Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Another Nail in the Christian Coffin

Jun 4, 2009

The ongoing assault on all things Christian continues unabated. Every day around the Western world new reports emerge of Christian persecution, anti-Christian bigotry and moonbeam political correctness. Each one in isolation may not seem so terrible, but taken together they make for a very ominous trend indeed.

Consider this incredible case. A Philadelphia court has banned a kindergarten student from using a Bible for Show-and-Tell. I kid you not! This is how the story goes: “The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has sided with a school district in suburban Philadelphia that refused to allow the Bible to be read during show-and-tell. Donna Kay Busch had sued the district after she was told she could not read her son’s favorite book, the Bible, to his kindergarten class.”

One wonders if a Muslim kindergartner bringing a Koran to class would face similar treatment. Indeed, it is more likely that a student could bring in a copy of Playboy than to bring in the Bible. This is a clear case of bigotry and Christian-bashing.

A legal counsel involved in the case said this was a clear violation of the First Amendment: “This assignment was titled ‘All about me,’ not ‘All about the school’. The student’s freedom of religion should’ve been respected.”

As I mentioned, each individual case of anti-Christian bigotry may not seem to be all that serious. In San Diego an attempt is made to shut down a home Bible study. In the UK a nurse simply offers to pray for a patient and is fired from her position. In Australia Christian pastors are told they cannot speak about Islam, and that quoting the Koran is offensive hate speech.

But when you start to string them together, it becomes clear that the direction the West is heading in will spell the death of freedom of religion and the ability of Christians to share their faith or publically stand up for their faith and beliefs.

It is this incremental assault on Christian freedoms which is so sinister. If the EU or the US passed a law overnight saying that Christianity will henceforth be illegal, there would be a massive revolt and uprising by the masses. But by taking this bit by bit approach, the same result can be achieved, and most people won’t even realise it.

A recent article on hate crimes legislation by Erik Stanley makes this same point. He too notes how the slow but sure erosion of freedoms over time which is the real worry. He quotes the Scottish philosopher David Hume, “It is seldom that any liberty is lost all at once.”

He challenges those who argue that hate speech laws will not shut down churches or prevent the proclamation of the Gospel: “The fact that the Hate Crimes Bill does not specifically say that pastors may not speak biblical truth about homosexual behavior does not mean that it is not a threat to religious liberty. In fact, it is often the subtle erosion of religious liberty that poses the gravest threat. Like the proverbial frog in the pot of water, the Hate Crimes Bill serves to turn up the heat on pastors and churches.”

He explains: “There is only one difference between an assault not classified as a hate crime and an assault that is classified as a hate crime: the beliefs of the individual committing the crime. A crime is a crime under criminal law regardless of the belief of the perpetrator. We gain nothing under criminal law by knowing what a particular defendant thought about a particular victim other than perhaps to inflame our sensitivities or satisfy our own morbid curiosity. Motive for the crime has never been a required element of any criminal prosecution.

“Criminal law has operated since the founding of this country (and indeed before) by punishing people for their acts regardless of the belief behind the act. For purposes of criminal justice, we as a people have always been more concerned with whether a person committed a crime and not why the person did so. The Hate Crimes Bill seeks to change that by making the beliefs of the criminal relevant and an element of the crime itself.

“Behind a law that criminalizes the beliefs of a criminal defendant is a governmental disapproval of those beliefs. If society punishes a crime more severely solely because of the beliefs of the defendant at the time the crime was committed, then a message is being sent that society disapproves of those beliefs and that they merit enhanced punishment. Therein lies the concern for those who oppose the Hate Crimes Bill. It would be the first time that the federal government has formally written into law a potentially punitive disapproval of the belief that homosexual behavior is bad, wrong, problematic, or even simply not normal.”

When the State decides that certain behaviours and lifestyles are to be promoted and championed at all costs, soon simple affirmation becomes enforced acceptance. What the State deems important must be embraced by everyone, whether they like it or not.

“How long will it be before that disapproval of opposition to homosexual behavior is written into some other law? If Europe, Canada, and Australia are an example (and they are), then we do not have to wait long. Simply ask Pastor Ake Green from Sweden, who preached a biblically consistent sermon about homosexual behavior. He was charged with a hate crime, sentenced to jail time, and had to fight his way to the Swedish Supreme Court to have the conviction overturned.”

Stanley concludes, “We know that everywhere hate crimes laws have passed, hate speech convictions have followed. And why not? Once government has enshrined into the law a specific disapproval of a religious belief against homosexual behavior, it becomes easy to transfer that disapproval into other contexts. The American journalist Walter Lippman stated, ‘The war for liberty never ends.’ Those words are very true. It is far better to jump out of the pot when the water is tepid than to find ourselves on a dinner plate one day.”

