‘An Atmosphere of Lawlessness’: Attacks on Churches Nearly Triple in Four Years, New Report Finds
A Christian leader has blasted the Biden administration for “creating an atmosphere of lawlessness” by ignoring attacks on churches and houses of worship nationwide, which have nearly tripled over the last four years according to a startling new report. These assaults ranged from deadly to defacing, covered every region of the country and denominational background, and often sprang from pro-abortion domestic terrorism or other forms of left-wing enmity against biblical morality.
Offenders committed at least 420 acts of hostility against 397 separate churches in the United States between January 2018 and September 2022. These cases include everything from arson and gun-related violence to vandalism and bomb threats, the copiously documented, 84-page report specifies.
The attacks show the comprehensive nature of anti-Christian violence. Assaults against churches occurred in 45 states and the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. Victimized congregations span the theological gamut from evangelical, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, mainline Protestant, non-denominational churches, Seventh-Day Adventist, to Unitarian-Universalists and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (formerly known as Mormons). Assailants targeted parishes primarily attended by white, black, and Asian (specifically Korean and Taiwanese) Christians, as well as multi-ethnic congregations.
The report documents one homicide, numerous arsons, bomb threats (real and fake), and a pervasive desecration of holy items. Vandals regularly smashed crosses, statues, and headstones in cemeteries; vandalized carvings of the Ten Commandments; set fire to a Nativity scene; and smeared feces on a statue of the Virgin Mary. They tore up a Bible and desecrated an American flag in a Primitive Methodist church in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Denver’s Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church suffered two drive-by shootings this August. Smashed windows and spray-painted doors became ubiquitous. The number of assaults peaked this May through July but has remained elevated compared to historical figures, which usually number in the single digits.
Each individual act of violence or vandalism could cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage to the local congregation.
The annual pace of hostilities against churches, the author warns, is only increasing. “The first nine months of 2022 saw more than double the number of reported acts of hostility against churches that occurred in the entirety of 2018,” notes Arielle Del Turco, assistant director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council.
The spike in anti-Christian hate crimes cannot be dismissed as an anomaly of one report, since the FBI counted 240 anti-Christian hate crimes in 2021, up from 172 in 2018.
The report found these destructive, often-violent assaults against houses of worship are often precipitated by political upheaval, typically on the Left. “Within the past few years especially, outpourings of political anger have sometimes correlated with vandalism and other acts against churches,” says Del Turco. “When faced with such blatant violence and disrespect against churches (and religion more broadly), our response must be to condemn these acts and reaffirm the right of all people to worship and live out their faith freely — including the freedom to live without fear that they will be the next target of such an attack.”
The report cites two major motivators: The still-unsolved leak of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling overturning Roe v. Wade on May 2, and the “Black Lives Matter” riots over the killing of George Floyd in the summer of 2020. But radical pro-LGBTQ activism, support for COVID-19 church closures, secularism, Satanism, Islamic fundamentalism, and anti-Americanism also wrought havoc in parishes nationwide.
Abortion: By far the most destructive of these was liberal opposition to the Christian church’s 2,000-year history of opposition to abortion, which reached a fever pitch after the Dobbs leak. In the first nine months of 2022, pro-abortion extremists carried out at least 57 attacks against Christian houses of worship — an 1,140% increase over the past four years. Between 2018 and 2021, only five abortion-related attacks took place against churches, with zero in 2018.
Days after the Dobbs leak, vandals covered a Roman Catholic church and school in Armada, Michigan with Satanic symbols and “messages calling for the death of Republicans.” The same week, protesters spray painted pro-abortion messages on the doors of Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Houston, interrupted Mass in Los Angeles dressed as characters out of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and harassed a Franciscan friar at a Basilica in New York City.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, accused abortion radicals of waging “a kind of war on the advocates for life” on “Washington Watch with Tony Perkins” in June.
Black Lives Matter/Canadian schools ‘mass grave’ hoax: The report found that 10 church attacks emanated from riots precipitated by the “Black Lives Matter” movement. This September, vandals wrote “Kill MAGA/Pigs,” BLM,” and “Antifa” on a Unitarian-Universalist building in California. A Roman Catholic Church in Los Angeles was spray painted with the words “Kill all cops” and “Make America pay for its crimes against Black lives.” Rioters defaced another Catholic parish while protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020. In all, anti-Christian vandalism tied to BLM spread across the world, as far as Poland.
Another 11 attacks against U.S. churches had to do with reports of decade-old abuse of tribal children by church-run schools in Canada, which caused a rash of church desecrations in that nation. Despite multiple excavations, proof of the alleged “mass graves” was never found, and not a single corpse ever materialized.
Pro-LGBTQ vandalism of churches: Christian churches have also suffered over their belief in biblical morality about sexual relations, especially homosexuality and transgenderism. A Pentecostal church that had actively opposed drag queen story hour found itself blanketed with messages hailing “Lucifer” and the “King of Hell” in Chula Vista, California, in September 2019. Three months earlier, extreme LGBTQIA+ activists spray painted such messages as “God is a woman, and she is gay,” “Love is love,” and “Pride” on New Life Assembly in Lima, Ohio. Five days after the Ohio attack, LGBTQ activists left a message implying that Jesus created homosexuality at a Baptist church in Palermo, Maine.
