By Ambassador Callista L. Gingrich
In early July, three Christian churches in Bethesda, Maryland, were set on fire and vandalized over a 24-hour period.
At North Bethesda United Methodist Church, small fires were lit, the church’s fellowship hall and food pantry were damaged, and donations were destroyed.
At approximately the same time, officers were notified that the nearby Wildwood Baptist Church was vandalized. Pastor David Sayne confirmed that the church’s eight-foot wooden cross was “gone” and that 13 grave markers had been desecrated in an adjacent cemetery.
Saint Jane Frances de Chantal Parish was also set ablaze, causing 66 firefighters to respond to the scene. According to Reverend Samuel Giese, “anything that was glass was broken.” Additionally, books that the Catholic church used for Mass were ripped to shreds, pews were lit on fire, an American flag was burned, plants on the altar were thrown, and statues were pulled from their pedestals. All told, the damage totaled an estimated $50,000.
As Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said in a statement, “A hateful incident against one community impacts us all.”
Tragically, these are just a few examples of recent vandalism in America’s Christian churches. According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, there have been at least 157 incidents of arson, destruction, and vandalism of Catholic Churches since May 2020.
Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of the Archdiocese of Denver described the devastating impact of the spike in church attacks in a November 2021 opinion editorial for The Washington Post. He wrote, “As Catholics, we recognize that this is a spiritual crisis…Yet as Americans, we also clearly see a cultural crisis.”
The targeting of U.S. churches has prompted concern among people of faith in America. In a June 2022 poll, conducted by EWTN and Real Clear Opinion Research, 84 percent of U.S. Catholics were concerned about church attacks and 72 percent believed that anti-Catholic sentiment is spreading across America.
Amidst increasing antagonism, churches and faith-based organizations face heightened challenges in bringing essential services to those in need. As Cardinal Timothy Dolan wrote on June 24, 2022, “Sadly, our contributions to educating, feeding, healing, housing, and caring for the most vulnerable in society are not welcomed by everyone. Indeed, we seem to face growing hostility for putting our faith into action.”
The wave of church attacks in the United States is an intolerable attempt to intimidate Christians and prevent them from worshipping freely and serving their communities. Such attacks are a blatant violation of our fundamental right to religious freedom. These criminal acts harm not only church members, but also American communities at large that rely on church aid and support.
If America is to remain the world’s leading champion and defender of religious freedom around the world, we must first ensure that every American has the right to worship freely and in accordance with his or her conscience here in the United States.