From the Bishops The ‘polite persecution’ not so polite

nun First Lady Melania Trump and Sister Carolin Tahhan Fachakh of Syria. / US State Department courtesy of the US Embassy to the Holy See.

In 2007, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice established the International Women of Courage Award. It is presented to women who show exceptional courage, even at great risk to their own lives. Each year, U.S. embassies around the world put forward candidates for this award from their country of service. This year, on March 29, First Lady Melania Trump presented the awards. Among the recipients from countries as diverse as Colombia, Papua New Guinea and Botswana was Sister Carolin Tahhan Fachakh, a member of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. 

Salesian Sister Carolin lives in war-torn Syria. In the midst of the constant bombing, she goes about her work. Increased bombings in Syria have only served to intensify her selfless service, especially for the safety of the traumatized children in her nursery school. In addition to the school, she runs a tailoring workshop to help displaced women acquire needed job skills. She is constantly attending to the needs of refugees. Sister Carolin's work has been hailed as a beacon of hope both for Christians and Muslims.

Every day, Sister Carolin faces life or death situations. We do not. In terms of our physical well-being, our situation in America is not the same. But, in terms of our spiritual well-being, there is a similarity. Our cultural and political environment is becoming increasingly hostile. Because there are no bombs, no gunfire, no explosions, many are lured into thinking that our values as Christians are not under serious attack. Nonetheless, a war against the Christian faith is taking place.  

The constant drumbeat championing diversity attempts to drown out the Christian voice in the public square. The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." But, many today are no longer speaking of the free exercise of religion. Rather they talk about the freedom of religion. This change in language promotes the idea of limiting the practice of religion to only within the walls of a church, synagogue or mosque. It stems from the desire not to respect the freedom of individuals who refuse to participate in activities that contradict their religious beliefs.

It is easy to recognize in other countries anti-religious campaigns that erupt into spilling the blood of those who hold fast to their faith. The lineal descendants of King Herod still wield the sword to destroy belief. But, there is another, a more subtle type of persecution on our own soil. In his April 12, 2016 homily at Domus Sanctae Marthae in the Vatican, Pope Francis astutely warned us of a persecution "disguised as culture, disguised as modernity, disguised as progress." This type of persecution seeks to impose secularistic, materialistic attitudes on others. It promotes laws against the dignity of the human person as created by God. It allows for no disagreement. An example will help.

Weddings are happy events. Flowers and cakes, music and dance, videos and photos celebrate the union of the newlyweds. A florist, a baker, a musician or a photographer should never discriminate and refuse to serve an individual on the basis of their sexual orientation. But, this does not mean that morally speaking, they are bound to provide their services to celebrate a union between two people of the same sex, if this contradicts their own deeply held religious beliefs (cf. Daniel Philpott, "Polite Persecution," First Things, March 13, 2017). They are not discriminating against the individuals. They are simply remaining faithful to their conscience by not cooperating in such an event.

Those who hold to the biblical understanding of marriage should not be labeled bigots. Nor should they be forced to act against their conscience by endorsing and participating in same-sex marriages. They truly have the right of conscientious objection. But, in the name of tolerance, our courts are refusing to recognize this right. In our "tolerant" society, everyone must accept anything that the culture approves. And, it does not end there.

The "dictatorship of tolerance" is degenerating into a soft tyranny. For refusing to acquiesce to the new orthodoxy about sexual morality, professionals in every field are fired and charities, hospitals and schools are threatened with the loss of their accreditation and funding. Those holding to basic Christian moral values now face what Pope Francis has called a "polite persecution." Unfortunately, the activities of this "polite persecution" are hardly polite! We need the courage of award-winning Sister Carolin Tahhan Fachakh to move out of our comfort zone and face this persecution by translating our beliefs into behavior and faith into works.

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