Christian persecution. It has been very real for many Christians. Roger Williams founded a Baptist colony in the 17th century, specifically to guarantee religious freedom, seeing prejudice all around him. There has been plenty of persecution of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 19th and 20th centuries (with lots of unfounded prejudice left over in the 21st). There was persecution of Catholics in the 20th century, when a Catholic presidential candidate lost partly due to lies about his religion.
What there is not, however, is widespread persecution of Christians in Idaho in 2019.
About two weeks ago, a Republican legislator introduced a House resolution expressing support for ending Christian persecution. She cited events in Colorado and Utah (such as a student being required to wash off the Ash Wednesday smudge from his forehead). She said, “If we ignore a crisis, it only gets worse.”
Now, my Unitarian Universalist faith has a time-tested position against persecution, discrimination and prejudice, believing in the God-given worth of all people. So it seems as though I would have supported the resolution. But I did not. And there were a number of reasons. (The resolution was defeated in the Idaho House this week by a 39-31 vote.)
One reason is that, although we can find various kinds of prejudice in our state, we simply do not have evidence of persecution of Christians. There is no crisis.
A more important reason is that a resolution privileging one religion over another is downright un-American. The First Amendment establishes freedom of religion for all. In case after case, the Supreme Court has made rulings based on the assumption that Americans practice many, many religions, and that all should be protected equally.
Perhaps the most important reason in my heart is that there is so much terrible persecution on so many fronts — religious and otherwise — that it makes little sense to identify only Christians, safe and sound in Idaho. We read about 50 Muslims being killed in New Zealand, and we know that our Muslim friends here do not feel as safe as their Christian neighbors. We hear the ranting anti-Semitism of white supremacists (who often claim the title “Christian”) and understand that Jews know they have real, deadly enemies.
Expanding the field of persecution a little, what about our LGBT friends and neighbors? What about our transgender sisters and brothers? In 2018, at least 22 transgender persons were murdered for being who they are.
One’s orientation and gender are even more basic parts of a person than one’s religion. And yet, while our Legislature refuses to add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act, a House committee agreed to move to the House floor an unnecessary, distracting resolution against persecuting a nonpersecuted people.
I imagine that the legislator is sincere, and maybe even feels fear for herself or her family or friends or church. I just wish that she and the rest of her committee would have taken a larger look at the plight of people who live lives of fear or anxiety, because of their faiths, or because of just wanting to be who they are. I would love to see our Legislature take the larger religious view, in which we love our neighbor as ourselves
And the larger religious view, in the famous Good Samaritan story, also tells us that our neighbor is everyone, even those who are different from us. Would that our legislators take this story to heart.
The Rev. Elizabeth Greene is minister emerita of the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Contact her at email@example.com.
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.