I no doubt shouldn't be surprised but I always am when I hear American Christians say they believe their faith is under such a strong attack that one day the religion will be legally banned.
It's not that there aren't people who dislike at least some Christians intensely. And it's not that there aren't already countries (see Saudi Arabia) where public Christian worship is not allowed. And it's not that the percentage of Christians in the population is so unchanging and strong (it's slowly slipping, though the vast majority of Americans still identify as Christian) that the future of the faith here is so solid it can never be challenged.
But to suggest that there's a plot to destroy Christianity in the United States strikes me as baseless paranoia. And yet that is precisely what a reader of mine wrote to me the other day in response to this blog entry criticizing Rep. Paul Ryan for abandoning his moral center and endorsing Donald Trump.
"I believe," the man wrote, "that if we elect a Democrat in 2016, it will be illegal to worship Jesus Christ in this country when my son is my age. He is 13. I am 67. That would be the year 2070."
Are Democrats godless heathens bent on destroying Christianity?
I'm thinking this will come as a surprise to the party's presumptive presidential nominee, who is a United Methodist kind of Christian.
Does this thinking come out of the conspiratorial nonsense that labels Barack Obama a Muslim? That lie, after all, is believed by a staggeringly large number of Republicans (in some polls, by more than half).
I simply don't know. And the man's belief is one of those odd contentions that there's no way to disprove. We will have to wait until 2070 to find out whether the man who wrote to me is right or I'm right. (I'll be 125 years old in 2070 and may no longer care much.)
But just imagine the enormous revolution of thinking and the intentional deviation from of our national history that would have to take place in just 54 years for it to be illegal to worship Jesus in the U.S. Still, one way to move in that direction would be to begin to erode the foundation of religious freedom in the U.S. How? Oh, let's say by declaring that no Muslims will be allowed to come to the U.S. That, at least, is where Donald Trump would start.
So, yes, we must be vigilant about protecting religious liberty, as guaranteed by the Constitution. But to live in fear of a future that, at least now, seems wildly improbable strikes me as a waste of time and energy. But at least the man who wrote to me about this told me that he has "tremendous respect for you. I keep an article you wrote about 20 years ago in my 'important Documents' folder."
I don't know what that article was, but when someone demonstrates that sort of excellent taste in writers it's best to ponder -- and not ignore -- his point.
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PONDERING SOURCES OF ANTI-GAY PREJUDICE
There still is much we don't know about the motives behind the Orlando massacre, but what we do know is far from comforting. Not only have we learned that the shooter pledged allegiance to ISIS, but we certainly know he chose to attack a gay night club during Gay Pride Month. As this Religion News Service piece notes, "If there was one message in the massacre, it seemed to be that LBGT people are still not safe, and that religious teachings — or at least a narrow reading of them — may be a contributing factor to hatred against gays." Despite the progress Americans have made in recent decades to make sure members of the LGBTQ community are treated as equals in our society, there still is much anti-gay bias, and much of it finds its roots in a misreading of the Bible. For my essay on what the Bible really says about homosexuality, click here. Much of Islam is far from gay-friendly and if it turns out that the shooter, as it now appears, was a radicalized Muslim, then we'd have to search for the sources of anti-gay bias not so much in the Bible but in Islam itself.