Interfaith Paper for ACC-16

Persecution, American Style

This is how one page of “Out of the Depths,” quoting an unnamed person, classifies persecution in the United States:

“In 2013, there were 115 attacks on places of worship and 75 fatalities. These have included attacks on synagogues by neo-Nazis, which have also killed non-Jews.”

“There are ‘freedom of speech’ demonstrations at the funerals of some homosexuals in the armed forces and also at some family planning clinics. Some opposition by people to the ‘Obama Care’ health care reforms was because [sic] it includes family planning.”

“This persecution in the US is from the extreme right, often the Christian religious right, who are not comfortable with diversity. These acts are classified as hate crimes and are prosecuted. Secularism is seen as a bad thing.”

“Although the US considers itself the most religious country in the world, I believe that theological literacy can be poor, and that the persecution, referred to above, comes out of a particular Christian theology. On a positive note, acts of persecution can often bring people and communities together and lead to some sense of healing.”

Legal challenges to the administration have not opposed all forms of family planning. Instead, church-based opposition to President Obama’s policies has raised questions of freedom of religion.

The administration requires that health-insurance coverage provided by private companies, such as Hobby Lobby, and nonprofit agencies, from private Christian colleges to the Little Sisters of the Poor, cover forms of birth control that include abortifacient methods.

Protests at military funerals are led by Westboro Baptist Church, a tiny family-based sect that no denomination has encouraged or supported. Those protests are not limited to veterans who were gay or lesbian, but are based on the group’s assumption that God hates America.

Adapted from Anglican Communion News Service

The Anglican Communion’s Network for Interfaith Concerns has released a draft report on theological resources for times of persecution. The report, “Out of the Depths: Hope in a Time of Suffering” is “an Anglican contribution to ecumenical engagement” and will be discussed during next month’s meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Lusaka, Zambia.

The report’s introduction says:

We are living in an unprecedented time of religious persecution and martyrdom in the modern world.

There were more recognized martyrs in the 20th century than in the whole of previous Christian history.

There are some books on the demography and phenomenology of persecution, but currently a lack of theological resources to help those who are undergoing persecution.

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord” is the beginning of Psalm 130:1. Facing the threat of being overwhelmed by the waters of chaos, the Psalmist cries out for help from the depths of his heart. Our title, “Out of the Depths—Hope in a Time of Suffering,” draws on that Psalm and also on Psalm 42:7: Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts: all your waves and billows have gone over me. The Psalmist again uses the image of water for being pounded in the midst of trouble and woe, and cries out for help.

The authors stress the ecumenical context of their work and highlight “three occasions … of particular importance” from 2015: the 50th anniversary of Dignitatis Humanae, the decree on Religious Freedom of Vatican II; the Global Christian Forum’s consultation on persecution in November in Tirana, Albania; and the centenary of the Armenian Genocide.

The report was written for ACC-16, but the authors say that “we pray that it will be a resource for Christians of all traditions; for those who are under persecution and also for those who support them.”

The draft report outlines the global context through case studies from India, Nigeria, Malaysia, Syria, Sweden and the United States. It has separate chapters looking at Scripture, tradition and reason, within which the report explores “how diverse theologies have resourced Christians under pressure through the centuries” and considers “how people of other faiths have drawn on their own theological resources.” Another chapter focuses on worship.

In a case study from Malaysia, the report says that the country’s traditionally inclusive approach to religion changed in 2001 when the government declared that Islam was the state religion. “It is not just the non-Islamic minorities that feel persecuted, but also some of the more liberal Muslims,” the report says. “This has led to migration from the country; as the more open and academic Muslims have left the situation has become more extreme.”

Insensitive activity by visiting missionaries is identified as a source of attacks on local Christians. “There are examples of churches being destroyed after missionaries, from other parts of India, have demonized Hinduism either through the testimonies of recent converts or through distributing pamphlets that demonize Hindu gods,” the report says. “The missionaries doing this then leave the area and don’t suffer any consequences themselves.”

In Syria, the report, says that “What was suffered under [Daesh] was horrible, but Muslim neighbors, betraying Christians to [them], was worse. The Nazarene sign, meaning a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, was put on houses. This meant the occupier could be killed and property taken; there is the need to start building trust again.”

The report also looks at persecution in the West, citing an example from Sweden. “If you are religious at all in Sweden, many people tend to think that you are a bit daft,” the report says. “This will mean that children can be bullied at school if they are openly Christian; not only by their peers, but sometimes even by teachers.

“This, however, is slowly changing as more children with an immigrant background are proud to be Muslims or Christians, and the schools realize that they have to take religion more seriously.”

This is the third theological resource published by the Network for Interfaith Concerns, joining Generous Love: The Truth of the Gospel and the Call to Dialogue and Land of Promise?: An Anglican Exploration of Christian Attitudes to the Holy Land.

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