Are Christians in Danger in America?

This photograph of Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Ontario, Canada, was taken by Pierre BONA. Licensed under Creative Commons 3.0 Share and Share Alike. Canada ranks higher than the U.S. in diversity and tolerance for both race and religion; gay marriage has been legal nationwide there since 2005.

On the surface of it, it may appear that legalizing gay marriage does not effect anyone except those who were hoping to get a gay marriage.

And if humans were strictly rational creatures, this would be true. But in an American society that so often ostracizes and demonizes the Other, it’s arguable that the concerns of some opponents of gay marriage are at least a little bit understandable. After all, our nation does not have the greatest track record for having different groups living harmoniously side-by-side.

“So now that the government must recognize gay marriages,” some people ask, “will my church be sued for refusing to marry gay couples?”

“Will we face threats of violence from those who don’t agree with us, now that we are a minority?”

“Are we heading for an era where discrimination against Christians is legal?”

These concerns may seem outlandish to non-Christians, since Christianity has traditionally been by far the formative power in the U.S., and in many parts of the United States is still the determiner of what is socially and even legally acceptable.

But humans are humans, no matter what their religious stripes. And Americans are still Americans, regardless of their opinion on gay marriage.

And Americans are historically not great at live-and-let-live.

Many readers can probably relate to the experience of feeling oppressed for not being Christian in America; I regularly hear accounts of people feeling that anger was directed at them because they failed to conform to the ideas of their local most populous brand of Christianity, and even news articles about acts of violence by American Christians against what they perceived to be non-Christian ideas still appear.

In the past week, I’ve spoken to multiple people who moved to my largely un-Christian town specifically because they felt anger had been directed at them over their gender identity, religious practices, or political views in their previous Christian hometowns.

But Americans don’t stop being Americans just because they change their minds about God or gay marriage. Indeed, Christians in non-Christian American communities appear to be as vulnerable to discrimination as non-Christians in Christian American communities. Wherever it is socially acceptable to discriminate against a given group; discrimination will occur.

This photograph licensed under Creative Commons 3.0 Share and Share Alike. Interestingly, the stencil’s creator may have been ignoring some research indicating that at least among children, those with imaginary friends tend to be more well-adjusted.
I know of at least two cases in my own non-Christian hometown where independent legal investigations concluded that a school or business had practiced discrimination against Christians. Nationally, the American Civil Liberties Union has defended Christians in dozens of discrimination suits across the U.S..

Indeed, DoSomething.org reports that global research shows Christians face discrimination in more countries than any other religion, including some cases in the U.S.. Muslims were the second-most-commonly discriminated against, with Jews coming in third.

This is arguably due to the growing sentiment that discrimination is morally acceptable – so long as it’s against someone who might favor discrimination themselves.

Though by no means more common than persecution of non-Christians in a country where 70.6% of the population identifies as Christian, anti-Christian discrimination does happen.

That means that overall discrimination will not necessarily improve just because Christianity – who we are accustomed to seeing as the most-guilty party – becomes less common. What needs to change is not our religion; it is our treatment of minorities.

While the existence of Christianity is certainly not in danger in this country, certain interpretations of its theology becoming less common; the number of Americans describing homosexuality as a “sin” has been steadily declining over the past decade, and in 2012 that was already a minority opinion.

Which is undeniably a win for homosexual people, who in the past century faced social ostracization, threats of violence, and even legal punishment simply for acting gay in the privacy their own homes.

But just because the identity of our minority has changed doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve improved our treatment of minorities.

Comments describing anyone who views homosexuality as a sin as “bigoted,” “stupid,” and “evil” are increasingly common – irrespective of the target’s views about equal protection under the law. Indeed, at times all Christians are targeted with these remarks – even though many American Christians supported marriage equality.

At the same time, both liberal and conservative activists are observing that some pro-civil rights movements appear to have adopted habits similar to the social and moral policing they once complained about coming from their opposition.

In summary, be nice to each other. Be kind. Be tolerant of differences.

That’s the only way we will ever improve our treatment of minorities, regardless of who falls into the category of “minority” in our changing world.

dalai-lama-desmond-tutu
If the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu can do it, why can’t we?
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