Indeed. That is why we must never forget the big picture here. Isolated reports of anti-Christian bigotry seem to be small potatoes. But when the bigger picture emerges we find a deliberate, systematic and unrelenting attack on Christian freedoms. That is why we must fight each individual case while we have the chance, before it becomes too late.

[1068 words]

19 Responses to Another Nail in the Christian Coffin

  • Bill,
    I see a lot of parallels between what is going on now in the West, i.e. the “incremental” approach which you highlight, and the way the French kings and government whittled away the Toleration Edict of Nantes during the course of the C17th. The Edict, granting freedom of worship and instruction to Huguenot Protestants in 1598, along with those free cities which had become Protestant enclaves (e.g. La Rochelle on the Biscay coast), was bit-by-bit eroded, and interpreted in an increasingly narrow and hard-nosed way as the century went on. The result was that by 1685 Louis XIV came to believe that Protestantism was no longer a serious presence in his country, that what few were left should be made to conform, and the Edict was a dead letter. So in that year he tore up the Edict, and evicted the Huguenots in an act of national suicide from which that country has never recovered. There is a direct historical link from the Revocation of 1685 to the Revolution of 1789.
    Alas, the thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history!
    Religious liberty today is likewise being interpreted in an increasingly narrow and hard-nosed manner; every week it seems that the waters are being tested by the enemies of liberty, i.e. the totalitarian Left, such that in time the liberties we have historically enjoyed will have been eroded away. Hence I firmly believe that a 1685-style formal revocation of liberty will ensue from our miltantly secular states, in the belief that such liberties are inimical to the good order of society and the welfare of the state (just like Louis XIV).
    If we do not value God’s Word, Christ’s Gospel, and our precious liberties, and are prepared to sacrifice them to demagogic politicians (e.g. the likes of Obama), and in exchange for a mess of ‘social-justice’ pottage, then God will take them away. We will realise all too late!!
    Murray Adamthwaite

  • Dear Murray
    What on earth are you talking about?
    The Huguenots are not heroes:

    They persecuted Catholics.
    Michael Webb

  • Bill, I agree with most all of what you say here (as with the vast majority of your brilliant posting). One small but important point here, related to the title of this article, “Another Nail in the Christian Coffin’ and your statement, “…it becomes clear that the direction the West is heading in will spell the death of freedom of religion and the ability of Christians to share their faith or publically stand up for their faith and beliefs.”

    I think is important that we do not confuse Christian freedom with the Church’s ability to be the Church nor Christ’s ability to sustain the Church. Yes, nails are being driven, within the Western world, into the coffin of religious freedom for Christians. But the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church, as Christ so aptly stated to Peter, upon his resounding affirmation of Christ.

    While there is still freedom to protest against continuing encroachments upon our freedom to both share and publicly affirm our faith, we should use every democratic means we can. However, the Church in the west may well lose this battle for religious freedom, but Christ will not and is not lose the war. Christus Victor–yesterday, today, forever! Look up, our salvation is nigh! Truly it is increasingly clear that our theme song once again is Onward Christian Soldiers…

    Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
    with the cross of Jesus going on before.
    Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
    forward into battle see his banners go!


    Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
    with the cross of Jesus going on before.

    2. At the sign of triumph Satan’s host doth flee;
    on then, Christian soldiers, on to victory!
    Hell’s foundations quiver at the shout of praise;
    brothers, lift your voices, loud your anthems raise.

    3. Like a mighty army moves the church of God;
    brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod.
    We are not divided, all one body we,
    one in hope and doctrine, one in charity.

    4. Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane,
    but the church of Jesus constant will remain.
    Gates of hell can never gainst that church prevail;
    we have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail.

    5. Onward then, ye people, join our happy throng,
    blend with ours your voices in the triumph song.
    Glory, laud, and honor unto Christ the King,
    this through countless ages men and angels sing.

    Steve Swartz

  • John 15:18-21

    Is it a compliment that the misotheists reckon us enough like Christ to be persecuted?

    Is this the end or the labour pains of a new beginning?

    Is it another nail in the coffin or another spark in the coals of the refiner’s fire?

    Michael Hutton, Ariah Park

  • Michael Webb,

    I’m not an historian (I don’t even know whether you say a historian or an historian) and I am saddened that none of the protestants are free from the blood of Roman Catholics who fell into their hands.

    But I have a couple of questions.

