The first Thanksgiving was celebrated by a group of people who were then, and in many circles would be today, labeled a bunch of religious kooks. They grew up in a world in which “freedom from religion” of one sort or another often trumped “freedom of religion.” We console ourselves with the idea that such barbaric times are over, but this Thanksgiving we must consider just how similar the Pilgrims might find our era to their own. We have forgotten that the original context of the whole Pilgrim undertaking was global religious persecution.
The Plymouth Pilgrims endured persecution of the same kind as religious minorities today. They were people who weren’t afforded the right to act on their beliefs according to the dictates of conscience. Counting that problem of conscience intractable, they literally left civilization behind. They endured a grueling trip across the ocean and a bitter first season on a new continent, during which fully half of their group died. Their experience could be counted among the most difficult imaginable, and it was one which began and ended with religious persecution.
That context makes the one historical detail we do remember, their big feast, all the more relevant. As we celebrate Thanksgiving this year, we must remember its true significance and meditate on the ongoing persecution of religious minorities in our time.
The Arab Spring has been the stage of mass intimidation of Christian minorities in places such as Egypt and Libya. Dalit (Untouchable) Christians in India are denied the educational subsidies open to other Dalits. A local Pentecostal church in Russia was recently bulldozed during the night. Believers in Northern Nigeria are targeted by the Hausa population’s attempts to either force them out of the region or into Islam.
Religious persecution is not restricted to exotic places. It is also occurring in the United States.
keyboard shortcuts: V vote up article J next comment K previous comment