COVID-19 hysteria: Others saw churches as a forum for spreading COVID-19. The words “Love thy neighbor, get vaccinated,” were discovered by parishioners of New Orleans’s First Grace United Methodist Church last August. Last December, an arsonist who blamed church services for spreading the coronavirus set fire to a Roman Catholic parish in Portland, Indiana. California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) issued guidelines banning congregations from singing as part of their worship service, although scientists found singing did not carry a worse risk of spreading COVID-19 than speaking.
Secularism, Satanism, Nazism, and Islamic fundamentalism: “Other instances were simply blatantly anti-Christian,” driven by antipathy toward the Christian faith, Del Turco notes. An act of vandalism in New York City on June 24 demanded “Separation [sic] Btwn Church + State.” Three days later, pro-abortion vandals spray painted a church in Philadelphia with the message, “Abort the church.” Protesters later chanted “f--- the church” outside a Roman Catholic cathedral. Denver’s Catholic basilica saw the messages “God is dead” and “There is no God” written on its walls in May 2020 — more than a year after anti-Christians scrawled “God’s not real” on a Baptist church in Bowling Green, Kentucky
Some attacks conveyed specifically pagan or Satanic messages. Vandals scrawled “Hail Satan” and “Kill God” on the Church of the Brethren in tiny Lititz, Pennsylvania; painted an inverted cross on an icon at an Eastern Orthodox Church in Massachusetts; and a drew pentagram on an Episcopal church in New York City, in 2019. The number “666” also disfigured an historic African-American (AME) church.
The report notes multiple incidents involving swastikas — a stark reminder that the allegedly “far-Right” ideology of Nazism is anti-Christian and occultic to its core. Ironically, pro-abortion protesters screamed, “Tell those Nazis to come out!” at a pro-life meeting inside Old Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. In reality, Nazism shared the same enthusiasm for eugenics as members of Planned Parenthood and encouraged subject people to have “as many abortions as possible.” Meanwhile, modern-day white supremacists say they would make some abortions compulsory.
Other incidents clearly stemmed from Islamic terrorism/supremacism. Police arrested a Syrian refugee for planning to bomb an evangelical church in Pittsburgh in June 2019. Two months earlier, parishioners found “Submit to God through Islam” and “Muhammad is God’s Prophet” on the walls of Midway Presbyterian Church in Anderson, South Carolina.
Some graffiti was specifically sectarian — as when a Catholic church was marked with the grammatically-challenged epitaph, “Catholics are a man-made religion.”
Hatred of America or the human race: Anti-American animus motivated some church attacks. Someone vandalized Catholic Churches in California and Washington state last summer and fall, demanding America give its “land back.” An American flag was desecrated in a separate attack.
Other assaults were seemingly anti-human. On July 9, vandals defaced a Roman Catholic parish in Lower Township, New Jersey, with the words, “Defenestrate babies.”
Whatever the motivation or severity, they erode the atmosphere that allows people of faith to enjoy their constitutionally protected rights. “Religious freedom is not maintained by good laws and policies alone; it also relies on cultural support,” writes Del Turco. “Violent or destructive incidents that interfere with an individual’s lawful free exercise of religion at their house of worship present a significant nationwide challenge.”
The report only goes through September 2022 and does not include recent threats by pro-abortion radicals Jane’s Revenge to shoot up two churches in Nebraska. “If our right to abortion in Bellevue is taken away due to the attempt to pass an abortion ban and it gets passed we will shoot up your Newman center with our new AR14 [sic] rifles,” read a letter sent to the St. John Paul II Newman Center in Bellevue, Nebraska, earlier this month by Jane’s Revenge. The domestic terrorist group sent a similar letter to Omaha’s Christ Community Church, a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. The threats did not dissuade Bellevue from becoming a sanctuary city for the unborn.
Nor does it include attacks against pro-life pregnancy resource centers, often run or staffed by churches. FRC has counted 60 physical attacks on pro-life centers between May 2 and September 25, including multiple firebombings. Pro-life women’s centers are 22 times more likely to be attacked than abortion facilities, according to an analysis from the Crime Prevention Research Center.
Sometimes the stories show an arc of redemption. On February 28, 2019, a vandal destroyed $100,000 of church property — including laptops, cameras, and other electronics — at Central Baptist Church in Conway, Arkansas. Six months later, Associate Pastor Mike Lefler baptized the perpetrator, welcoming him into the family of Christ.
Unfortunately, the story is an outlier, with the vast majority of offenders uncaught, unpunished, and unrepentant.
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins says the extent of the documented attacks on Christian churches inspired sorrow, but no surprise. “As a former commissioner and chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), I’ve seen the warning signs of this gathering like clouds across the Atlantic. As the mainstream culture moves further and further away from a biblical worldview, I’ve witnessed the hostility to moral truth creep closer to our shores,” says Perkins. “The West, once the safe haven of free speech and religion, is turning cold to our religious foundations that have helped us thrive.”
Part of that insensitivity includes President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris turning a blind eye to attacks stretching from sea to shining sea, he says. “While it is good to see the Biden administration acknowledge that these attacks are a problem, they must do more,” Perkins states. “The Biden Department of Justice has so far largely ignored these growing attacks on churches and that is creating an environment of lawlessness around the country.”
“Christians must not live in fear. We must not be intimidated,” concludes Perkins. “We must continue to stand upon the truth of God and defending the freedom of all to live out their faith.”
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.