    Didn’t the Romans bring the sword down first, applying the full authority of the church and the state to eliminating Protestants and effectively leave them nowhere to go but insurrection?

    That doesn’t excuse mixing human entrails with horse feed. But a lot of the other stuff makes sense.

    It seems barbaric by today’s sensibilities. But let’s not forget that it was protestant influence that brought Western culture to the point today that we have these sensibilities, even if we have forgotten where we got them, what they’re based on and how to apply them to ethical questions.

    PS: Do you know of a more neutral site that would help me to evaluate Huguenots?

    Michael Hutton, Ariah Park

  • Thanks Steve

    Needless to say I agree with you. In fact, in numerous other places on this site I have said the same thing, even quite recently. All I was claiming here was that the public expression of the faith may well be shut down in the West. I of course did not mean to imply that this would be the end of Christianity. We know it will triumph, even through the greatest of adversities and opposition.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks guys

    Historical, ecclesiastical and theological debates are important, and do often result in quite strong differences of opinion. But before it goes too much further, let me remind you of two things. One, the original topic of this post of course was the persecuted church in the West today, brought on by the secularists and forces of PC. Two, I am not at all keen to allow this site to degenerate into sectarian squabbling, with Protestants bashing Catholics, and Catholics bashing Protestants.

    So if you can continue your discussion in a polite and respectful manner, bearing these two considerations in mind, fine. Otherwise I will have to very quickly and decisively exercise some editorial restraint here!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Michael,
    Then who instigated the appalling massacre of St Bartholomew’s Day, 1572? Who ordered a special Te Deum to be sung in celebration? Who laid siege to La Rochelle in 1627-28? Who erected an “expiatory monument” to apologise for the Bartholomew atrocity in the early C20th, which can still be seen outside the main French Reformed Church in Paris, opposite the Louvre?
    It is not only Protestant historians who condemn what Louis XIV did in 1685, but many, many secular ones as well.
    Read for starters:
    Janet Glenn Gray, “The French Huguenots: Anatomy of Courage”, 1981, and the many bibliographical items she cites, by no means all Protestant.
    Murray Adamthwaite

  • Hi Bill,

    I don’t agree with you that the kindergarten school example represents persecution of Christianity, or is any new development or slippery slope. It is typical US First Amendment jurisprudence, of which there are numerous similar example throughout recent decades. The Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of religion, but also freedom from religion in government institutions, including public schools. Teachers have little other choice in such matters, otherwise they risk getting sued by a parent from another faith. It wouldn’t matter whether the scripture was Christian, Islam, Hebrew or Hindu.

    It may seem like an attack on religion, but in the overall scheme of things I think the founding fathers in the USA had the right idea in keeping government free of religious strife, and subsequent constitutional jurisprudence in that regard should be respected.

    Richard Somerville, Adelaide

  • Sorry Richard but I am just not buying your apology for the secularists and the war against faith. As I said, one issue alone may not be much, but taken together, the many cases of anti-Christian bigotry have a genuine impact on religious freedom.

    If you are seriously telling me that a kindergartner showing a Bible in “Show and Tell” is either violating the US Constitution or imposing religion in the classrooms, then the poverty of your worldview – and your reasoning – has just been exposed to us all.

    The American Founding Fathers of course never at all wanted to keep religion out of political and social life. That is impossible anyway. The First Amendment simply has to do with the federal government not establishing, choosing or preferring one religion as an official state religion. The state is to keep out of that area altogether. But that is a far cry from seeking to foolishly and recklessly ban all religious expression and involvement in the public arena.

    Indeed, the First Amendment also forbids the banning of the free exercise of religion, as well as free speech, which is exactly what took place in Philadelphia, and is happening all around the US.

    Since you seem to be unaware of what this Amendment actually says, let me quote it for you: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    But if you are at all serious about learning more about this, I have written it up elsewhere, including here:

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi again. Is it at all possible the the Western church (and I am broadly including Catholic, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox), under increasing pressure and restrictions from various government and socio-cultural entities will actually be forced to unite in true Christian unity as Christ established it and the Apostle Paul explained it?

    I wonder if early Christians in catacombs or the persecuted Church in China or the old Soviet Union or starving and war-torn Africa had or have the luxury of political and/or theological squabbling and in-fighting which is so rampant within the modern Western church over so many issues. Maybe facing a gun to the head or imprisonment or starvation focusses one’s mind on Christ as only such suffering can. I wonder if I will rise to the challenge if called upon to do so?

