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FRC study: Incidents of hostility against churches doubled again in 2023


Attacks on houses of worship have increased almost 800 percent since 2018 as “the American culture appears increasingly hostile to Christianity.”

There were more than 400 attacks on U.S. churches in 2023, double the number of the prior year, according to an annual Family Research Council (FRC) study that tracks such incidents.

This is just the latest statistic showing an accelerating trend of real hostility towards Christianity.

According to FRC, there were 195 attacks on churches in 2022, which was more than double the number of attacks that occurred in 2021.

Overall, since 2018, there have been at least 915 attacks, including arson, bomb threats, gun incidents, assault, threats, interruption of worship services, and vandalism. Church attacks are occurring nationwide, affecting every state and the District of Columbia.

“Although the motivations for many of these incidents remain unknown, the rise in crimes against churches is taking place in a context in which American culture appears increasingly hostile to Christianity,” FRC wrote in its report, adding,

“Criminal acts of vandalism and destruction of church property may be symptomatic of a collapse in societal reverence and respect for houses of worship and religion—in this case, churches and Christianity. Americans appear increasingly comfortable lashing out against church buildings, pointing to a larger societal problem of marginalizing core Christian beliefs, including those that touch on hot-button political issues related to human dignity and sexuality. Attacks on houses of worship may also signal a discomfort with religion in general.”

Between January and November 2023, the study counted 315 counts of vandalism, 75 incidents of arson, 20 bomb threats (including some actual placement of bombs), 10 gun-related examples, 37 other situations, and 17 which fell into more than one category.

Much of the vandalism showed no clear motivation other than possible hostility towards churches or religion. Many involved in perpetrating the attacks were those who were intoxicated, had mental illnesses, or were juveniles.

Yet many other incidents involved clear motivation against a church due to political views. Pro-LGBT, pro-abortion, pro-Nazi, pro-Hamas, and other views all served as apparent motivation for acts of aggression.

Others were directly related to hatred towards churches and religion with numerous examples of graffiti using hateful words; desecration of churches or religious objects; beheading of statues or nativity figures; threats of violence; and other incidents.

Some churches had hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage due to arson.

In 12 of the attacks, Satanic imagery was involved.

FRC warns that these incidents could lead congregants to feel unsafe attending church services, stating,

“For congregants and clergy, acts of hostility against their churches can be intimidating. For example, when a statue of Mary outside of a Catholic church is beheaded, it is natural for congregants to feel disturbed and upset, and that may be the vandal’s aim. Acts of hostility against churches can send the message—regardless of whether it is the perpetrator’s intent—that churches are not wanted in the community or respected in general. This may cause congregants or church leaders to feel unsafe. In some instances, the goal of the hostility is undoubtedly to interrupt the normal work of the church.”

Most horrifyingly, two separate instances resulted in deaths.

In March 2023, six people were killed at the elementary school of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee. The shooter, a woman who identified as a man, expressed her motivation as hatred for the students and their supposed “white privilege.”

In June 2023, an 18-year-old man was shot and killed in the parking lot of Sunnyside Baptist Church near Atlanta.

With 2024 already underway, the hostilities towards churches and Christians in the U.S. are likely to continue, according to the latest annual report put out by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on January 16.

In the report, titled “The State of Religious Liberty in the United States,” the bishops wrote that attacks on places of worship constitute the “largest threat to religious liberty in 2024” and could threaten “the very lives of people of faith.”

They noted that this year is especially dangerous for many reasons, among them the upcoming presidential election in November, the continuing conflict over abortion as a campaign issue, and the “boiling tensions over the Israel-Hamas conflict,” which “have elevated the chances of a terrorist attack on a synagogue or mosque.”

And, in fact, less than three weeks after the bishops’ report was put out, that latter prediction of violence came true — not on a synagogue or a mosque but on a church. In early February, a woman carrying an AR-15 with a “Free Palestine” sticker on it and using her seven-year-old child as a human shield opened fire inside of Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. Though she managed to wound one bystander, two off-duty police officers working security returned fire and killed the shooter. The woman’s young son, however, was shot in the head during the crossfire and is reportedly still in critical condition. 

The rise in attacks on churches in America is happening as hostility towards churches grows globally. For example, one report showed that hate crimes against Christians in Europe rose 44 percent from 2022 to 2023. The same report showed arson had jumped 75 percent in a year. In all, there were 748 anti-Christian hate crimes reported in 30 European countries.

The rise in hatred towards Christianity in the West coincides with government and corporate villainization of Christians. In Europe, the U.S., and Canada, there is a concerted effort to try to limit or outright ban the right to freely speak religious beliefs in the public square. Schools routinely discriminate against Christians or portray their beliefs as hateful and unacceptable.

Churches and pro-life pregnancy centers have been the subject of hundreds of attacks, including arson and firebombings, since the leak of the Supreme Court’s draft opinion in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health case, but with only a few arrests. At the same time, the Department of Justice and the FBI have targeted Catholics and pro-lifers, leading to convictions that could result in 11 years in prison for peaceful protestors.

As religious freedom and the right to dissent from favored orthodoxy is restricted, persecution of Christians, both by the government and by individuals, is increasing — and will likely continue to increase. When a whole group of people is falsely portrayed as bigoted, hateful, or trying to harm other people, that portrayal will inevitably lead to attacks.

As Americans, we should use the legal system to push our government officials to protect its citizens, no matter their beliefs, and we must continue to advocate for our constitutional rights to freely speak and exercise our religious liberty.

As Christians, though, we should never forget that Jesus Himself told us that persecution would one day come, so we must accept that and be prepared for it. Christians in America have enjoyed a long period of freedom and peace, but we must now understand and remain aware of the rise in hatred towards us.

What Christians cannot do is allow these efforts to stop us from holding to God’s truth and gathering with other believers. While we should exercise caution, knowing that there are those seeking to harm or intimidate the Church, we must also remember what Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 10:16:

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.”

Most importantly, Christians cannot let these souring, frightening circumstances in our country cause us to become bitter, fearful, or cold. We must go about our Savior’s work with love and joy — come what may — always remembering the promises and the commands made in 1 Peter 3:14-17 to believers facing persecution. Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote:

“Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.”

So do not fear and do not waver if you are persecuted for following Christ. It is the greatest honor you could ever receive.

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