A lesbian walks into a Muslim’s barbershop and requests a “businessmen’s haircut.” It sounds like the start of a bad joke, but it’s a very real dilemma in Toronto. The Muslim doesn’t believe in touching women other than his own wife. The lesbian doesn’t like the haircuts at women’s salons, and wants a man’s hair style. So she appeals to the Human Rights Tribunal of Toronto, demanding that the Muslim give her a haircut. This conflict was quietly resolved, but attacks on religious liberty are making the news more frequently than ever.
A Christian baker in Colorado faces a year in jail for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The ruling party in Quebec wants to ban religious symbols from public work places. As I noted last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently claimed that “extreme conservatives who are right to life, pro-assault weapon, anti-gay . . . have no place in the State of New York.”
One scholar estimates that 90 percent of all people killed around the world because of their religious beliefs are Christians. For instance, it has been reported that a Christian is killed, kidnapped, or abused every 2-3 days in Iraq. Now we’re seeing a rising tide of oppression in the West as well. There was a day when the church was central to the culture—stores were closed on Sundays and political leaders almost always identified publicly with a church. In the 1960s, the church started becoming marginalized—God is not our King but our hobby.
Now the church is being attacked as dangerous to society. The United Nations recently called on the Catholic Church to change its long-standing positions on abortion, homosexuality and contraception, claiming that these doctrines are harmful to the public. A group calling itself “Angry Queers” recently threw baseball-sized rocks through nine church windows in Portland’s Mars Hill Church to protest the church’s positions on sexual morality. After Rick Warren’s mentally ill son took his life, someone tweeted: “I would’ve committed suicide if my dad was Rick Warren too.” Richard Dawkins claims that “religion is the root of all evil.”
Seven in 10 Protestant pastors now believe that “religious liberty is on the decline in America.” I recently completed an in-depth study of this phenomenon and invite you to download Respected to Irrelevant to Dangerous: Does religion poison everything?. I conclude that persecution against believers is inevitable, as Jesus predicted: “you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake” (Matthew 24:9). So we are to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). And we are to trust that the God who redeems all he allows is using our faithful suffering for his glory and our good. Remember that “he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
In 2010, Roman Catholic Cardinal Francis George of Chicago stated: “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.” Will you pay any price to serve Jesus today?