In this episode we’re going to take a look at the global state of Christianity and a few challenges it’s been facing in recent years. We’ll also take a look into the US government’s relationship with Christian doctrine and what that might mean for current and future Christians interested in holding political office or entering the marketplace.
This is episode number two of the Reasonable podcast and I’m ready to dive in. Thanks for tuning in.
I’m Don and this is Reasonable
I’m afraid that what we’re seeing happening on the world’s stage is a two front push against Christianity. The assault seems to be two-part in nature and it is impossible to know it’s origin or leadership if there is any. What’s evident is that we have, at the same time, a sedating or redefinition of the faith and a violent prohibition of the faith happening around the globe. The only thing separating the two fronts at the moment seems to be geography. The means by which Christianity is buffeted are many but ultimately should not be our focus - what’s left for us to do is to awaken to the fact that these things are happening and then to come up with ways to fight back against the tide.
Given the realities the articles cited here bring to our attention, I believe there is reason enough to take a serious look at the state of Christianity in whatever country or city we may be living in order that we do not mistakenly believe we are advancing in strength when we’re really struggling. Make no mistake, the advancement of the church is ultimately up to the Lord. What we need to do is obey His last command before He ascended to Heaven, and to do so with strength and consistency - because those who are operating off of a secular worldview, advancing their agendas as well as those are they’re convincing need the gospel before it’s too late. We do not want to relax and take the opportunities we have now for granted and leave our children and grandchildren with a world more hostile to the Truth because we failed to deliver it at all costs like our Christian forefathers did.
Christianity By the Numbers
Let’s start off by taking a look at Christianity by the numbers on the world’s stage. There is reason to get excited about the following statistic but try doubly hard in making sure it doesn’t cause you to grow complacent when it comes to advancing the faith or defending it against those who would love to see it’s end. There are currently somewhere around 2.1B Christians on the planet. This data comes from the Pew Research Center 1 and is an enumeration of self-professing Christians around the globe. Even if the number is off by the millions, the report still places Christianity in the forefront as the most popular religion on planet earth.
This is truly amazing news. How can a gangly band of disciples fresh out of an emotional and physical defeat suffering the loss of their beloved Leader then turn around and set the world on fire with this new faith that would change history forever? It’s the power of the gospel, the resurrection of Christ, the power of God. Only the one true God can create the world, place a curse on that world because of the sin of His image-bearers, then gradually save the world both using and redeeming those same image-bearers who were once His enemies. He makes us to believe and He’s doing it by the billions; His promises are being fulfilled, and we should be eternally grateful.
The second most popular religion on the planet is Islam. With around 1.6B adherents, they are currently dominating the middle east and much of Africa. Like the numbers concerning Christians, I’m sure there is a significant variation to take into account. There are three things which are important to consider when thinking about the number of muslims in the world. The first is the reality that Christianity had it’s start before the Islamic faith took root. Scholars believe that the number of Christians, for that reason, has always outnumbered the amount of Muslims in the world throughout the ages with a possible exception around the Middle Ages due to the dive in numbers in Christendom on account of the Black Death. The second thing to take into account is the fact that many conversions have taken place and continue to take place with violence or under threats of violence in the Islamic world. This reality makes it difficult to believe some of those claiming to be muslim are actually so. Consider the reality of many families and individuals faced with the unfortunate circumstance that, after Islamic governance has been established in their country, they will have to either convert to the Islamic faith, pay a heavy tax, escape, or die 2. This is absolutely no way to envelope converts into the fold of one’s belief system, but nevertheless, it happens. The third thing to take into consideration when examining the number of Muslims in the world is the high birth rate Muslim communities tend to have. According to Pew, between the years 2010 and 2015, Islam had a birth rate of about 3.1 and Christendom had a rate of about 2.7. For this reason, Pew estimates the number of Christians and Muslims to be about the same, with Christians outnumbering Muslims by a few million by the year 2050. We know, though, that it is not birth rates that advance the Kingdom of God, although that does help, but what advances the Kingdom of God is the gospel.
