Recently, an old friend contacted me about an event he was organizing at his new church. I hadn’t heard from him in years, and was rather surprised to find out that the event he was planning was essentially the same sort of thing that I had been suggesting to him years ago. The idea was to show the true face of religious persecution through history, including situations that showed when Christians had been intolerant to the point of silencing individuals that did not prescribe to the dogma of the Church. Back then, my friend had balked at the idea, because he wasn’t comfortable with the idea of admitting to those dark days so publicly. Now, the situation has changed at least a little, and while he’s still not enthusiastic about owning that past, he’s willing to do it, to compare and contrast it with what is happening to Christianity in America today.
When I had been around this friend often, I hadn’t been particularly religious. On the contrary, while we were both on a community inter-faith board, I was considered the token agnostic. The reason I had been invited to sit on that board had to do with the fact that I had spent a great deal of time studying various religions and spiritual philosophies. I was the one that tended to answer questions on alternative faiths that weren’t really represented in the community, and I often played devil’s advocate with the other members when they would wander into territory where they were failing to attempt to view what they were considering doing through the eyes of people with different belief systems. I suggested the event on religious persecution one time when I was literally at the end of my rope, trying to get a group of Christian ministers to stop trying to run a spiritual shop out of town. It disappeared eventually anyway, but not because of their actions – it simply didn’t do enough business, which was what I told them would happen.
Now, if I was a petty woman, I would be tempted to point out to my old friend that now the proverbial shoe is on the other foot – he’s the one fighting against intolerance from secularists and gay activists. Maybe if I were the same as I was years ago I would be taking some degree of satisfaction out of the situation. However, not only have times changed, but so have I. While I don’t consider myself particularly religious, I do believe in God. I belong to a church and attend services regularly, but I find myself disagreeing with the minister often. I know this is more about personalities and philosophies than it is about faith – the minister is young, liberal, and extremely idealistic. But a minister is nothing more than a guide in one’s journey of faith – another human being attempting to maintain a relationship with God. That’s something I can easily remember hearing my old friend say repeatedly.
As for his current quandary, he is going to avail himself of many of my old research papers on time periods like the Spanish Inquisition, and the Burning Times. I leafed through the pages before handing them over to him, and was struck by the similarities between those time periods, and what I see daily coming from people like Todd Starnes on the Fox News website. There are so many stories today about liberals attacking Christianity on so many different fronts, and it is extremely disturbing to see how many of them involve policies and procedures within our own Federal government. One in particular simply won’t leave me alone – the story about our National Parks requiring permits for baptisms in public waters. It is a story from Starnes, and he took the time to point out that beyond targeting Christians, the government has been becoming far more solicitous toward Muslims. I wouldn’t have a problem with that, if it weren’t for the persecution of Christians.
Of course I mentioned to my old friend that I tend to read what Starnes writes, and he asked me what I thought about what I was seeing. I’ve written several times on news related to religion, and many people already know I enjoy picking on organizations like the Freedom From Religion Foundation. And it is no secret that I regularly write on First Amendment issues. But, I mentioned this baptism permit story to my friend, and pointed out that sadly, this is an issue that is not covered by the Bill of Rights. Regulations of governmental agencies are not laws passed by Congress, so the only real remedy for these cases will be through lobbying for legislation. And that would be a treacherous path, at best. Theoretically, it could be a simple matter of getting a law passed that would extend the First Amendment protections of religious practice extended to the entire government. Make it the law of the land that no portion of the government can create a regulation or policy that abridges the rights of the people to observe their religious faiths.
When I explained that to my friend, he was obviously shocked at one thing – I had focused on protecting the rights of the people to observe their faiths without governmental interference, as opposed to protecting government from religion. Of course, I didn’t mean that wouldn’t be a two-way street as it is in the First Amendment. What struck him was that the “token agnostic” had apparently shifted to his side of the religious street, so to speak. Of course he had to know what had caused that change of heart. The answer was quite simple – after being exposed to the intolerance of secularists and atheists toward Christians daily, I had become highly annoyed. I fondly remembered a time when I knew people that considered themselves atheists, but did not belittle anyone that happened to have faith. That breed is dying. My friend was skeptical about that being the full answer, because he knew very well that I had always been equally annoyed with what I called “hypocritical deists” – people who claimed faith, but did not even attempt to live it. I always despised the concept of people attending church services, then as soon as they exited the building, they would gather in the parking lot and start gossiping about their neighbors. He asked the inevitable question – “who made you believe that there are people out there who practice what they preach?” I told him that I worked with a person like that daily.
Before, I would write about the evils of secularists attempting to destroy Christianity on the principle that assuming a person’s religious faith does not include harming others, no other person should have the ability to restrict them from observing their religion. Now, I still fight with words for that reason, but also for a more personal reason. There is one man out there that made me think twice about faith. I will fight to the bitter end to guarantee that he can practice his faith in this country, without fear of persecution. There is plenty of talk about rights, and protected classes. In my mind, Christians are a protected class. I just hope that it never comes to the point where I have to campaign to make the government consider that group the way I do now.
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