Who is Oppressing Who?

April 29, 2012

News comes this last week of vandalism against a church in Portland by a group identifying itself as “angryqueers@” because of the churches anti-gay stance:

Neighbors who live on Southeast 32nd Avenue and Taylor Street in the Hawthorne neighborhood reported seeing several young adults throwing rocks into the windows of the Mars Hill Church early Tuesday Morning.

When the church grounds keeper arrived, hours later, he discovered nine windows smashed — two of which are historic stained-glass windows. The damage is estimated at several thousand dollars.

It is of course not the only instance of vandalism by such groups. A church sign in Hickory, NC was defaced earlier in the week:

After the vandals were finished with it, the marquee sign in front of Hickory’s Tabernacle Baptist Church read: “Hate Speech Sunday April 22.” The black paint obliterated the sign’s original message: “Marriage Sunday April 22.”

The sign’s other side was scrawled with the message, “Love not Hate.”

The Rev. Scott Hooks said he thinks the vandals were reacting to his church’s stand supporting the proposed amendment to North Carolina’s constitution that would define marriage as between one man and one woman.

These events are not infrequent. I personally know pastors who have received death threats for their stances on various policies advanced by the gay agenda. As blogger Wintery Knight chronicles, such persecution is widespread and goes far beyond mere vandalism. Whether it is a public harangue against Christian students at a journalism conference or students keeping a speaker from talking at a public university, Christians have become a major target of homosexual activists.

All of this flies in the face of the story we are typically given concerning gay rights. The normal narrative one hears when gay rights are discussed in the media or academic discussions is as a group gays are a powerless minority being oppressed by an antagonistic majority. Lately one hears about bullying in schools, but the same narrative pop-ups during gay marriage debates and discussions of adoption.

And historically homosexuals as a group have certainly been subject to discrimination of various sorts in the Christian West. Such intolerance has ranged from legal sanctions against specific sexual acts to an unwillingness to officially acknowledge homosexual relationships to mere personal disdain for homosexuals in social circles. And it is no exaggeration to say that as a group homosexuals have been targeted for their proclivities, whether one consider police raids on bath houses or individuals being attacked for their orientation.

I think most people now agree (including Christians), that whatever their personal views of the gay lifestyle, targeting any group for persecution is wrong. And while most professing Christians such as myself find fault with the sexual choices of gay individuals I would think most generally accept the fact that a certain number of people have same sex attractions and that those people will operate throughout a wide strata of the society. In short, most gay folks have attained a level of acceptance in our society that many minorities in our culture could only dream about.

That being said, the advancement of the gay agenda continues to be predicated on the notion that homosexuals are an oppressed group in our society. This continues despite the fact that as a group they have higher levels of education than their heterosexual counterparts, they generally have higher incomes than heterosexuals and have no restrictions in terms of where they live or what they do for a living. As a group gays have a very sympathetic ear in the media as well as educational and governmental institutions. These are measures of equality, but the current concern isn’t so much about equality and freedom as it is about sanctioning and normalizing homosexual relationships. On this front the gay agenda has met much more resistance and as a result gay rights advocates have lashed out against the group they see as being the primary barrier to full acceptance – believing Christians.

So when it comes to freedoms are being reduced, it isn’t the freedoms of homosexuals that are endangered – as NPR reports, the freedoms being denied are those of Christians to speak, worship, associate and educate and work as they see fit.

Oppression is certainly occurring – but it’s coming from a politically organized and unconstrained gay activists and it’s against Christians.

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A Little China in New York

June 20, 2011

I wrote recently about the persecution Chinese Christian were receiving at the hands of the atheistic Chinese government.

In the post I made the claim New Atheism would have little basis for opposing such repression given their low opinion of religious belief to begin with. The closest any atheist response came to defending religious freedom in China was this one:

However, official government active discouragement of religion is a non-starter in the United States or any Western society. I’m an American, I can’t solve all the world’s problems, and I have limited interest in and limited influence on Chinese government policy. The Chinese government is fundamentally the business and problem of the Chinese people: they, not I, have to live with the consequences.