ACN Report on Christian persecution
Next, we’ll turn our attention to a recently released report on Christian persecution. 3
In terms of the numbers of people involved, the gravity of the crimes committed and their impact, it is clear that the persecution of Christians is today worse than at any time in history. Not only are Christians more persecuted than any other faith group, but ever-increasing numbers are experiencing the very worst forms of persecution.
That’s a direct quote from a report on Christian persecution around the world done by an organization titled Aid to the Church in Need, or ACN. The organization commits itself to the documenting of Christian persecution around the world through “fact-finding and project-assessment trips”. From the year 2015 to the year 2017, ACN studied the state of Christianity in 13 countries and found that 12 of the 13 countries worsened in terms of their treatment of Christians. The outlying country in that sample was Saudi Arabia, and it wasn’t considered worsening in Christian treatment only because “the situation was already so bad it could scarcely get any worse.”
The report highlights a number of trends across the world concerning the treatment of Christians - hangings, crucifixions, beatings, kidnappings, the destruction of property, the destruction of holy buildings and artifacts, and the list goes on. Countries we would not suspect might be hostile to Christians given our limited knowledge of them seem to have had significant problems treating Christians with dignity. Unfortunately, we see these places as their most popular city, or as vacation destinations, instead of seeing the country as a whole - made up of people with beliefs and inclinations.
A Northern Nigerian diocese, for example, in five years, experienced 988 killings and 71 majority-Christian communities destroyed. 2712 homes and 20 churches were also destroyed. A city in northeast Nigeria which had been occupied by Boko Haram reported that 1.8 million people had been displaced, 5000 women had become widows, and 15000 children had become orphans.
These numbers are devastating to hear. We would never think this about the country of Nigeria. Although the persecution of Christians is not enforced or sanctioned by the sate, it would seem the government, along with other governments around the world are not doing enough to see the end of this mistreatment - this attempt at eradication. We’re dealing with hearts and minds here, ultimately, and living in a country where there are hostile citizens who know where you live and worship is not much different than living in a country with a government hostile to Christianity.
If these numbers represented some demographic other than Christians, we would likely rely on major secular outlets to do the speaking for us, although we’d be mistaken to do so. Being aware of numbers like these is unfortunately a rare privilege of those who pay more than the average amount of attention to Christian affairs around the globe. May our voices be loud enough to make the world know about what really is going on out there concerning the plight of many Christians. It would seem like this would be of top priority in terms of aid and sympathy from cultural and political elites here in the West given that they seem most interested in whatever is the most oppressed party any given month on the world’s stage, but it isn’t - it’s a sideline issue, a reality they’re comfortable with.
Ultimately, it will not be awareness that brings change in this area. They see the same statistics we do but their rhetoric does not change, their minds don’t change when it comes to their attitude about Christians or the Christian religion, and most importantly, their minds and hearts, as far as I can tell (and I hope I’m wrong), are not moved closer to God when they witness this sort of self sacrifice, this selfless love, this deadly dedication.
I urge anyone listening to consider these uncomfortable statistics and to seek out ways to help Christian brothers and sisters around the globe.
The United States and Christian Politicians
Switching gears and turning our attention to the United States, we’ll take a look at an article covering an exchange between a Senator and a presidential appointee during his hearing.
Emma Green, writing for The Atlantic, in an article published June of last year, covers an interaction between Senator and former Democratic presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders and Russell Vought, a presidential nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget 4. The line of questioning Sanders was engaged in took a turn for the worse when he began to question Vought about something he’d written and had published about his alma mater, Wheaton College.
Wheaton College, you might remember, was covered a short while ago when one of their professors violated their statement of faith by claiming Christians and Muslims worship the same God. In response to this, Vought wrote an article supporting the college in their decision not to tolerate the rhetoric coming from the professor in question.
Now, having read his article 5, Vought makes some very solid theological points - none of which are new to the Christian faith. In the article he writes:
Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ His Son, and they stand condemned.
This is the key excerpt Sanders seemed to have a problem with.
Phobia, a Misuse
Before we dive into the illegal line of questioning Sanders goes into and his obvious frustration with an unapologetic, unflinching, affirmation of the exclusivity of Christ, we need to take a look at the language used here and in many arguments about religion and politics these days.
