In the midst of our pastor’s sermon yesterday morning, entitled “The Normal Christian Life Includes Persecution,” he made a statement that I had to check out. I found this at The National Catholic Reporter (you’ll have to scroll down quite a bit to read all of this part of that article. Here’s the salient statistic):
Aid to the Church in Need, a German-based Catholic aid agency, produces a widely trusted annual report on global threats to religious freedom. It estimates that somewhere between 75 percent and 85 percent of all acts of religious persecution are directed against Christians. In a report to the European Parliament last month, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life said that while Muslims and Jews face significant persecution, “Christians faced some sort of harassment in two-thirds of all countries,” or 133 states.
Most of the persecution, according to a map of restricted countries at Voice of the Martyrs, is taking place in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Which implies that we enjoy much more religious freedom here in North America.
But is this a good thing?
And will we recognize persecution when it comes? And how will we respond?
Is it persecution when the government passes a law that would require Christian adoption agencies to arrange adoptions for same-sex couples and unmarried heterosexual couples? It seems to me that it is, if the only options are to violate one’s religious convictions or to close down a valuable community service. When an organization is faced with lose-lose…that looks a lot like persecution to me. I really fail to see why a group like Catholic Charities is not exempt…it’s not as if they are the only adoption/foster care agency in the country. People who want to adopt a child have choices. Why not allow the adoption agency that same right of choice?
Is it persecution when the government persists in demanding that religious organizations (other than churches) provide health care benefits that violate articles of their faith? JTR reported recently on the 12 lawsuits filed by 43 Catholic plaintiffs, including our local Catholic diocese (Fort Wayne-South Bend, the diocese which oversees Notre Dame University). Many of their talking points have been made well and often, among them being the fact that birth control is so ubiquitous as to be a non-issue, a straw man which is being used to try to force the Catholic Church’s capitulation.
Pastor Bob Martin’s main point yesterday was that Christians should expect persecution. What the sermon did not have time to cover was what to do in the face of persecution. It was understood that recanting, renouncing one’s faith, back-peddling on a faithful stance are all out of the question. But what if the persecution continues? The Catholic church is preparing its people for massive civil disobedience. And I think that all of us who value religious rights will have to think hard about what it might mean for us in the future.
For one thing, I notice the word ‘civil’…the first five definitions at Dictionary.com pertain to a citizen. The next several have to do with respect and avoidance of rudeness. I hope that a hallmark of Christian civil disobedience is graciousness–not bombing abortion clinics, rioting in the street, lewd name-calling, but quiet, firm, articulate protest.
In the first century, when the apostles Peter and John were forbidden to preach, they asked, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to Him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20 NIV) They spoke rationally, they continued to preach, they continued to face imprisonment, and were eventually tortured and killed. I don’t think we’re in imminent danger of being tortured or killed for our faith. Imprisoned? Perhaps. Taken to court? Fined? Certainly.
The sober truth is this: if we expect persecution, and we have sought lawful remedy without success, civil disobedience may well be the only choice for those who stand on their convictions. But we should also be prepared for intensified persecution. This is true for anyone who contemplates flouting any governmental regulation which they believe to be unfair. It’s quite possible that enough courageous citizens’ peaceful resistance can overturn injustice. But it is equally possible that courageous citizens may walk through the fire. Are we prepared?