I was very proud on Pentecost Sunday. Six of the confirmands I'd taught--some of whom I'd known since they had been mere toddlers--affirmed their baptisms. The music was joyful, the red vestments, paraments, and flowers were a delight to the eye, and the congregation seemed to be in a worshipful mood as they celebrated this feast of the Holy Spirit--the anniversary of the day when the Christian Church began.
The six young confirmands and I stood in the narthex after mass, greeting the parishioners. There were congratulations for the youths who had completed their catechetical training, and a few words of praise for their pastor.
"Beautiful service, Pastor," said Marge, a parishioner in her late '70's. "You know, we didn't have confirmation class when I was little. It was all marching and 'Sieg Heil!'"
Marge had been born in Nazi Germany. As such, she was forced as a child to forgo religious instruction and attend mandatory meetings of the Hitler Youth. She later fell in love with an American G.I. and came to live in this country. I must say, she is one of the best and proudest Americans one could ever hope to meet.
Sometimes I think I should ask Marge what she thinks of all this talk about the Administration's "war on Christianity." My suspicion is that she would find the question absurd. After all, she had lived under a truly despotic and totalitarian government. She knows what such a thing really looks like, and I would guess she would think that our current government comes nowhere even close to waging a war on faith.
According to that font of all knowledge, WikiAnswers.com, fully three quarters of Americans identify themselves as Christians. If there's a war being waged against us, it's surely a fool's crusade. The majority culture simply cannot be persecuted by the minority since the minority does not have power. I have not noticed my right to worship being abridged in any way. I preach the Gospel Sunday after Sunday, and no one has come to arrest me. I have never been denied housing, a seat at a restaurant, or my right to vote because of my Christian faith. Furthermore, in spite of some egregious and downright evil misconduct on the part of some of my fellow clerics, I am generally treated with considerable respect when I appear in public in my clerical attire. If our government is persecuting Christians, no one in Northeast Philadelphia seems to have received the memo!
As an American, I am proud of my country's separation of Church and State. I do not want public employees teaching children to pray any more than I want theologians creating tax policies or directing the military. It is the role and duty of the religious community to encourage moral, just, and compassionate behavior to our citizens, and the responsibility of government to protect the rights of people to practice their faiths.
Yes, I am a bit concerned about the clause in the Affordable Care Act which would require some religious organizations to cover birth control for employees (although I have nothing against birth control, myself). This may, indeed, be in conflict with the Bill of Rights. Nevertheless, it is a very far cry from a pogrom or a war on religion. The politicians who stir up trouble by asserting that the current administration is trampling on the religious liberties of our citizens would do well to visit Saudi Arabia, where the practice of Christianity is punishable by public beating. Christians have been persecuted, jailed, beaten and killed for their faith in countries all over the Muslim world. Christianity is still illegal in North Korea, and heavily regulated by the government of China. Even in the Holy Land Christians have been so marginalized that many are choosing to emigrate to other nations--leaving Christianity's holiest sites to the care of non-Christians.
We in the U.S. really need to get over ourselves and stop talking nonsense. The inflammatory rhetoric of some of our politicians is not only ridiculously exaggerated, but is openly disrespectful to the millions of our fellow Christians around the globe who genuinely are being persecuted for their beliefs.
So suck it up, people! No one is burning Bibles in America. Overly sensitive or overzealous readings of the First Amendment will not spell the end of the Christian faith on these shores. Stop this juvenile sniveling, and get back to the real purpose of the Church--to proclaim through loving word and actions the Kingdom of God.
That's my rant for this week. Let me know what you think--and God bless you for taking the time to read this.