We need to unpack the word “phobia”. This word has been wrongly used for so long now that we assume it means something that it actually doesn’t. Merriam-Webster defines “phobia” as
An exaggerated usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation.
Therefore, any word derived from adding “phobia” or “phobic” to the end of it or any phrase ending in “phobia” could be seen as meaning “an exaggerated or inexplicable and illogical fear of (whatever you’re applying the word or phrase to).” In most cases, though, it is used without reference to fear at all - but rather it’s used with reference to hatred or bigotry. This changes the meaning altogether, but leaves the original word. “Phobia” is not the correct word to use in probably 99% of the cases it’s used today in places like the television and in movies, but the word is still used - most times because it’s users are parroting someone else they view as a like-minded authority figure.
If the word “phobia” is the wrong word to use in most of the ways it’s used now, for example, how Senator Sanders used it in his question, why is it still used? Without being sure of the actual reasons for this word being elevated to a buzzword status for the past decade or so, we can gather a few things based on what it does to an argument.
Here are two things the improper use of the word “phobia” does when used in a discussion:
- The user, with or without their knowing, frames the matter in an improper light, causing confusion. When the word which means irrational fear is substituted in for the word hatred or bigotry, the truth of what actually might be going on is obfuscated behind two accusations, none of which are accurate; the true meaning behind the word being used, likely neither party understands.
- What is being described as a phobia is singled out as malicious and a breach of the moral order which exists in the worldview of the person using the word. However, this is never addressed head on because it is often used in singling out behavior with the insinuation that that behavior is disordered and nonsensical (which, by the way, is a part of the actual definition…ironically). This is convenient for the person using it because a reasoned argument is not necessary on their part in this case. At the same time, somehow, the accusation or disorder becomes both the fault of the accused and inherently a part of the makeup of the accused as if it were some genetic sickness from which they need to repent.
Let’s take a listen 6 to Vought’s response to Senator Sander’s questions:
Clip of the Sanders / Vought exchange
Bernie Sanders has been living in this country which is made up mostly of Christians, as he points out nonsensically, for long enough to understand that Christians believe in salvation from the wrath of God through Jesus Christ. We must make the assumption that this senator who’s constituents are likely mostly Christian knows something about their belief system - something that defines their life and gives them purpose. Surely this ex-presidential candidate knows something about the religion of the majority of the population he was seeking to lead politically.
The basic understanding of the difference between world religions is that, though they may have similarities in terms of their diagnosis of what is wrong with the world, they each have solutions to that problem which are all unique to each religion. This is what makes belief systems different from one another - there is no getting around it.
If we can assume Sanders knows well what it is that Christians believe, we need to ask the question…Why did Sanders pursue this line of questioning?
Why did Sanders open this line of questioning by citing a complaint accusing Vought of denying religious pluralism? Every single faithful adherent to any major religion could be brought this charge. Furthermore, this is not a requirement in the least bit for a citizen pursuing government service.
Why did Sanders choose to question Vought over whether his statements were “Islamophobic” - making a clear misuse of a form of the word phobia?
Why did Sanders meet Vought’s response with the totally irrelevant point that he is aware of the fact that Christianity is one of the majority religions in the United States? They were splitting hairs over Vought’s overwhelmingly orthodox belief in the exclusivity of Christ… they weren’t arguing over what religion is the most prevalent.
Why did Sanders become so obviously angry or frustrated by the refusal of Vought to go back on what he wrote concerning the exclusivity of Christ?
Why did Sanders end his line of questioning with suggesting that Vought, someone who believes that salvation is only through Jesus Christ, is not someone who is what this country is about?
And finally, how is it that Sanders, after this encounter, can remain so unrepentant on the matter and face little to no push back from any other leaders within the Democratic party?
The answer to these questions lies in the truth that there is a strong anti-Christian wave overtaking the country. This can hardly be seen as an overstatement when a sitting senator and former presidential candidate can make these statements and still remain as popular and unchallenged by the entire political Left.
Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission
To bring this episode to a close, I’d like to talk about the recent Supreme Court ruling concerning the Masterpiece Cakeshop. Before I comment on the details of the case, I’d like to put into perspective the ideological tug of war going on in this country by taking a quick look at the popular vaccination debate. There seems to be in this country two sacred sentiments which are opposite one another but still embraced by society. These sentiments are the notion of individualism and notion of community. It appears at this time that those two praised ideals are at war with one another with, I believe, the push for uniformity through a sense of community overtaking the notion of individualism.
Vaccinations and Secular Inconsistency
Take, for example, the debate which comes up every so often about vaccinating children or one’s self. The individual should have the right to do what they want to do with their own body - we hear this all the time. Parents also should have control over what goes on in their children’s bodies - after all, they are the parents, not babysitters, and that means very little if it does not include the responsibility to make sure their kids are safe bodily according to their own best judgement. The envelope of personal preference and privacy around the family needs not to be broken in order to have a functional and flourishing society.
There are those in this vaccination debate who believe it is necessary to break this envelope in order to establish a greater societal good in terms of health and wellness. Their concern for stopping the spread of dangerous viruses is a good thing and that concern is shared by most people who understand what it’s like to either be sick or what it’s like to have to take care of a sick child. In any initiative, however, the execution of a thing is almost as important or maybe just as important as the thing itself. A good idea executed badly ends up a tragedy and usually throws it’s architect’s motives into question.
In this case, those who would like to forcibly vaccinate people or their children are actively ignoring the importance of the autonomy of the family or the individual. This clash is a real world playing out of the ideological struggle we discussed about individualism vs uniformity through community. If one does not comply with the new orthodoxy of vaccination, and thereby submit their bodies and the their children’s bodies to the wisdom of doctors on board with the new orthodoxy, then they will be made to do so. The case for individualism doesn’t seem to hold any weight on the side of those pushing for communal compliance. Consider the inconsistency which has to somehow live in the minds of the secularist who believes they have the right to individualism when it comes to killing an unborn child because they say they believe it is a part of a woman’s body. This same reproductive individualist usually will lean heavily and inconsistently on the side of communal responsibility when it comes to raising the same child which they somehow claimed the right to kill weeks, days, seconds before. Not only is the father of the child forced into caring for the child at the threat of being arrested, but support is also demanded from the community when it comes to providing for the wellbeing of the child usually through welfare or perhaps subsidized childcare.
Make no mistake, it is right for mothers and fathers to raise their children, not abandon them or kill them. I bring these two examples up in order to make it extremely clear the tide Christians are living in when it comes to what’s expected of us in the public square. We need to realize the so-called convictions of others who oppose our worldview are oftentimes either not well thought out or only held for the sake of ideological convenience in any given argument. With the growth of secularism and humanism in this country, the push for communal compliance to a secular orthodoxy is getting stronger and should be of concern to every Christian, especially those leading a household or thinking of engaging with the community through business.
You likely know by now that the ruling of the court concerning the Masterpiece Cakeshop was in favor of the baker. This should come as a relief to Christians who own a business or would like to someday. However, the fact that this case was tried by a lower court that ruled in favor of the homosexual couple is pretty concerning. The fact that this was a landmark case is also a sign that the times we’re living in are not very sympathetic to convictions outside the secular orthodoxy which has been America’s national religion for some time now.
Russell Dawn, who is an associate professor of history and political thought at Concordia University-Irvine wrote an article published at The Federalist 7 in which he makes the case that the American government is at a point now where it is having to deal with what it will do with citizens who hold convictions which do not fall in line with the new religion of what he calls “secular progressivism”.
Dawn takes us through an explainer on Marxism and makes the case that Progressivism is an evolved form of that Marxism, and not only that, is a religion itself. He draws pretty clear similarities between the ideological structure of the truths of Marxism and the truths of Christianity when he writes:
[Marxism] tells of original innocence (primitive communism); of the fall into sin (private property); of the human condition since the fall (class struggle); of the conquest over sin (the proletarian revolution); and of the paradise to come (pure Communism). Marxism also tells us about the meaning of life, claiming that our purpose is merely to produce the means of satisfying our needs, and that society can be perfected in this purpose when we finally jettison property and class and achieve Communism.
