Efforts to Silence Clergy Continue Apace

Christians in the U.S. worry that the day may be coming when they will no longer be able to freely speak their minds about their faith. But that day has already arrived in Canada, Europe, and the U.K.

In 2008, a Canadian Human Rights panel imposed a $5,000 fine on the Reverend Stephen Boisson for a letter he had written in 2002 to a small newspaper describing homosexual activists as immoral (the ruling was eventually overturned by a higher court). In the same year (2002), an Ontario court ordered a Catholic school to admit a homosexual teen and his older male lover to the school prom. In 2004, a Swedish pastor was sentenced to a month in prison for a sermon that criticized homosexuality. A year before that, Irish clergy were given notice that they could be prosecuted if they distributed a Vatican publication on same-sex relationships.

As in other parts of the world, homosexuals in the U.S are a protected class. Criticizing them from the pulpit (or any other venue) may soon be considered a hate crime. But homosexuals aren’t the only privileged group. In much of the Western world, Muslims have also acquired a most-favored status. Once again, the trend is most pronounced in Canada and across the Atlantic. Consider two recent headlines:

This August, James McConnell, an Evangelical Christian pastor, was charged by a Belfast court with making “grossly offensive” remarks about Islam. Local Muslims complained that on May 18, the Reverend McConnell had preached a sermon to his large congregation describing Islam as “heathen” and “satanic” McConnell, who rejected an “informed consent” warning that would have allowed him to avoid prosecution, now faces six months in prison.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, McConnell said he had no hate for Muslims: “My church funds medical care for 1,200 Muslim children in Kenya and Ethiopia. I’ve no hatred in my heart for Muslims, but I won’t be stopped from preaching against Islam.” Ironically, Dr. Raied al-Wazzan, the director of the Belfast Islamic Center and the chief complainant against McConnell, does seem to bear some animus against Christians. Speaking to the BBC in January 2015, he said, “Since the Islamic State took over, it [Mosul] has become the most peaceful city in the world.” That, after the Islamic State had killed or expelled all of Mosul’s Christian community of 60,000.

Al-Wazzan seems to be endorsing genocide. Why isn’t he on trial for hate speech? Writing in the Belfast Telegraph, Susan Breen, an atheist journalist, raises that very question: “The fact that Dr. Al-Wazzan will be in the witness box, and not in the dock himself, reinforces Christians’ belief it is they alone who are being victimized and persecuted in our society.”

Rev. McConnell is certainly better off living in Belfast than in Mosul. But, as evidenced by his experience and by the recent Irish vote in favor of same-sex “marriage,” Ireland seems increasingly inhospitable to Christians and their “inflammatory” opinions. The trouble is, Pastor McConnell would probably not have fared much better in other parts of the Western world.

Take Canada. We’re grown accustomed to thinking of our neighbor to the north as a more liberal place than the U.S. But these days, it’s difficult to distinguish a liberal from a fascist. Canadian Human Rights Commissions have already put two prominent Canadian citizens (Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant) on trial for criticizing Islam. Fortunately, Steyn and Levant prevailed and even managed to bring about a repeal of the Canadian law which gave Human Rights Commissions the authority to conduct Star Chamber-style inquiries.

However, the liberalists are at it again. This summer a bill was introduced that would give new powers to the Quebec Human Rights Commission (QHRC) to combat hate speech and any speech that promotes “fear of the other.” The Commission’s president, Jacques Fremont, explained he would use the powers to sue “people who would write against … the Islamic religion … on a website or on a Facebook page.”

Pastor McConnell’s remarks could be construed as promoting “fear of the other,” but so could a lot of other things in our loose-constructionist societies. Anything but the most innocuous remarks about Islam and homosexuality can be interpreted as promoting fear of the other. And it’s not just pastors in pulpits who need to worry. If the bill is passed, any Canadian citizen expressing an incorrect opinion on a website or Facebook page could be liable to prosecution.

The upshot is that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to discuss two of the most important issues of our time. In their own ways, both the marriage revolution movement and the Islamist movement pose major threats to civilization. The danger is that, for fear of ending up in court, few will dare to openly acknowledge the threats.

You may counter that the Reverend McConnell wouldn’t be facing jail if he had chosen his words more carefully—something a bit less provocative than “heathen” and “satanic.” There are two replies. First, what business is it of the State what he says? Short of inciting a mob with pitchforks and torches to attack the local mosque or church, the representatives of one religion ought to be free to criticize another religion. Freedom of religion should include the right to say what you think is wrong with another religion. Or, as McConnell put it, “I would defend the right of any Muslim cleric to preach against me or Christianity.” Letting the State sit in judgment on sermons is tantamount to letting the State tell the Church what it can and cannot believe.

Second, there is no end to the things that Muslim leaders find offensive. In Saudi Arabia, it’s offensive for Christians to build a church. In some Muslim countries it’s offensive when Christians use the word “Allah,” even though that is the word they have traditionally used for God. When Pope Benedict quoted a medieval emperor’s assessment of Muhammad, Muslims around the world rioted in protest. In Sudan, an English woman was put in jail and almost lost her life for letting her students name the class teddy bear “Muhammad.” At this point, most pastors will have figured out that anything other than greeting-card type platitudes about Islam will be considered offensive. And so most will choose to remain completely silent on the issue.

But that is the same mistake many pastors and certainly the vast majority of priests made about homosexuality and same-sex “marriage.” They chose to remain silent on these issues. As a result, a good many Christians came to the conclusion that the same-sex “marriage” debate wasn’t that important. Now, thanks in part to the silence of so many Christians, gay activists are in a position to dictate to Christian florists, photographers, and bakers. By now, it should be apparent that the gay assault on Christianity has nothing to do with provocative Christians and everything to do with the gay activist agenda. There is nothing provocative about a Christian baker politely declining to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, especially when the couple had other options. On the contrary, the gay couple were deliberately attempting to provoke a predictable reaction from the baker so that they could proceed with a lawsuit.

Let’s hope that Christian pastors will exercise prudence when speaking about Islam. But for them to remain silent about the threat from Islam will lead many Christians to conclude, as they did with the issue of same-sex “marriage,” that there is no real danger to church or society. The tables have already been turned on Christians who failed to understand the gay activist agenda. It is their rights, not the rights of gays, that are now at risk. Likewise, Christians who fail to understand the global Islamist agenda will have far more to fret about than pastors who don’t observe the niceties of non-offensive language.

Editor’s note: The image of Pastor James McConnell was taken at a press conference at Langanside Courthouse, Belfast, Northern Ireland in August 2015.

William Kilpatrick

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William Kilpatrick taught for many years at Boston College. He is the author of several books about cultural and religious issues, including Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong; and Christianity, Islam and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Jihad. His articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Catholic World Report, National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Saint Austin Review, Investor’s Business Daily, and First Things. His work is supported in part by the Shillman Foundation. For more on his work and writings, visit his website, turningpointproject.com

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