The number of documented attacks on churches has steadily increased in recent months and years, with a dramatic uptick in 2022 in abortion-related vandalism related to the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, according to a landmark new report.
The report by the D.C.-based Family Research Council uncovered a total of 420 documented acts of hostility against 397 individual churches between January 2018 and September 2022. There were 50 in 2018, but that quickly increased to 83 in 2019, 96 in 2021 and 137 in 2022 (through September). There were 54 documented incidents of hostility against churches in 2020 – a decrease from the previous year that the report's authors attributed to the pandemic when much of the country was on lockdown or not traveling much.
The number of attacks on churches from 2018 to 2022 represents a 174 percent increase.
The report examined vandalism, arson, arson attempts and shootings. Most of the "acts of hostility" – 342 of the 420 – involved vandalism, the report said.
The report's findings mirror similar data by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which found an increase in anti-Christian hate crimes: from 172 in 2018 to 217 in 2019, to 240 in 2021.
"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," the report said. "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 hot-button political issues related to human dignity and sexuality."
Many of the acts of hostility in 2022 involved abortion-related violence. The report found 57 instances that "were directly tied to pro-abortion protests or contained pro-abortion messages" during that year. For example, four Catholic churches in Wisconsin this summer were vandalized with pro-choice graffiti. By contrast, there were only five incidents of abortion-related attacks on churches between 2019 and 2021.
Arielle Del Turco, the report's author and the assistant director of the Center for Religious Liberty at the Family Research Council, said the report's findings are troubling.
"The problem of acts of hostility against churches in the United States is widespread and growing," Del Turco said. "This is not a trend that should be shrugged off. When churches are targeted for acts of destruction, arson, or threatening messages, it has the potential to be intimidating – and sometimes, that's the intention. Within the past few years especially, outpourings of political anger have sometimes correlated with vandalism and other acts against churches. 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."
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.