Unfortunately, thanks to a recent court ruling, this defense no longer applies in New York where a court has ruled churches cannot meet in schools on weekends:

New York City may again block religious groups from using school facilities outside of regular school hours for “religious worship services,” a federal appeals court inManhattan ruled on Thursday.

Deciding 2 to 1, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said the city had “a strong basis to believe” that allowing the religious services to be conducted in schools could be seen as the kind of endorsement of religion that violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause.

“When worship services are performed in a place,” Judge Pierre N. Leval wrote for the majority, “the nature of the site changes. The site is no longer simply a room in a school being used temporarily for some activity.”

In many ways it is this last bit of reasoning that is most troubling. The idea that a particular activity in a place can ‘change the nature of the site’ by its mere presence within the four walls of a building would suggest that words and ideas and purposes are tangible things that taint physical buildings.

It would suggest a few students have religious conversations or pray in a dorm room at a State University wouldturn it into a church. Or that a faith-based organization helping drug addicts would turn a community center room into church by quoting Scripture. If a few people met at a house for a Bible study, would zoning laws that determine where churches could be built come into effect?

This is an issue that hits close to home for me. I have both been the member of a church that met in a school, and am a school board member of a public school that has a church meeting at it. There are actually many benefits to schools for such arrangements. Beside paying rent and providing extra income to budget starved schools, churches (especially in low income areas) will often provide supplies and other goods that impoverished students don’t have, like clothing and meals. Many times churches will help upgrade equipment and facilities that are mutually beneficial. And quite often the churches extend their involvement to the community at large. That has certainly been my experience.

Like China, those who oppose the presence of religious organizations inNew York don’t actually have to jail congregants or physically harm believers to diminish their ability to exercise their faith. All they have to do is find bureaucratic or legal reasons to keep them from occupying spaces within a community – and they effectively keep them from having a presence in the society at all.

There is of course no basis for this in our history – church services were famously held at the US Capitol building for over 50 years, services which were attended by Jefferson and Madison.

Given the reluctance of American atheists to speak out against religious suppression in other countries, one wonders if they can find a reason to oppose it in their own?


San Francisco Seeks to Evict Jews

May 26, 2011

 

As well as a few Muslims and Christians.

 In what is becoming a frequent practice of a secular left, the city of San Francisco has put on November’s ballot a proposal to ban the circumcision of children under the age of eighteen. In many ways the proposal is the inevitable result of certain aspects of secular leftist thinking, amongst them being that parents shouldn’t be able to influence the choices of their children with regard to lifestyle and belief, that the state is the primary protector and provider of health and wealth for it’s citizens, and that the most critical knowledge we have about any subject is the knowledge we acquired most recently. These elements compose what is rapidly becoming a recipe for overt and intrusive statism and despotism.

And it is no coincidence that such initiatives are occurring in our largest cities. Unlike most of theUS, many metropolitan areas are ruled by small cabals of the extreme left whose thinking would otherwise be unacceptable by populations not dominated by bureaucrats, public unions and radical academics.

In a very real sense this is where liberty and tradition coincide. Most people see tradition and communities based on tradition as conservative organs who are intrinsically resistant to change and ‘science’. And that can sometimes be the case – but they are also extremely valuable at protecting individuals from the overt power of the state which is ever seeking to impose its current political will. There is a tyrannical aspect to social engineering which urgently seeks to impose the latest political fashion on people fueled by the latest research. Rule by state imposed political correctness can be every bit as despotic as rule by gun or army; the difference between denying Jews the right to practice their cultural and religious distinctives and seeking to eliminate the Jews themselves is really only a matter of degree.

There have been many bellwethers of our eroding liberty, and this move by San Franciscois is just the latest. But until we decisively seek to preserve and respect the right of groups to act according to their traditions and beliefs (a right which should be safely ensconced in the 1st amendment) we are going to face increasing intrusion into our lives by the state, and an increasing denial of our basic liberties – and there may be no remedy for this at the ballot box.


