BY RYAN MORGAN
Around this time last year I was in a meeting with the Chief of Staff for a Congressional office when he suddenly asked me a question I had never heard before: Does ICC help persecuted Christians in America? After thinking a moment I pointed out that while we did sometimes assist or meet with persecuted Christians who had come to the United States from overseas, to my knowledge we had never had any projects to help American Christians suffering from persecution and that was because, well, compared to the extraordinary amount of persecution faced by countless Christians in countries like North Korea, Nigeria or Iran, Christians in the U.S. seem to be pretty well off.
But this answer didn’t acknowledge the fact that ICC has actually been monitoring events in the U.S. for several years. Some alarming cases, like the Southern California couple fined $300 last year for holding a home Bible study or the arrest and 60-day imprisonment of an Arizona pastor in July, have warranted further investigation. Yours truly discovered very quickly that these incidents and the subject of persecuted Christians in America sparked a lot of controversy, even among Christians themselves. The debate seems to be polarized, often along political lines, by either people who believe that are there no persecuted Christians in America whatsoever or that soon every Christian in America will be forced to worship in secret. Let’s take a look at these two very different opinions:
Opinion #1 – There are no persecuted Christians in America at all, period.
For those invested in this particular viewpoint, all of the noise being made about cases like Pastor Salman’s (the arrested Arizona pastor) or the occasional American being fined for holding a Bible study is just that, noise. They point out that many of these cases stem from Christians violating local zoning ordinances and are sometimes relentless in skewering the character of any American Christian who claims they are being persecuted for their beliefs. One scathing article in the Huffington Post recently went so far as to state that for Christians in America to claim persecution is to “lie boldly, without shame.”
These same opinion holders also tend to support the efforts of organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, which is often a driving force behind the removal of Christian artifacts such as crosses and the Ten Commandments from publicly owned property. The number and type of these organizations seems to be expanding rapidly, something which these opinion holders see as simply a general shift in cultural values rather than a wide-ranging conspiracy to persecute Christians in America. Those on the other side of this argument, however, vehemently disagree.
Opinion #2 – There are hundreds, if not thousands of persecuted Christians in America, and it’s only going to get worse.
For many Christians, the evidence to support this opinion seems to be growing on an almost daily basis. A survey released over the summer by the Family Research Council and the Liberty Institute purported to document hundreds of incidents of religious hostility against Christians in the U.S. over the past ten years. These included everything from a Texas high school valedictorian being threatened with imprisonment by a federal judge for referring to Jesus in her graduation speech to senior citizens being prevented from praying over their meals by a city official.
The survey was released only days after a gunman walked into the Washington D.C. offices of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian organization, and opened fire on a security guard who managed to subdue the assailant despite being shot in the arm. The gunman was carrying 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches, a clear indication his attack was related to the stance of Chick-fil-A’s Christian president against same-sex marriage.
On top of these incidents Catholic leaders have taken serious issue with the Health and Human Services mandate under Obama’s health care plan that will require employers, including Catholic employers, to pay for contraceptives. The mandate doesn’t allow exemptions based on moral grounds and leaves some Catholic business owners with a seemingly impossible choice: violate their religious beliefs or face criminal charges by the federal government.
So are there really persecuted Christians in America?
For the time being the answer to this question will almost certainly depend on who you ask. There are countless other cases not listed here that continue to fuel the debate. Whichever opinion you hold it is hard to deny that major shifts are taking place in American society. Few would argue those shifts favor the expression of Christian values, especially in public.
Every day ICC works with Christians who face life threatening persecution at the hands of their government or even their neighbors. While American Christians today certainly cannot claim this level of persecution, recent events suggest that the day is coming (or has already arrived) when even American Christians will have to be far more careful than ever before about where and when they choose to express their faith.