The crux of the case boiled down to whether the cake baking would be considered “expressive conduct” which is apparently the only thing covered under the first amendment in this case. The definition of “expressive conduct” is under debate, or at least was for some time, up until this ruling. Even after this case, it’s exact definition will undoubtedly be pretty well contested around the country in smaller semi-related cases which will almost inevitably come to our attention in the near future.
Not all of the Supreme Court justices agreed that the baking of a cake constitutes “expressive conduct”. Not even all of the judges who ruled in favor of Jack Phillips, the owner of the bakery, believed the baking of the cake constituted “expressive conduct”. Dawn writes, giving us a key insight to the deliberation between the justices:
The specific point of contention was Gorsuch’s description of the cake Phillips was asked to create, as a “cake celebrating a same-sex marriage.” Kagan denied such a thing exists. On the contrary, she insisted, what the couple ordered was “simply a wedding cake,” the cake’s nature being independent of the sexes of those getting married
It’s important to stop here and consider what Kagan, a sitting Supreme Court justice who is supposed to have a tight grip on the proper relationship between the US government and it’s citizens as well as the proper relationship between religious exercise and government restriction, believes. Let’s say Jack Phillips has been in business for 10 years. That means, probably 11 years ago, he decided to turn something he can do into a business. He decided to perhaps leave an already established career to make his own way in the business world. All his practicing, trial and error, adjustments, studying on the nuances of the bakery craft went into his eventual decision to take an uncertain leap and try to support himself on his craft.
Imagine Phillips going out and purchasing with his own money, or perhaps planning every month his own finances in order to make sure he makes his lease without fail. Imagine Phillips going through the hoops of business ownership in order to comply to the laws regarding taxes as well as other restrictions. Let’s also not forget about the health standards Phillips needs to make sure his craft and his business rise to meet.
After considering these things, how can we come to the conclusion that Phillips’ cake is “simply a wedding cake”? Investing one’s self into one’s own business and making it’s success sure, because it connects directly to one’s success in life according to the way one has chosen to live doesn’t lend itself to treating one’s product as simply the sum of it’s parts. We see this all over the place. Virtually all businesses have mission statements either in writing or in essence upon which they operate. There is something deeper to the work being done at any given business. Goods are just objects - or “simply a wedding cake” - to consumers but, to the owner or to the person producing the good, it is an expression of their craft, their talent, their gift. No matter how simple or sophisticated it seems, it is directly connected to their livelihood and the mark they’re leaving here on the earth.
Kagan and Ginsburg who, according to Dawn, both disagreed with the idea that the cake wasn’t anything more than “simply a wedding cake” have come to the conclusion that the products Philips and anyone else, including those listening to this recording, produce are meaningless apart from their interpreted use by the customer, or in this case, the Supreme Court. In other words, if you or anyone you know who produces goods creates something which is to be sold for a specific purpose (in Jack’s case, to celebrate a wedding in step with the biblical and true definition), that purpose must, in the minds of the opposing justices plus Kagan, take a back seat when confronted with an opposing interest - and in this case that interest was the sexual revolution.
Thinking Christians aught to come awake to the rising hostility when it comes to secularism here in the United States. The ideology has already flooded the public school system, the entertainment industry, the arts, sports, and most damaging - higher education. It’s stories like these which should send a wake up call to all Christian leaders and heads of households. There is no neutral ground, everywhere is a battlefield of ideas and we’d better be ready. By God’s grace we will be.
Thanks for listening. If you benefitted from this podcast, consider subscribing. You can contact me online at twitter.com/imdonaldjohn or at my website www.donaldjohn.com where you can find my email address as well as links to my other social media accounts. I look forward to hearing from you.
I’m Don and this is Reasonable.
http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/ There’s also a semi-related and very interesting article I read while researching this topic about young people leaving the faith in increasing numbers as of late located here -> http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/09/14/the-factors-driving-the-growth-of-religious-nones-in-the-u-s/