Over 400 hostile acts against US churches since 2018; at least 57 tied to abortion in 2022: report

Firefighters respond to a fire at St. Jane Frances de Chantal Parish in Bethesda, Maryland on June 10, 2022.
Firefighters respond to a fire at St. Jane Frances de Chantal Parish in Bethesda, Maryland on June 10, 2022. | Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service

At least 420 acts of hostility against churches occurred in the United States over the past five years, while 57 of those hostile acts between January and September 2022 have been related to abortion, an analysis suggests.

The new report by the Family Research Council, a Christian conservative activist organization based in Washington, analyzes publicly available data between January 2018 and September 2022 to document acts of hostility targeted at 397 individual churches across 45 U.S. states and Washington, D.C.

Those acts include vandalism, arson, gun-related incidents and bomb threats. The report finds that the severity and frequency of such attacks can potentially intimidate the Christian community.

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"There is ample reason to be concerned about rising hostility to Christianity by a Western culture that increasingly rejects Judeo-Christian values," reads the report, written by Arielle Del Turco, FRC's assistant director of the Center for Religious Liberty.

In 2018, there were 50 incidents of hostility against churches, the report says. In 2019, the number increased to 83 and dipped to 54 in 2020, likely due to government restrictions and a general decrease in movement during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2021, there were 96 incidents of hostility against churches; and between January and September 2022, there were 137.

For example, in March 2022, the building of Main Street Baptist Church in Bartow, Florida, was destroyed in an arson attack. Journey Church of Sonora in California was also destroyed in an arson attack in March.

In July, fires started at two churches in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C. — North Bethesda United Methodist Church and Saint Jane Frances de Chantal Catholic Church. Also located in Montgomery County, a third nearby church, Bethesda's Wildwood Baptist Church, was vandalized. 

The report adds that states with higher populations tended to report more incidents. California had the most incidents, with 51. Texas had 33 incidents, New York 31 and Florida 23. Delaware, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire and Vermont were the only U.S. states without known incidents during the reporting period.

"Criminal acts of vandalism and destruction of church property are likely symptomatic of a collapse in societal reverence and respect for houses of worship and religion — in this case, churches and Christianity," Del Turco wrote in the report. 

"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 hotbutton political issues related to human dignity and sexuality."

When the U.S. Supreme Court's draft decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization overturning a national right to abortion was leaked on May 2, churches saw a spike in vandalism and graffiti incidents with pro-abortion messages and protesters interrupting church services.

This trend has continued since the Dobbs decision was handed down and Roe v. Wade was overturned on June 24. At least 57 incidents from January 2022 to September 2022 were directly tied to pro-abortion protests or contained pro-abortion messages, the report says, adding that only five incidents between 2019 and 2021 were abortion-related.

Victory Bible Church in Lawrence, Kansas, was "vandalized overnight with messages opposing the constitutional amendment on abortion" on Aug. 1. 

For congregants and the clergy, such acts of hostility against their churches can be "intimidating," FRC contends.

"Acts of hostility against churches send the message that churches are not wanted in the community or respected in general," Del Turco wrote. "This may cause congregants or church leaders to feel unsafe. In some instances, the goal of the hostility is to interrupt the normal work of the church."

The Christian Post published a list of churches and pro-life pregnancy centers vandalized or attacked after the Dobbs judgment in June and another list of churches and pro-life groups targeted after the draft decision was leaked in May. 

For example, in an Aug. 22 Facebook post, Alpha Pregnancy Care Center of Albany, New York, shared a picture of pro-abortion graffiti spray-painted on the exterior walls of its location in Schenectady, New York. The graffiti included the phrases "fake clinic," "stop forced birth" and "Jane's Revenge."

Advocates say that animosity toward churches is also an issue in Europe. Last month, a report by the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe showed at least 519 anti-Christian hate crimes occurred in Europe in 2021, a significant drop from the nearly 1,000 that happened in the previous year.

The Austria-based group's 2021 Annual Report detailed "cases of intolerance and discrimination against Christians in Europe" from Jan. 1, 2021, to Dec. 31, 2021.

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