It is now estimated that more Christians were killed for their faith in the 20th century than in the first 19 centuries combined. The killing continues at a rate of more than 100,000 Christian martyrs every year in the 21st century. Thankfully, in the United States and most Western countries, religious freedom is not a matter of life and death. However, the challenges we face today in the West are extremely serious.
Discrimination in the United States and other Western countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia is no longer unusual. Frequently people are being penalized; weeded out; dismissed from their jobs or higher education programs; excluded from providing services to children and counseling; and dragged through employment tribunals and civil lawsuits – simply for holding to, or merely expressing, their religious and conscientious convictions about issues such as abortion, marriage and sexuality.
Courts, government entities and now some employers are trying to enforce a particular world-view under the banner of diversity, tolerance and human rights. The diversity that is acceptable seems to be limited to allowing Christians to think differently if they really must – as long as they keep these thoughts to themselves, and under no circumstances seek to act upon them.
President Obama has notably shifted from using the constitutional phrase “freedom of religion” to “freedom of worship.” Freedom of religion is not just freedom to worship at your church on Sundays. It is both our God-given and constitutional guarantee to be free to act on our beliefs in the public square, to speak about them and to seek to persuade others. It means not being coerced or bullied into silence by speech control and accusations of “homophobe,” “intolerant bigot,” “anti-choice,” etc.
In the United States, there is still time to turn this trend around. To borrow a phrase from Pope Francis, it’s time to “make a mess.” It is absolutely critical that Christians of all stripes get out of their silos and work together before all our religious freedoms are stripped away. Baptist and Catholic opposition to the U.S. contraception and sterilization mandate is just one example of “getting it right.” We need to fight to keep a tolerant pluralism, not an intolerant secularism, while there is still time.