Sunday, February 5, 2012

Last Church Standing

           The last church in Afghanistan was recently demolished. No new building permits are being issued for churches. It is not because there are no Christians or no need for churches. The American-supported government in Afghanistan is following a systematic policy of discrimination against Christianity. What is troubling is that this has happened while American servicemen and women are fighting for the Afghans’ freedom. What about religious freedom?

The same thing has happened in Iraq. There are only one third as many Christians in Iraq today as when the Iraq War began, due to bombings of churches and assassinations of church leaders. The so-called Arab Spring has not been kind to Christians in other countries either. Church burnings and persecution against Christians in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, have been widespread and brutal. The rise of militant Islam to a position of power in these countries does not bode well for the Christian minority populations.

What is most troubling is that there is no outcry in America from either the Republicans or Democrats. Religious liberty is not a topic for presidential debates or campaign stump speeches. People are more concerned about whether the Mormon Romney is a true Christian or whether Obama is a Christian than if Afghans have the freedom to be Christians. 

I guess I should not be too surprised. I see prejudice against Christians in our land as well. There are too many Christian voters to allow it to degenerate into full-blown persecution, but the anti-Christian attitude is clearly present and growing. It was most recently seen in New York City when churches were prohibited from meeting in school buildings on Sundays for no other reason than that they are religious.

Best-selling books by the New Atheists spew hatred of religion in general and the Christian religion in particular (with titles such as “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.”) I cringe when I listen to audiences applaud while Bill Maher ridicules people of faith.  Anti-Christian prejudice is the last socially acceptable form of bigotry in this country. People are scolded by society for saying anything anti-Semitic, racist or even homophobic. But you can say anything you want against Christians, and people will smile or laugh.

This bigotry in American society usually comes in the form of derogatory comments about “organized religion.” When people use this phrase they are not talking about synagogues or yoga centers; it is a euphemism for Christianity. The term “fundamentalist” is used in a pejorative sense to refer to any Christian who holds to traditional Christian doctrine or morals. The insinuation is that evangelicals are spiritual cousins of the jihadists who fly airliners into buildings.

There is a deep-seated prejudice against Christians held by people who are otherwise quite tolerant of diversity in our society. It is time for this anti-Christian bigotry to be exposed for what it is. So the next time someone disparages “organized religion” or the “institutional church,” politely point out that anti-religious language is not different from other forms of hate speech. 

If enough people stand up for religious tolerance, our society would be a much more civil place in which to live. Hopefully we will never find ourselves in the position of Afghanistan, where the church in our community becomes the last church standing.