who are being persecuted for their faith.
A disturbing aspect of the persecution of Christians is the apathy it receives in America, both among Christians and non-Christians. It is a severe human rights violation, yet most people could care less. In fact many people have a hard time believing it is true.
After all, Christianity is the dominant religion in America and the West. People have a difficult time viewing the Church as the underdog. People in the West are more likely to see Christianity as the oppressor, not the oppressed. They cite well-worn historic examples, like the Crusades, the Inquisition and Colonialism, to prove this historical role of Christianity.
Well, those examples are hundreds of years old. It is a new world. Even in America, Christianity and Christian religious leaders no longer hold the places of power and respect they once did. The popularity of religion in general is decreasing rapidly. Each new survey reveals that more people identify themselves as having no religious affiliation.
Furthermore anti-religious sentiment in America is on the rise. I have personally experienced this shift in attitude toward Christianity. People who consider themselves enlightened toward racial, ethnic, and even sexual preference groups, will hold stereotypical views toward Christians.
I have often heard people use derogatory generalizations to describe Christians – words like hypocrites, intolerant, anti-intellectual, misogynistic, homophobic, bigoted, and judgmental. They think they are being insightful, but they are just parroting the prejudice of popular culture. People who would never use racial or ethnic slurs, will voice anti-Christian stereotypes without a tinge of shame.
Let me make it clear. This anti-religious attitude of some people in America is not persecution. It is not even close. It cannot be compared to the persecution that Christians face in many lands today. It is nothing like the treatment that minority groups have experienced in our country. But it is still real, and it is wrong. It feels like hate speech to me when I hear it.
Nevertheless, I have come to view my encounters with anti-religious prejudice as blessings. They help me empathize with groups who have experienced real prejudice in our country. They remind me to pray for religious minorities in other countries who are denied basic religious liberties. It has made me more appreciative of religious diversity.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”