2006-12-19 13:28:53 UTC
A Little Perspective on the War on Christmas
By Megan Basham
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
It has become yet another heralding of "the most wonderful time of
the year." Along with the temporary inclusion of Bing Crosby and Burl
Ives into light rock radio formats, holiday sales, and cheerful family
photographs wishing "Season's Greetings" from the mailbox, every
December I have come to expect stories of the ACLU's persecution of
the Christian part of Christmas. So effective has the secular left's
legal onslaught been that now the mere whisper of a threat is enough to
pull down the Christmas trees in Seattle's Sea-Tac airport. And
elementary school principles no longer wait for the stray Wiccan parent
to complain before they scurry around banning red and green
construction paper from decoration activities and "Away in a
Manger" from Christmas pageant programs.
So, like clockwork, with the arrival of colder weather also arrives my
wounded sense of injustice as one of the majority who worships the
Jesus the city of Chicago deemed unfit to portray on film. This year,
however, while the stories of the ACLU's grinchiness remain as
ridiculous as ever, I'm having a little trouble mustering up my
traditional holiday outrage-and not just because the clerks at
Wal-Mart have resumed wishing me "Feliz Navidad" (I live in a
Southwestern city.) After a close encounter with believers who daily
live Christ's prediction, "If they persecuted me, they will
persecute you also," I can't help but blush a bit at my previous,
very vocal indignation.
For almost two-weeks in October, the organization Gospel for Asia (GFA)
hosted a small collection of journalists for an informational tour of
India . With 54 Bible colleges, 400 Bridge of Hope centers
(elementary-level programs for children of Dalits, India's lowest
caste), a radio ministry broadcasting in 102 languages, and a network
of over 16,000 native missionaries throughout the country, GFA is in a
unique position to provide insight on the state of the Church in Asia.
The common challenge they say all workers in Indian ministry face is
violent opposition. These are but a few reports out of the country from
the last month alone:
¨ On November 14, villagers in the northeast state of Assam , India
forced nine families from their homes for converting to Christianity.
¨ On November 17, students of a GFA Bible School were beaten and
threatened with being burned alive by a mob on a road in Uttar Pradesh.
All their Gospel literature was burned.
Simon John, a GFA regional director, acknowledges that such incidents
are common throughout the Northern region.
¨ On November 21, Bashir Ahmad Tantray was killed by unidentified
gunmen for attempting to evangelize in the northern district of Jammu
¨ On November 30 more than 50 members of an extremist Hindu group
stormed a Catholic girls' school in Karnataka, assaulting several
teachers for teaching the Bible to children. Later the same group
attacked a Carmelite seminary, desecrating the statue of Our Lady in
¨ On December 7, a 23-year old Anglican charity worker was stoned to
death, his body found underneath a pile of rocks in the cemetery of a
church in the Dharamasala region of India .
Of course, I am annoyed when I hear that liberal atheists are once
again protesting a courthouse crèche-but I likely would be more
annoyed to be on the Christian end of any of the above incidents.
Only a handful of such stories even make the news. Meeting with GFA
missionaries, pastors, and Bible college students, I heard numerous
first-person accounts of sacrifices made to become followers of Christ.
Disowned by families, driven from homes, jailed, beaten, and sometimes
killed, America 's version of anti-Jesus hatred seems like petulant
child's play in comparison.
While state-side secularists stir up trouble in the public square, few
have shown the temerity to enter our very churches. Not so in India .
Gospel for Asia's church service in Karnataka last Easter was
interrupted by masked men who waited for the husbands and fathers in
attendance to leave the building before descending on the women and
children, beating some to the point of collapse. Earlier in the year, i
nsurgents burned to the ground a GFA Believers Church building that was
under construction. The fire also destroyed the nearby temporary
shelters of GFA missionaries. During another attack on the same
building site, Hindu extremists fired 40 rounds of ammunition into the
construction area. Miraculously, no one was killed.
Lest we're inclined in our first-world comfort to think this is
merely the work village barbarians, its worth noting that their
government provides tacit approval of anti-Christian prejudice. In some
Indian states, new believers face harsh anti-conversion laws that
require astronomical financial penalties and jail time. Indian law
actively prosecutes proselytizing efforts. On the local front,
authorities routinely invent charges against pastors and evangelists in
order to take them into custody and off the preaching circuit.
However shifting the legal ground the ACLU stands on in the United
States , compared to the hostilities third-world Christians must
endure, their activities seem more like a nuisance than persecution.
This is not to suggest that the war on Christianity in America isn't
real, but in other parts of the world, that war has a body count.
How often, as we file our briefs and lodge our protests for our First
Amendment rights, do we remember what believers of other nations, with
whom American Christians share a closer bond than merely that of
citizenship, face all year long? As one GFA leader pointedly asked our
small group, "How often do our American brothers and sisters fast and
pray over our situation?"
Because it speaks especially to the hearts of India's most destitute
(and illiterate) caste, the Dalits, Christianity there has become known
as a "low class" religion, a religion of the poor and cast off . .
. the untouchable. How very like New Testament faith that seems. And
with our elaborate high-tech structures, mass media outlets, and
thriving Christian book/music/film industries, how very unlike our own.
God has blessed American believers with every good material thing. The
poorest of United States ' Christians would be counted among those
unable to go through the eye of a needle in the majority of the world.
Asked how he might approach evangelizing in the States, one GFA worker
shrugs ruefully, observing that, "Trying to reach Americans is like
trying to reach the Brahmins" ( India 's highest and wealthiest
caste). It goes unspoken that we might also share the Brahmin sense of
entitlement and superiority.
Perhaps our success as a Christian nation has narrowed our vision so
that we no longer recognize the blessing of being able to congregate,
pray, and give to God as freely as wish. Perhaps it has made us too
eager to appeal to courts, and not eager enough to appeal to hearts.
GFA Regional Director Benny Moses described the attitude Indian
believers hold in regard to persecution in a way that may leave some of
us in the Western world squirming: "Christian means you never
react-we do not even file charges when they beat us." He seems
similarly unconcerned about his minority status as a Christian,
expressing confidence in the prospect of converting the country: "He
[the Holy Spirit] will do his business as we do our business.]"
(Perhaps an apt message for his American brethren suffering from
troubled hearts this Christmas?)
As American Christians, we do have much for which to be grateful. But
we should never confuse our allegiance to the United States with our
true "home" country. And in that concept, even our adversaries have
"What Americans don't understand about Muslims is that that their
faith is their citizenship," comments GFA founder and author Dr. K.P.
Yohannan. How much more true should that be for Christians? We may have
a patriotic obligation to protect the biblical principles on which our
founders based our government, but we have an even higher calling to do
what we can to sustain those with whom we share a heavenly citizenship.
Christmas is not a national holiday-it is a religious one. Those of
us who profess faith in Christ would do well remember that we honor the
Lord of the holiday not only by asserting our own religious rights, but
supporting our overseas spiritual family as they face worshipping
without any. The day may come where the ACLU has its way and our faith
is officially declared an affront to the state, but that day has not
yet arrived. While I would never suggest that we acquiesce to the
secularists' efforts to make mention of the Messiah's name a crime,
we must also make it a priority to support our brothers and sisters for
whom that day has already come.