The National Day of Prayer That Almost Wasn’t

May 5, 2011

Today is the National Day of Prayer, an opportunity for people of many faiths to act on what is certainly a universal human inclination; the impulse to give thanks, to forgive and ask forgiveness and to petition God for provision and blessing and greater wisdom. We live in a time of great need for such activity – a time of economic trouble, war, and division.

As a nation with deep and extensive Christian roots, such observances have always been a part of our cultural activity. Beyond religious institutions, we have recognized the importance of prayer for the unity and consolation of our nation. The first proclamations for days of national prayer came with the Continental Congress and were advocated by our first presidents. In fact the practice has been relatively uncontroversial – until recently.

A recent lawsuit brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation sought to render unconstitutional the accepted practice of US Presidents since the founding of the nation; and they almost succeeded.

In April of 2010, a US District Judge Crabb (an apt name) ruled for the Foundation writing that the practice was unconstitutional, crossing the line from mere acknowledgement of religious practice to encouragement. It isn’t clear where the Constitution forbids the encouragement of prayer via Presidential proclamation, as it is not law nor does it establish a religion but the courts have greatly expanded understanding of the 1st amendment in recent years to suit the desires of secularists. While her ruling was definitive, it was uncertain what power a District court had to control what a President proclaimed.

Nonetheless, the ruling was rightly appealed (for which the Obama administration deserves praise) and recently overturned by a 3-0 decision of a US Court of appeals. As the court employed ‘lack of standing’ to overturn decision in the same way the  Supreme Court did in the recent Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn case, the ruling is likely to persist through appeals. In the ruling Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook rightly noted of Obama’s proclamation that, “… no one is obligated to pray, any more than a person would be obligated to hand over his money if the president asked all citizens to support the Red Cross and other charities…The president has made a request; he has not issued a command. No one is injured by a request that can be declined.” It seems a rather obvious conclusion.

So we are again free to do what we have been doing for over 200 years.

The upside to these challenges is they give us an appreciation for the freedoms we have and remind us how fragile and rare the liberties we enjoy are. This is more than appropriate for a day of prayer as gratitude is the best motivation for prayer. Though there have been significant recent rulings in favor of religious liberty it is obvious there is concerted effort afoot by emboldened atheists and secularist fellow travelers to diminish the religious character and practice of our country.

This fact alone should encourage us to pray today with greater fervency.


Is New Atheism Soft on Repression?

April 27, 2011

I was struck recently by an article in Christianity Today chronicling the recent crackdown of house churches in China. In particular they detail the treatment of the Shouwang church in Beijing at a public square at Zhongguancun, dubbed “China’s Silicon Valley“.   

The church of some 1000 congregants is worshipping outdoors because of government pressure against property owners renting to the church. It is one more episode in an ongoing attempt by the Chinese government to control and eradicate attempts to freely worship in China.

A couple of things about these events strike me. The first is that it is notable that the Christian church endures and is growing in an officially atheistic state. New Atheists have often expressed the desire to completely rid the world of religious belief, but in places where such things are actually attempted it would seem to fail miserably. Also notable I think is how the desire to worship, to express one’s faith is the spear tip of all commonly recognized freedoms – the freedom to speak, write, associate, etc. Once eradicated (if New Atheists have their way) one wonders what motivation is left to advance these freedoms at all – the religion-less world these atheists imagine is not a foundation for freedom and prosperity, but more likely the final repression of human conscience.

 Indeed one wonders on what grounds the New Atheists would protest the current repression going on in China. Given that they see religion as both ‘delusional’ and ‘dangerous’ and the eradication of religion as a benefit to society as a whole, it would seem their views of religion aligns completely with those of the Chinese government, with perhaps the exception of the methodology. And yet the methodology is only problematic if one sees religious belief and worship as worth preserving – after all, who would protest if Beijing were cracking down on child molesters?

 Though the West’s reaction has been anemic, we still at least have a segment of our population for whom religious liberty remains a critical concern. One cannot help but think that if the New Atheist view of religious belief were more widespread that the totalitarian actions of the Chinese government would be met with complete indifference, if not outright enthusiasm.