Thursday, December 01, 2005

The new persecution in the West

Editor's note: The following piece was compiled by a reader in the US. I welcome contributions from my readers (regardless of shades of opinion). I don't mind if you'll write to contest ideas expressed in this or any other pieces on my blog. Jesse.

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By ANDREW NOLTE I'd like to begin by telling you two stories of anti-Christian bigotry. These incidents did not happen in the Sudan or Egypt, China or Vietnam. No, these situations took place at a small secular liberal arts college in the northeastern United States. The first happened this summer, in a multiculturalism psychology course offered at the institution in question. A student, a woman in her thirties going back for her masters in counseling, defined herself on the first day of class as a "born-again Christian." According to what she told me, the professor's words were, "Well, I hope you're not like the Christians who burned scientists at the stake in the sixteenth century." She told me that he constantly devalued and ridiculed her perspectives as a result of her Christian background. Let's jump ahead a few months to another multicultural psychology class, but this time with a different professor and a different student. I did not know the first student well, but, for the sake of all parties concerned, let's just say that the second student is well known to me, and is not one to blow a situation out of proportion. A lesbian woman came into the class to discuss her experiences as a GLBT person. This student, another second-career graduate student, has many homosexual friends, and even family members. Like the first student, she is a committed Christian. The lesbian woman began her talk by saying, "If I'm going to hell, there are going to be a lot of interesting people there." The student strongly suspected this woman had a chip on her shoulder about religion, but the lesbian presenter claimed she wouldn't "talk about religion." However, she broke her own rule, telling the class, "If I see a cross around a counselor's neck, or Bible verses on their wall, I won't go back." When asked about this statement, she elaborated. "I think Christians are bigoted and narrow-minded, and lack diversity. If they want to hold their bigoted beliefs, they have the right, but they should keep them out of the public square." If this woman had made such a statement about Muslims, Orthodox Jews, or adherents of any of the various other religions which contain statements opposing homosexuality, the professor doubtless would have called her on it. In the case of Christianity, however, the response was silence.Let's go north, to Canada, and back to the last parliamentary election. Alliance Party candidate, Stockwell Day, was a former Pentecostal minister. At first, criticism of him by his opponents was limited to his policies, but things certainly turned nastier. When the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) released the information that Day was a Young Earth Creationist, his political opponents had a field day. One even went so far as to mock Day with a Barney doll and claimed that the prime ministerial candidate "believes the Flintstones is a documentary." Prime Minister Jean Chr├ętien also mocked Day for his refusal to campaign on Sundays due to religious conviction. "Being Prime Minister is more than just photo ops," Chr├ętien said, "it's a full time job, even on Sundays." One Liberal official even went so far as to declare Day's belief that Jesus Christ is the God of the Universe offensive to members of all other religions. These religiously-motivated insults prompted the Christian persecution advocacy group Voice of the Martyrs to send out action alerts about persecution of Christians in Canada. VOM was not alone; several other religious organizations in Canada, many of them non-Christian, issued statements of concern. Canada was not the only Western country to receive attention from a persecution advocacy group. Recently, the Barnabas Fund has brought to light a case regarding the prosecution of two pastors in Australia. The Islamic Council of Victoria has brought charges against Daniel Nalliah and Daniel Scot, for comments made on a website and at a training seminar for Christians. Scot and Nalliah apparently claimed that Islamic fundamentalists must kill apostates under Shariah (which happens to be true). The Islamic groups, and three Muslim converts, are claiming that this is inherently discriminatory, and violates certain anti-discrimination laws recently past in the province. There could be severe penalties, up to and including a heavy fine.Europe has gotten in on the act as well. In France, recent anti-cult laws have targeted Evangelical Christians. Several groups, including Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholic Charismatics and Evangelical Protestants have been targeted as cults, and are now subject to government observation. If the government decides that these groups have caused someone to undergo "a psychologically or mentally altering experience," they may be prosecuted, the leaders imprisoned, and the group banned. As of yet, charges have not been pressed, but many Christians are still quite concerned. Finally, let us examine two laws in Sweden and Canada. Sweden recently passed a constitutional amendment prohibiting all "unfavorable speech" regarding homosexuals. This means that a pastor who quotes Scripture in church may be fined or imprisoned for up to 5 years. Similar legislation has been passed through the Canadian House of Commons, although the definition is not as broad as "unfavorable speech." Christian groups like the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and other pro-family action groups are concerned that this law could result in the Bible being labeled "hate literature." A Canadian Catholic put it to me another way: "The Vatican has told our priests to take a strong stand against the gay marriage thing. If the hate legislation passes, they may be fined or imprisoned. If they refuse to perform gay marriages, they may be prosecuted. But their first allegiance is to God and the Church." Here in America, we tend to think of persecution against Christians, if we think about it at all, as something which happens predominantly in the Third World, thousands of miles away. However, there seems to be a rising tide of anti-Christian sentiment, bigotry and even legislation in Western countries. Even in America, a "Christian Nation," persecution seems to be picking up steam; we can see this in the filibustering of judicial nominees largely because of their religious beliefs (Alabama attorney General Bill Pryor), the scoffing and sneering with which the President is greeted every time he mentions God (or the constant assertion that this bilingual Yale graduate is "dumb," possibly because of his evangelical faith), or the de facto discrimination Christians face on secular college campuses. Christians are not currently tortured, murdered or directly discriminated against for their faith in the west. However, as Christians, we should be concerned and even a bit frightened by this new persecution, in an area which was once considered the heart of Christian civilization. Author's Note: Information on this trend, and the legislation along with it, is very difficult to find. A few sources of interest may be: 1. Stockwell Day, the archives of Christianity Today. 2. 2. French Evangelical Law and possible Religious motivation for filibusters in the US, CBN. 3. 3. For the hate speech legislation in Canada, see World Net Daily. 4. 4. I first heard about the Swedish law on "The O'Reilly Factor" some time ago, but the same WND peace sited above contains a reference to it as well. The writer can be reached at: an1159@messiah.edu.

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