Jews and Christians vs atheism and social chaos

Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein discusses the threat facing Christians in the Middle East and the world.

Spiritual leaders from Christianity, Bahai, Islam and Judaism gather at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles for an interfaith dialogue (photo credit: BART BATHOLOMEW)
Spiritual leaders from Christianity, Bahai, Islam and Judaism gather at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles for an interfaith dialogue
(photo credit: BART BATHOLOMEW)
 What goes around, comes around – and so it has been with religious persecution from days of yore.
Religious oppression is alive and well. The persecution of Jews, well-documented and discussed, is an acute problem that needs our vigilance and fighting spirit. Yet today Christians face discrimination – perhaps even more acutely than Jews.
Recent years have witnessed a steep increase in the persecution of Christian populations: Evangelicals, Protestants, Catholics, Copts and more. The Open Doors charity reports that an average of 180 Christians are killed around the world each month for their faith.
Of the 10 nations on the 2014 World Watch List for extreme persecution of Christians, nine are Muslim countries.
The more things change, the more they stay the same
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, director of interfaith affairs at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, has developed a high-profile voice in the media arena.
Speaking to the Magazine, Adlerstein says, “The countries that persecute Christians most intensely are North Korea and the countries of the Middle East – excluding Israel. These events are giving rise to new awareness among Christians that they have become a beleaguered group. This is hard for some Jews to process, given the long history of conflict between the two religions.
Jews familiar with our past have a disconnect with the new reality – that we are on the same side as Christians today, and in the long run, a greater threat to our existence may be not religious oppression, but atheism and social chaos.”
Social chaos engenders a new, difficult value system. An April 2015 Pew Research Center report on the future of world religions notes that in 2010 “Christianity was by far the world’s largest religion, with an estimated 2.2 billion adherents, nearly a third (31%) of the 6.9 billion people on Earth. Islam was second, with 1.6 billion adherents, or 23% of the global population.” What about the future? Pew Research projects that by 2050 there will be near parity between Muslims at 30% of the population and Christians at 31%. This is probably the first time in history that Christianity will not be the largest religion. Is this due to the liberal Christian inclination to meet culture and modernity half way, whereas traditionalists refuse to do so? So far, 22 countries have passed samesex marriage laws that are antithetical to many God-fearing people. Whether same-sex marriage will deliver heightened tolerance, morality and quality of life is yet to be seen.
Adlerstein notes, “The media projects religious negativity, presenting mainstream culture as hostile to religion.
The decision by the American Supreme Court to legalize gay marriage has left Christians, for the first time since white people arrived in America, on the opposite side of the cultural norm. This indicates a transformation of several thousand years of culture. Protestants now confront a new world where their value system has been labeled as primitive.
They are suddenly presented as a throwback to cave people who lack the maturity to change with the times.
Calling it as it is – with an eye to the future
“Of course, one can’t talk about Christians in one voice because there are so many different denominations. There has been a split: some embrace longstanding traditions, making religion a central core of their beliefs, while others, perhaps Episcopalians and Congregationalists, have very little left of the religion of their grandparents, maybe a few hymns and slogans. The ones who take the Bible seriously are the ones whose churches are full and growing.
Still, even the more traditional denominations are feeling the sting of rejection as activists target their congregations and values. This pattern is bad for religion and for Western civilization.
“This is the status quo in today’s complex world. There is a generational gap.
Young people eagerly become part of popular culture and adopt liberal thinking.
Without meaningful religious education they articulate misinformed opinions. The Simon Wiesenthal Center is working with Christian schools and colleges worldwide to train the new generation of pastors and to prepare students with knowledge and understanding.
There needs to be a greater and more accurate understanding of what we have in common and what we can do for each other. Influencing the next generation of activists will make an impact on anti- Israel rhetoric and violence.”
Persecution, fear-mongering, torture and ISIS killings are on the rise; Coptic Christians in the Middle East are struggling to cope. The historical legacy is that even though Christians were in the region long before the Muslims took power, they lived in subjugation due to their religion for many years.
Adlerstein emphasizes, “The Jewish family teaches their children about the pain Jews suffered due to the behavior of the global powers during the Holocaust.
Where was world support? Today, Christians in many areas also face a crisis of survival. It is crucial that Jewish organizations choose to be morally responsible and show their concern and support for those being persecuted. Securing the goodwill of global Christian groups also helps secure goodwill for Israel.”
Pressuring politicians to acknowledge anti-Christian atrocities, the Wiesenthal Center brought up the issue of Boko Haram and its slaughter of Christians to the pope; similar efforts with the US State Department are ongoing. The White House long refused to identify Boko Haram participants as religion-based terrorists; instead, it spoke of tribal conflict. Adlerstein recounts, “We continued to hammer away at that depiction. Finally, the State Department gave in and began calling it as it is.”
Another sign of progress is that there is now an office at the US State Department that examines the affairs of persecuted religious groups. Adlerstein comments, “They do not have much clout yet, but this is just the start.”