Subtle and Not So Subtle Persecution

by on March 10th, 2011

Two stories that caught my attention this week have to do with persecution of Christians in foreign countries. I’m always amazed at how many people have no idea that Christians are persecuted in other parts of the world. It is something that often escapes my friends on the far left of the political spectrum. It seems in the minds of many, religious persecution is something that happens only to minority religions or Islam. When questioned about Christian persecution, I can almost see the images of lions and Roman arenas forming in the heads of my friends, rather than say a lone Chinese preacher languishing in a cell or in recent events: A lone Pakistani member of parliment who dared protest Pakistan’s blasphemy laws as a representative of all the non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan. Shahbaz Bhatti was remarkable. I only heard of him after his assassination which is sad. I would like to have followed him before he became famous for dying. But his death is what he will always be remembered for:

I think the most poignant moment in that interview is when he says, “I know what is the meaning of Cross.” Amen. I wish I knew the meaning of the cross the way he does. I wish I understood sacrifice in that way. I should note dear reader that the video above was presented to Al-Jazeera at the request of MP Bhatti because he wanted his Muslim neighbors to hear it in the event of his death.

“It is with the Muslim world I want to share the message of love. That is the only message that can bring the Muslim world out of the circle of hate and killings”.

I first heard this dynamic confession of Christ on NPR. . . . you heard right–NPR.  The response from the President of Pakistan:

“This is concerted campaign to slaughter every liberal, progressive and humanist voice in Pakistan,”  Farahnaz Ispahani, an aide to Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s president, said.”

I understand why Zardari makes the story about political violence because he must walk a fine line between constituents but I still can’t help but see this as a martyrdom of Bhatti.

But not all persecution is so overt as a public killing.

Eunice and Owen Johns are an elderly couple from Derby, who fostered a number of children in the 1990s, and who recently offered their services again to Derby City Council. Their offer was rejected on the grounds that, as fundamentalist Christians, they might teach any children in their keeping that homosexual acts were sinful. They took legal action against the Council, arguing that their beliefs should not be held against them. On the 28th February 2011, judgment was given against them in the High Court. The Judges ruled that, where the laws against discrimination are concerned, sexual minorities take precedence over religious believers. Because Mr and Mrs Johns might not remain silent about sexual ethics, there was a danger to the “welfare” of children taken from their homes by the Council.

This is a report from one of the UK’s libertarian Alliance director Sean Gabb. What I find interesting in a oh-my-goodness-how-could-they-that way is the line about a hierarchy of priority when it comes to discrimination. Sexual minorities take precedence over religious believers. Why? I actually blogged about his in my very first post for The Crux. My comments were in reference to Christians being persecuted for exercising their free speech about Gay Marriage:

According to many advocates of hate speech legislation, historically dominant groups like Christianity may be offended by statements that the Bible needs to be updated or the fiery statements of gay activists, but what Christians cannot be, is targets of hate speech. Christians are not the historically oppressed but rather the oppressors. Also, according to some hate speech opponents, Christians cannot feel the alienation of oppressed groups because of their majority status. Christians, like whites cannot be the victims of hate speech because they form the predominant social group and can retreat to the safe harbor of dominant social culture that minorities do not have.

Though it is not usually put this way, there is implicit conception of justice as balancing the scales. Contra the historic liberal doctrine that government must be neutral about the good life, the new left argues that the demands of justice may require promoting or subsidizing those who have been victims of oppression at the expense of the right to free speech.

Since Christianity is seen as the dominant oppressor, oppressed groups ought to be given leeway to express their discontent even if it violates the oppressor’s so called right to free speech. In other words justice may require a double standard to balance the scales.

I suggest that this at the heart of the court’s decision. Sexual minorities are more oppressed and therefore they deserve precedence in trade-offs involving discrimination. The court quickly added that this is not a blanket denial of Christian fostering rights but that the concern was, as always, for the children. But my question is why not a blanket law against Christian fostering? After all, if teaching children that according to Christian belief homosexuality is a sin, is detrimental to their welfare, then it will always be detrimental to their welfare. In other words, the court reassures us that this is not a blanket ban on Christian fostering–as long as the Christians in question agree with the court about homosexuality. Well, that’s comforting. Sean Gabb rightly sees where this is going:

It is conceivable that they will eventually be classed – on account of their beliefs – as unfit parents and will have their children taken away from them. Before that happens, of course, there will be laws against home education, and an inquisition in the schools of what they have been telling their children.

After all, if its detrimental to welfare of children to be taught homosexuality is a sin, then its detrimental whether the children are biological or adopted. This thesis of mine requires a great deal more thought but Sean Gabb has a name for it: Historical or Collective revenge. Often the difference between vengeance and justice is the intent of the act. Unfortunately only God knows the true intent of this kind of collective action and I suspect the motives will be difficult to parse out. But let it be said, persecution against Christian belief is alive and well even if no one is rounding up lions for the arena.

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