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Old 11-08-2006, 01:24 PM   #1
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Default Is Christianity under attack?

Two pastors and a professor discuss whether Christianity is under attack.

Originally Posted by article
The Orange County Register
Is Christianity under attack?

Certainly a segment of the nation's evangelical Christians have been making it clear they believe it is. Last year some evangelicals fielded a campaign against what was described as a "war on Christmas." More recently, there's been an outcry against perceived pop media jabs at the faith on TV or in films such as "Jesus Camp,"Others disagree that Christianity has been singled out for particular scorn.

A few days ago, the Rev. Carolyn Bohler, pastor at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Tustin, Pastor Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa and Jen'nan Read, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine got together at the Register to tackle the question:

Do you believe Christianity is under attack in the United States and if so, by whom?

Smith:I think that in a sense it is under attack from the media. And I think that the objections some cities have to putting up Nativity scenes in parks, something that hasn't been so in the past, is in a sense an attack on Christianity. Many times they will allow symbols of other faiths, but reject those of Christianity. I've seen that in newspapers, not here in Orange County. In our school system, the public school system, children will learn the Quran and dress in veils in some schools here in California. I don't know of any situations such as this in Orange County, because I'm not on top of it, but I think it is very definitely happening in California. At the same time, I am not anxious to see Christianity taught in public schools because I don't know how it would be taught.

Bohler: Personally, I am very grateful for multiculturalism and I think Christians have a lot to gain from being in a multicultural context. Jesus was in a multicultural context and throughout its history, Christianity has been a multicultural movement. Also, in studying other religions and in understanding them I've developed a deeper understanding of Christianity. As for Christmas decorations, it's nice to see them in shopping malls, but if you really want to see Christmas decorations come to church, we have plenty of them.

Read: With regard to the religious decorations in public places, I would say it is less a question of Christianity being attacked than a recognition that not everyone in this country is a Christian.

Smith: Multiculturalism in the United States, of course, but if you're going to allow for Islam to be taught then why not Christians be allowed to share their views too. I'd like to see an even playing field.

Bohler:I think the only thing that could undo Christianity is from inside Christianity. If we Christians do not hold up the values that we hold dear. And one of those certainly is dialogue. So for me, one of the biggest spiritual disciplines and gifts is to never see a "we" and a "they." I know that's not very much true in politics today, but when we see a "we" and a "they" we are not at the core of Christian values.

Smith: Members of my congregation come to me with concerns, they feed me material, newspaper articles and so forth on a weekly basis. Again, not here in Orange County, but in the nation as a whole, I think the media is often anti-Christian. I'm talking about newspapers, magazines and TV.

Read: At the national level I think we have to recognize that (President) Bush has been under attack lately and by default certain segments of Christianity, those segments that have strongly supported him, have been under attack. So I totally understand where Pastor Chuck is coming from as far as the national media and Bush being aligned with right-wing evangelicals. You see all the books that have come out recently, "Temping Faith" by David Kuo, for example. So as Bush has been under attack for what some see as the failure of the Iraqi war, those aligned with him have come under attack.

Bohler: But I see that less as an attack than as wise criticism. I think that every single public official, pastor, person needs to be willing to have people appreciate them and challenge them and it seems absurd that certain people or religions should be beyond being challenged.That's what democracy is.

Read: I think we need to keep all this in perspective. In France, you would never hear any public official talk about God, whereas it's very common here. Bush does it all the time. I think we are very much a religious society in the U.S. relative to a lot of other western nations. And what's been beneficial for our society here is that there has been an acceptance of different forms of practice.

Smith:It's interesting. Why is it that so many parents want their children in private schools and are turning to home schooling? I think there is a perception and I think it is partially correct, that especially at the university level there has been quite an attack on people of faith and for this reason people are opting to take their children out of public schools. People are willing to pay extra to not have their children criticized or made fun of because of their Christian faith. It's not just in verbal attacks against Christian students. Our schools here have a waiting list because our parents are worried their children will be taught Islam or witchcraft and also just because of the quality of the environment in the public schools.

Read: At any school where you find a Christian being ridiculed because of their faith you are going to find a Muslim student being ridiculed and others being ridiculed. That has more to say about the structure of our school systems than an attack on Christianity per se.

Bohler: Maybe we need national leaders that will encourage us to be afraid of ignorance. People are ridiculed in the grocery store, on soccer fields. It would be nice to have schools that are ridicule-free zones, but it is absurd to single out schools when ridiculing anywhere is the challenge.

Bohler: One of my fondest memories of school was in fourth grade when I learned about Father Junipero Serra.

Smith: Yes, I remember that too. I learned that too.

Bohler: So that's Catholic and I'm Protestant, but it is a big part of California heritage. To my knowledge the teaching about Junipero Serra goes on and is implicitly teaching about Christianity. And I think it is so important as well that Buddhism or Islam is taught in terms of political science or history. I don't see how you can skip over it. Sure, just as some teachers can explain the Pythagorean theorem all wrong then some will explain Islam all wrong, but that doesn't mean that it's not historically relevant. We should just have better teaching not on one religion but about religion and its role in history.

Smith: I think that in a lot of TV sitcoms, those kinds of things, there's that subtle kind of portraying the Christian as the Bozo, as overbearing or whatever and that isn't to me what Christianity is all about. And yet it's giving people the impression that if I'm a Christian I'm a redneck or an ignorant person. A lot of kids just don't go to church anymore and they get from TV that kind of impression that that's what a Christian is.

Read: You make a really good point about the sitcoms. I have two small children and I don't want them watching TV at all. It's not just making fun of Christians, but also the cursing and the sexual content that's on pretty much 24/7. So you are picking up on something that is much more than an attack on Christianity. It's much more of a secularization process where there seems to be...

Smith: Nothing sacred.

Read: Exactly. We're moving to a place where religion is not supposed to be part of the content but pretty much anything else goes. So it's not just about making fun of Christians... . It's about all sorts of other things.

Smith: As far as the overall values of the country I feel we have been in a very steep moral decline. Today there are things that 50 years ago, from a moral standpoint, you could have been put in jail for. Look how long they ignored (Rep. Mark) Foley. Look at the Enron situation in terms of morality and honesty and having values. Of course, those guys are being prosecuted now, but men in terms of leading huge corporations like that who lack moral values. So I think it's probably both, Christianity and those kinds of values in general that are under attack.

Bohler: In the cases you've named, the men in charge of those huge corporations haven't adopted Christian values. But we're at least grateful that the rest of the nation finds it abhorrent that those values haven't been lived up to, that they've been greatly abused. So we do have those values in this country.

Read: In terms of the values of our country, our values have almost taken a back seat to the global war on terror and the war in Iraq. If we took one-tenth of that money being spent on those wars and spent it on things like textbooks.... but that doesn't seem to come to the fore in our national discussions. There's this fear in the nation that's driving what we accept as valuable. We value our presence in Iraq because we think it is going to increase our safety. Of course, others argue it is doing the opposite.

Bohler: This discussion helps me to say all the more that we need to live according to our values. And I realize that sometimes I can get limited in terms of trying to do my best in my little world and that we need to try to affect the larger world as well.

Smith: Yes, we try to promote the values. Right. These were good thoughts and ideas today. I have a fear for our country, but I don't have a fear for Christianity. A true Christian has a positive influence in our society and I ... think good is still going to be stronger than evil.
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