If you haven't read Michael Gerson's opinion piece in the Washington Post of December 27, I recommend that you give it a look. He lists a few terrible examples of recent, intensifying persecution of Christians in some nations where the followers of Jesus are in the minority. In light of the command of Hebrews 13:3 that Christians remember their fellow believers who are imprisoned or being tortured as if we are imprisoned or being tortured as well, we should not ignore the plight of our persecuted brothers and sisters.
Besides the obvious moral and theological issues that should inspire our concern about the mistreatment of Christians, there is also a vital practical matter at stake. Gerson points out the high correlation between religious persecution and national security threats. According to William Inboden of the University of Texas, every major war involving the U.S. of the last 70 years has been against an enemy that does not prize religious liberty. Conversely, no nation that respects religious freedom poses a security threat to the U.S.
Yet it is Gerson's mention of America's strange disengagement regarding religious persecution that really grabbed my attention. He provides this disturbing quote from Economist editors John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge: “One of America’s oddest failures in recent years is its inability to draw any global lessons from its unique success in dealing with religion at home. It is a mystery why a country so rooted in pluralism has made so little of religious freedom.”
It seems that we the people of the United States may have succeeded in generally making a mole hill out of a glorious mountain. This was the first nation on earth to guarantee religious liberty in its founding documents. This grand experiment is an obvious and remarkable success.
History and recent headlines reveal the humanitarian abuses that inevitably arise in countries where religious freedom is not protected. Yet, in this nation in which we revere not mere religious toleration but religious liberty for all, violence in the name of religion is nearly nonexistent. On the rare occasions that there is brutality linked to religion here, it is quickly and widely denounced.
We've a story to tell to the nations regarding religious liberty. But, by and large, we are silent, or close to it. Even worse, it is common in many evangelical circles these days to attack the mechanism that protects religious liberty in this country, namely church-state separation. Baptists in particular, once stalwart defenders of separation of church and state, now largely decry the concept. Perhaps more evangelicals would again embrace separation if they paid more attention to the world headlines that describe atrocities committed in places where religion and government are united.
Be that as it may, I think Micklethwait and Wooldridge are onto something. We don't make enough of the American heritage of religious liberty. We are not as deliberate as we should be about remembering and celebrating our roots in this regard. By continuing to neglect our story about religious freedom we run the risk of letting this right slip away for ourselves and we lose our voice in the world on a point at which we have something important and wonderful to say.