The National Prayer Breakfast was again hosted by the U.S. Congress in Washington D.C., and the President used the opportunity to address the issue of religious freedom around the world.
Given the growing anti-religious sentiment in the U.S., I’m surprised that the National Prayer Breakfast is still an annual event, though time will tell how long it shall last, at least in it’s present form. Reading the Wikipedia article about the tradition, I’m also surprised at the international flavor of it, having had many attendees from all over the globe.
The issues of religious freedom is one of those "hot button issues," especially among American conservative Christians who see their own religious freedoms eroding in recent years. There are anecdotal cases where religious freedoms are challenged, however I probably differ with many of my friends in this area. I don’t see our religious freedoms being taken away in any practical sense, but I do see the culture of America changing, which impacts our perception of Christian faith and practice.
There is an atheist renaissance that has been spearheaded by a few notable American and British authors, and this has encouraged those of atheist and agnostic persuasion to be more vocal in their opposition to the display of religious texts, images, and events in a way that gives the appearance of government approval of religion of any kind.
Christianity has long been the strongest religious voice in America, influencing our culture, our government, our businesses in ways too numerous to count. That tradition is waning, and American Christians are noticing, along with everyone else. Just the simple replacement of the word "Christmas" with "Holiday" in stores and public places is one of the more noticeable changes, but that is just a surface issue compared to the huge subterranean shifts that are occurring in our basic cultural values.
Conservative Christians feel less at home in America than we once did. However, as a member of that religious group it is one of my fundamental beliefs that this world was never my true home to begin with. A favorite among the old hymns sung in American churches begins, "This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through." And the chorus ends with these words: "And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore."
The sentiment comes from a Bible verse written by the Apostle Paul, where he says, "our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil 3:20, TNIV).
As Christians, the book of Hebrews encourages us to identify with Abraham, who was always "like a stranger in a foreign country," and "was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Heb 11:9-10, TNIV). In the same book, the writer also reminds Christians that, "For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come" (Heb 13:14, TNIV).
I want my religious freedom as much as any American Christian, yet I also know that the recent changes in our national culture are nothing compared to the government sponsored persecution, and the horrifying conditions that occur for my fellow Christians around the world.
As globally connected as we are, it is impossible to be ignorant of the terrible plight of Christians, especially in many Muslim dominated regions where death is often the consequence for having the very religious faith that I have, and many other Americans. Because of that, I don’t whine much when I see a hardware store in December advertising "Holiday Trees" instead of "Christmas Trees." I think it’s silly, however it’s a small thing compared to what my brothers and sisters in Christian faith are going through in so much of the world this very moment.