The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, caused a bit of a stir yesterday after he was reported to say that hearing western Christians claim to be persecuted makes him "very uneasy" and suggested that these Christians "grow up."
Williams' general point was that being made fun of for, say, believing in creation in the United States is not remotely comparable to being murdered for following Jesus. As The Telegraph reported Williams saying:
"Persecution is not being made to feel mildly uncomfortable.
"I am always very uneasy when people sometimes in this country or the United States talk about persecution of Christians or rather believers.
"I think we are made to feel uncomfortable at times. We're made to feel as if we're idiots - perish the thought!
"But that kind of level of not being taken very seriously or being made fun of; I mean for goodness sake, grow up.
"You have to earn respect if you want to be taken seriously in society.
"But don't confuse it with the systematic brutality and often murderous hostility which means that every morning you get up wondering if you and your children are going to make it through the day.
"That is different, it's real. It's not quite what we're facing in Western society."
But was his general premise correct?
The ending of school prayer and limitations on teaching creation over evolution? Those are very real, but they only apply in the public school setting, as our Constitution long has required (even if courts did not recognize this until relatively recently in the nation's history). Even then state legislatures likely have some flexibility to teach both evolution and creation if the primary purpose of teaching both is not to promote religion.
And violence against believers? There is some in the United States, but in recent history the well-documented incidents haven't been against Christians. Probably the most notable of these involve assaults of Muslims after 9/11 and attacks on Jews and other religious minorities by skinheads.
However, the FBI statistics show that Christians are not immune from anti-religious crimes. For example, of the 1,480 victims of anti-religious hate crimes in 2011, roughly 9 percent were Catholic or Protestant. That's a lot fewer than for anti-Jewish crimes (63.2 percent) and anti-Muslim crimes (12.5 percent), but it's not negligible.
In other words, Rowan Williams is both right and wrong. Persecution of western Christians is nothing like it is in other parts of the world -- neither in pervasiveness nor consequences. But it also is not nonexistent; it can be much worse than just being made to feel an idiot. Perish the thought.