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FAITH STANDS Message of Easter survives calamities

The following editorial written by former Sun Editorial Page Editor Don Gordon is republished from the April 12, 1998 Easter Sunday edition.

The world changes; the Easter message of hope and victory does not. As is appropriate on the day believers celebrate the central event of Christianity, the state of the faith is subject to a new examination.

It is pleasing to observe that in many places in the world, Christianity is flourishing as perhaps never before. The old Soviet Union, the stronghold of atheism for upwards of 70 years, has opened its doors to evangelization to an unprecedented extent. South Korea, once a primitive backwater of no particular note beyond that peninsula, is home to a vibrant Christianity that matches the country's economic and political awakening. Other examples abound on all continents.

At the same time, a virulent religious persecution in many parts of the world brings particular affliction on Christians. This is true in China and some African nations, among other places. While these events are abhorrent in the extreme, they also are an indication of Christianity's essential vitality. The insipid are seldom bothered.

Domestically, things are different. American Christians rarely if ever suffer physical persecution, though there are elements of the culture that tend to disdain the faith, especially when adherents venture to make themselves heard and felt outside their cloister.

One happy note is the near obliteration of old lines of conflict among Christian groups in this country. All denominations now seemingly realize that they are on the same side, and adversaries are to be found elsewhere. As a major example of this, the abortion issue has made allies of Roman Catholics and conservative Protestants.

The general spiritual condition of the United States is a matter of lament by many thoughtful people. They worry that while Christianity waxes in many foreign lands, it wanes in this country. There may be some validity in that. It is true that the pews are not as full as we would like, and that other indices of progress are not always encouraging. Moreover, it is indisputable that this nation suffers hugely from crime, violence, social disruption and cultural disorder.

But we should look at another dynamic that seems to be at work. Paralleling the rise of the darker forces in our society is a spiritual ascendancy. The tragedy at Heath High School last Dec. 1 symbolizes the point precisely. Most adults of a certain age find it difficult to imagine two things happening in their own high school 30 to 40 years ago: (1) a student with a loaded gun, and (2) a circle of students holding a prayer meeting. Civic peace and spirituality are not necessarily the same.

As signs of the latter, we would point to such phenomena as the Promise Keepers and the enormous outpouring of young people for Pope John Paul II's visit a couple of years ago. The conspicuous witness of notable citizens, particularly athletes, has become more common. It seems that for every sports figure whose behavior spoils his example, there is a Reggie White or an Orel Hershiser ready to proclaim his faith boldly.

There are times when any person of discernment might have cause to despair for his world, his nation, his society in general if he is thinking only in material and temporal terms. But there is no reason to despair for the church or the Christian faith. The Resurrection of Christ, which we celebrate today, ensured the triumph for all time.

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