I just watched God’s Not Dead 2. I know, I am a bit behind the times. But the movie sparked some thoughts about the plight of the Church in the US and around the world.
Before getting to the point, it’s worth noting that courtroom movies are usually not very realistic. Movies rarely get the courtroom scenes right. But, I was pleasantly surprised. They got it right! I am talking about the rules of evidence, the questioning of witnesses, the objections.
I am an attorney and did a brief in law school focusing on religious freedom in schools. That was a long ago, and I have not remained up to date on the details regarding how the law has evolved since then, but I pay attention to what is going on. I have represented public school districts, which has given me the opportunity to update my knowledge periodically.
Unfortunately, the odds in this country are increasingly being stacked against the believer. The law is edging away from religious freedom and even freedom of speech. A new idealism is taking over that is decidedly post religious – actually anti religious.
Did you watch through the credits? Did you see the number of court cases that inspired the movie? They are legion. Hostility toward religious expression, and especially Christian religious expression, is at an all time high in the United States.
But, in these United States, we have been very fortunate. Formed on the basis of religious and individual liberty, we have enjoyed a freedom of religious expression rarely experienced in history. Even even as the edges are eroding back, we still enjoy a great deal of freedom compared to other places in the world
In Russia today, evangelism outside of the walls of a church is now against the law. In China, the government is cracking down against against religious expression after a short reprieve. Some Muslim countries tolerate Christianity. Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan used to be among them, but some of the oldest Christian populations in the world have been driven out of the region.
Christians in other Muslim countries, like Pakistan, are left alone, for the most part, as long as they keep to themselves and don’t advertise their faith. Even so, Christians in Pakistan have been killed for violating the country’s anti-blasphemy law that forbids proclaiming any God but Allah.
Some Muslim countries are more openly and aggressively hostile to Christians. Most countries under Muslim control have apostasy laws that forbid Muslims from converting to Christianity. Apostasy laws exist in Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, Iran, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Yemen, Sudan and Malaysia to name some of them.
ISIS targets Christians and hangs them, sets them on fire, drowns them and beheads them. Christians have even been crucified. They take the women captive and make them sex slaves unless they convert and marry a Muslim man. Radical Muslim groups in Africa target Christians and have even been known to take captive whole schools of Christian girls.
We don’t hear much about the modern persecution of Christians in the mainstream media unless ISIS publicizes it in a way that can’t be ignored. Christian groups, however, monitor the persecution around the world.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared a year ago that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world today, and Civitas: Institute for the Study of Civil Society in the UK confirms that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world. Rupert Short, the author of the Civitas paper, says, ” Religious freedom is the canary in the mine for human rights generally.” Is the canary grasping for breath?
Significantly, though the plight of Christians in the US can hardly be said to rise to the level of persecution. The US has been a bastion of Christian thought and influence, and a light of hope to the rest of the world, but the light is dimming and flickering. The canary is getting antsy.
But, the picture isn’t all doom and gloom. The light shines brightest in the darkness. According to Christianity Today, we are living in the midst of the greatest turning of Muslims to Christianity in history. Experts calculate that more Muslims have converted to Christianity in the 21st Century (just 16 years at the time of this writing) than all the previous centuries combined. David Garrison, who has studied the conversion of Muslims to Christianity for years, calls it a “global phenomenon“.
An estimated 350 million Muslims have secretly converted to Christianity and live secretly as Christians in Muslim countries. The sources for these figures have been kept confidential due to the heavy persecution of Christians around the world and the apostasy laws that would target the converts for putative killing.
An estimated 91,000 Muslims have converted to Christianity in Bangladesh in the last six years, a country that is over 90% Muslim. in spite of apostasy laws that carry the death penalty. Conservative estimates report 450,000 people are part of a Christian house church in Iran, and the number of Iranian Christians could be as high as one million in spite of a practice of killing apostates that continues today.
Approximately 6 million people convert to Christianity in Africa very year, according to Al-Jezeerah. That amounts to 667 converts every hour and 16,000 converts every day.
According to sources cited by the Telegraph in the UK, Christianity is experiencing stunning growth in China. In fact, China is on a pace to have the largest Christian population in the world by 2030.
Meanwhile, the PEW Research Center reports that people reporting themselves as Christians are declining in the US. While American Christians enjoy relatively great freedom in the exercise of their religious beliefs, Christianity is on the downswing and is increasingly disfavored in Western society, including Canada, the UK and Western Europe.
The movie, God’s Not Dead 2, was fairly accurate in the fact pattern that provided the backdrop for the plot of the movie. A high school social studies teacher was asked a question about Jesus, and she answered factually based on the record of the Bible. The teacher was fired for referencing the Bible and summarizing what Jesus taught.
Though historians view the Bible as an historical account, whether they believe the message or not, reference to the Bible by a teacher in a public school is considered by many to be a violation of the separation of church and state. Though most scholars agree that Jesus was an historical figure who generated a following in the First Century that has had historic influence on the world through the present day, public schools are increasingly uncomfortable with any references to Jesus or the Bible in public schools.
While American Christians are not persecuted, they are increasingly marginalized, and tolerance for the Christian message is increasingly growing thin. In my opinion, we live in a post-Christian society (as does Canada and all of Europe). Christianity is more vibrant and growing faster in South America than it is in North America.
Perhaps, the public muzzle on Christianity in the US will spark a revival of more vital Christian faith, much like the thriving underground churches in countries that are openly hostile to Christianity. While we fear the canary in the mine is dying, maybe it’s an opportunity for God’s resurrection power. While darkness seems to be settling in, God’s light shines brightest in the darkness.
2 thoughts on “The Light Shines Lightest in the Darkness: the American & Global Church”
I was an unofficial missionary in China years ago. I worked as an English teacher but I was so filled with the love of God, that my classes almost always were imbued with that spirit and we got into discussions about love and the source of it, straying far from the content that would be on their exams. China gets a lot of criticism from the West for their intolerance of Christian–and any religious–practice, but in my experience nearly everyone had a childlike curiosity about God and Jesus, so unlike the vitriolic disposition unbelievers display in the US. Even my Communist party-member boss gave me the go-ahead to talk openly and even lovingly about God in the public high school.
Talk about progressive and freedom of speech!
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That is very encouraging. It seems we could all use a dose of the third world church.