Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli
Christianity is rapidly disappearing in the Middle East where it was born. Terrorists, without scruple, are destroying the oldest living Christian communities in Iraq and Syria. Towns wiped out. Christians and other minorities, the victims of ISIS’ unrelenting brutality. The bloody and deadly crusade to destroy any remnant of Christian practice horrifies the many decent people living in America. Yet, what is gradually happening to Christianity in our own country may escape their notice.
Once, in a lecture about culture and religion, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist John Updike remarked that, in America, there is no serious threat to Christianity in the public forum. Since his death in 2009, his observation is no longer valid. Many of our university professors, political leaders and media are fomenting the radical secularization of our culture. As a result, Christianity is now perceived as a threat to our ever-increasing God-free culture.
The day after the mass killing of 14 people on Dec. 2, 2015 in San Bernardino, Calif., New York’s Daily News infuriated the sensibilities of some religious people with a front page headline that blared: “God Isn’t Fixing This.” The tabloid politicized the tragedy by attacking politicians who remained silent on gun control while calling for prayers. The paper boldly claimed, “Prayers aren’t working.”
For the editors of the Daily News, was the brutal slaughter of innocent people the issue? Was the ideology of terrorists the issue? No! The faith of believing Christians calling for prayers was the issue. This is just one example of the ever-increasing demeaning of Christianity in America.
In Portland, Ore., Aaron and Melissa Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa were sued for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding of two women. In New Mexico, photojournalist Elaine Huguenin was sued for refusing to take pictures at a same-sex wedding. In Richland, Wash., Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers was ordered by the court, even without a trial, to pay damages and attorney’s fees from her business assets and her personal savings for refusing to serve a wedding between two men. The list could continue.
Those who sue individuals wishing to distance themselves from same-sex unions and the courts that wholeheartedly support them deliberately misread the situation. In each case, it is not a matter of a Christian forcing someone else to accept their religious beliefs. It is those who hold to views contrary to traditional Christian belief trying to impose their views on those who disagree with them.
On Sept. 2, 2015, at the Democratic National Committee’s LGBT gala in New York, President Barack Obama boldly announced to his sympathetic audience, “We affirm that we cherish our religious freedom and are profoundly respectful of religious traditions. But … our religious freedom doesn’t grant us the freedom to deny our fellow Americans their constitutional rights.” Really, Mr. President? Does only one group of citizens now have constitutional rights?
In a society set free from the shackles of morality, anyone not embracing same-sex unions no longer has the right to live by his or her conscience. This is not tolerance. This is not equality. This is not pluralism. This is not respect for personal conscience. This is the ugly, harsh neo-orthodoxy of autonomous individualism.
Secularized society’s fierce intolerance of those who hold to traditional values that come from the Christian community is set on a path of discrediting, ridiculing and ostracizing the Christian faith. It is not simply a question of removing a drawing of Jesus from the main hallway of the courthouse in Breathitt County, Jackson, Ky. It is not simply about replacing the statue of St. Juniper Serra from the Capitol with that of a gay female astronaut. It is, ultimately, about removing any vestige of Christianity from society.
At the Ascension, when Jesus set the Church as the leaven to change the world, he told those first disciples that they would receive the Holy Spirit who empowers them for their mission to be his “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In this mandate to every Christian is found the response to the present attacks against Christianity.
We are called to be witnesses, that is, those who not only know about Jesus, but know him personally and are fired up to share him with others. Authentic witnessing springs from the joy of living in and with Christ. In fact, being a witness of his Gospel is “the first service that Christians can offer every person and the whole human race, as they are called to communicate to all the love of God…” (Pope Benedict XVI, 40th Anniversary of Vatican II’s “Ad Gentes,” March 13, 2006).
The attack against Christianity is real. However, the outcome, ultimately, will not be settled in a courtroom. It will be decided in the homes and public lives of Christians who give joyful witness to the truth of the gospel.