Worldwide religious persecution is escalating. According to Open Doors, one in seven Christians worldwide suffer high or extreme levels of persecution.
While significant religious persecution is happening in nearly 80 countries, Sub-Saharan Africa, where extremist Islam is rampant, is experiencing the most violence against Christians. Last year, nearly 6,000 were killed for faith-related reasons.
Religious persecution can come from the government, radical religious groups, or the culture; and they all manifest in different ways. According to this year’s Persecutor of the Year Awards Report, persecution of Christians is more prevalent and widespread today than it ever has been before.
These realities should make American Christians more faithful in praying for the persecuted church and more zealous in protecting our religious freedom. While religious liberty is certainly under attack in our country, we still enjoy more religious liberty than most of the world, and we shouldn’t take that for granted.
Religious freedom was the impetus for the founding of our country. In 1620, the Pilgrims came to the New World for the right to live according to the dictates of their faith. Succeeding generations have fought to protect this First Freedom.
Two hundred years after the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth, President Abraham Lincoln declared that the fourth Thursday of every November would be an official holiday called Thanksgiving – an opportunity to thank God for all the blessings He has bestowed upon us. At the time of Lincoln’s declaration, the nation was deeply divided, much like it is today. The country was nearing the end of a Civil War and disagreement had turned to violence. Because of these similarities, Lincoln’s words still speak to us today.
“In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity…peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed…and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God…It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States…to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
Lincoln was absolutely right. Despite the turmoil surrounding us, we have so much to be grateful for. Over the last year, we have seen several monumental wins for religious liberty, including Supreme Court cases Carson v. Makin, Kennedy v. Bremerton, and other local cases. While there is still more work to be done to safeguard our religious liberty, we should celebrate the fact that by law, we can still freely express our faith in the public sphere.
Always, our religious freedom should be high on the list of things we are thankful for.