    Steve Swartz

  • Bill,

    Put it another way. Would you as a parent in America be happy if an Islamic mother read the Koran to your young child in school? No? And neither would the teacher in such a situation. The mother would be told it was inappropriate in a public school. This case only became a constitutional issue because someone took it to court. And it’s not simply a case of the “public arena”, but a public, i.e. government, school.

    A recital of the few carefully crafted words of the First Amendment is irrelevant. This case is about judicial interpretation of that clause, which is founded on hundreds of precedent cases from the Supreme Court down. It needs to be seen in that context.

    I’m not taking sides on the issue, merely explaining it in the light of US law.

    Richard Somerville, Adelaide

  • Thanks Richard

    If a kid on occasion read a verse from a Sura in kindergarten I would not object, but it in fact happens quite often. That is because it is not open season on Islam in America. In fact the opposite is the case. As I have documented elsewhere here, in the name of not appearing to be Islamophobic, many American public schools have students memorise and recite parts of the Koran and adopt Muslim names.

    You are right to say this is about judicial interpretation, but more needs to be said. It is in fact about judicial activism, and about an anti-Christian pogrom based on a distortion of the Constitution and the intentions of the Founding Fathers.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Richard,

    I do want them to be able to read the Quran in class. I believe the founding fathers would have wanted it too. Now that’s an extrapolation, of course, but on this point they seemed to be about not creating a preferred, state denomination.

    Because nonconformists were overrepresented in the States and because many of them were there because they were fleeing a state church demanding they confrom they didn’t want to repeat those errors and create a ‘Church of England’ in America.

    I’m happy for any Muslim kid to read the Quran and for any Christian kid to read the Bible- as long as we can interact with those ideas, which at present it seems you are not allowed to do. I’m not afraid of the Quran, I’ve read it. Our kids already read from various secular manifestos and we discuss that together at home.

    I would love people to take ‘religion’ off the untouchable pedestal. Read the Quran, but let me debate it and show why it doesn’t make sense. Try to do the same for the Bible, sure, Good Luck, but banning it altogether is not what the founding fathers had in mind. IMHO

    God Bless,
    Michael Hutton, Ariah Park

  • You’re right Michael; religion most certainly is on the ‘untouchable’ pedestal. I was at a friend’s dinner and someone there was wearing a bracelet with photos of Jesus and Mary on it. I asked her what it was and she said it was a religious thing, and that she didn’t want to talk about because it seems to always end in an argument. She then said that I could have my beliefs and she could have hers and we will leave it at that. Why do so few strive for the Truth (not truths, as Francis Schaeffer would say) anymore?

    Good article Bill, it highlights that eventually someone (the state) is going to say that they are right and have the Truth and then want to present (or force) that to others. The kid wants to read the Bible and he is not allowed – that seems to contradict the whole “you have your beliefs and I’ll have mine” (oh, but when I don’t like what you think I’ll stop you). The tyranny of nice!

    Keith Jarrett

  • I know this is off topic, but Michael, I’m pleasantly amazed to see someone from Ariah Park on the internet! A tiny town that I remember driving through when I worked in The Rock! Nice to hear from that neck of the woods!!
    Clive Walters

  • “Read the Quran, but let me debate it and show why it doesn’t make sense.” If you try that, you may have a price on your head.
    Graeme Cumming

  • I recently read an article in our church bulletin about a new church in Toowoomba (the City of Churches), Eastgate Bible Church, which quickly grew to a group of about 50. To accomodate the growth it moved out of the home in which it was founded and rented a funeral chapel for Sundays.
    The trouble began when the church sought council approval to erect a permanent sign outside the chapel. The funeral director was happy but the council not only prevented then from having a sign but directed then to cease meeting in the chapel because the building didn’t have town planning approval for use as a place of worship.
    Even though the pastor pointed out that the chapel was used daily for singing Christian songs, praying and reading and explaining the Bible – the very activities of a church meeting, the council was unmoved.
    In fact their problem got worse, the council told them they could not meet in a public hall or a school or any building that had not been designated as a place of public worship. That effectively means that the Toowoomba City Council controls when, where and if a church can meet and it alone determins what is public worship, pretty much putting it on par with some totalitarian regimes. The law is draconian and prevents the free practice of religion.
    Now that Christians have achieved the status of ‘persecuted minority’ I wonder if we are eligible for special protection or something?
    Des Morris

  • Interesting…

    “When the State decides that certain behaviours and lifestyles are to be promoted and championed at all costs, soon simple affirmation becomes enforced acceptance. What the State deems important must be embraced by everyone, whether they like it or not…..”

    We are indeed institutionlizing ourselves. Confinement will abound. May we be set free.

    A reformation awaits us….

    Martin Van Dyk

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