Global headlines announced that the gunman who killed nine people at Umpqua Community College had targeted Christians. Media reports acknowledged days later that school accounts varied on the targeting of Christians.
Did the gunman really target Christians? And if he did, do the actions of a young man with mental health issues serve as an example of the persecution of Christians in the United States?
Evangelist Franklin Graham said it does.
“Persecution and targeting of Christians isn’t just in Iran or the Middle East, it’s right here in America,” Graham wrote on his Facebook page. “The bold souls at Umpqua Community College who stood up to say they were followers of Jesus Christ were heinously gunned down with no mercy.”
Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Church in California, wrote, “We read almost daily stories of our brothers and sisters being martyred for their faith in Christ in the Middle East by groups like ISIS, but now it has come to our shores.”
The lieutenant governor of Tennessee, Ron Ramsey, wrote on his Facebook page: “The recent spike in mass shootings across the nation is truly troubling. Whether the perpetrators are motivated by aggressive secularism, jihadist extremism or racial supremacy, their targets remain the same: Christians and defenders of the West.”
Urging his followers to avoid panic, he said that “it is a time to prepare. I would encourage my fellow Christians who are serious about their faith to think about getting a handgun carry permit. I have always believed that it is better to have a gun and not need it than to need a gun and not have it.”
“Our enemies are armed. We must do likewise,” Ramsey said.
Have these and a multitude of others overstated the persecution – the targeting – of Christians in the United States?
Does the use of such extreme language as “persecution” muddy the domestic water about the real situation of Christianity in America?
Does it conflate occasional anti-Christian statements and actions with the plight of global Christians?
The persecution of Christians is undeniable in some parts of the world. ISIS and Boko Haram would be prime examples.
Christians face other challenges around the world, albeit a big step down from persecution.
Nepal has recently struggled with whether to define itself constitutionally as a Hindu state. That move was rejected. Yet the proposed constitution prohibits efforts at religious conversion.
Restrictions, discrimination and prohibitions on Christianity are oppressive and harmful.
But these differ from the killing of Christians as a religious group with the intent, “in whole or in part,” to destroy them, such as the actions of ISIS and Boko Haram.
Such actions qualify as genocide, according to the United Nations’ definition of genocide.
Hostility to Christianity does exist in some quarters in the U.S. Some organizations seem to spend all their time trying to restrict faith practices.
Faith is often belittled and the good works of faith are often downplayed in the public square. But these differ from the very real persecution of Christians around the world.
When one listens to the story of Edward Dima, president of the Baptist Convention of South Sudan, one is hard pressed to compare the hardship he has faced with adversity that we, American Christians, feel or experience.
Christian persecution is real. It needs to be acknowledged.
However, let’s not overstate what we experience in the U.S.A. If we do, we water down the real hardships of fellow church members abroad and disclose our own lack of discernment.
We need to be ever so cautious about claiming the persecution of Christians in America. We can do better addressing, framing the challenges at home.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.