Written in April 2018
About 215 million Christians are being persecuted for their faith, according to the World Watch List, Open Doors’ annual report ranking the top 50 countries where Christians are persecuted. Released at the beginning of each year, the list uses data from Open Doors field workers and external experts to quantify and analyse persecution worldwide. Countries are ranked by the severity of persecution of Christians, calculated by analysing the level of violent persecution plus the pressure experienced in five spheres of life: church life, national life, community life, family life and private life.
Unsurprisingly, North Korea was ranked number one on the list for the 16th consecutive year. For three generations, everything in the country focused on idolising the leading Kim family, and as a result Christians are seen as hostile elements in society that needs to be eradicated.
The list’s number one cause of Christian persecution is the spread of radical Islam. Out of the top 10 countries with the highest rate of Christian persecution, Islamic oppression fuels that persecution in eight of them: Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq, Yemen and Iran. While Christianity traces its birthplace to the Middle East, that region has become the most hostile area for the religion in recent years. Israel itself does not feature in the list and is a safe place for its Arab Christian population, but most of Israel’s neighbours, including Egypt, Syria and the Palestinian territories, are dangerous places for Christians. According to Open Doors, every day, six women are raped, sexually harassed or are forced into marriage to a Muslim under threat of death due to their Christian faith.
The two most populous countries in the world, India and China, have moved up the list, showing that persecution of Christians has increased in those countries. Surprisingly India comes in at number 11 on the list as Hindu extremists target believers who have become Christians from a Hindu background. These believers face harassment and have been beaten, hospitalised and even killed. Christians are also facing increasing pressure on a national level. Five states have implemented anti-conversion laws and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have made no secret of their desire to make these laws nation-wide. These laws make the preaching of the Gospel into a crime and forbid or make it very difficult for people to leave the majority religion, Hinduism, and become Christians. Such laws are often used as an excuse to disrupt church services and harass Christians.
In China Communist authorities are increasing restrictions on Christians in order to stop the growth of Christianity which the Communists see as a threat to their ideological control. House churches are pushed to join the state-controlled Three Self Churches, and new regulations on religion limit freedom.
There is increasing persecution in the former Soviet central Asian states with a combination of Islamic hostility and the former Communist anti-Christian measures in place. In Uzbekistan churches require registration, but no permits have been issued since 1999 and some churches have had their permits and buildings confiscated. Homes are bugged, phones tapped and groups infiltrated to monitor unregistered churches, and they are in constant danger of being raided. Christians face oppressively high fines if they are caught possessing Christian materials or conducting services that aren’t state sanctioned. The government of Kazakhstan has cracked down on evangelical Christians under the guise of preventing ‘extremism’. Members of Protestant churches are seen as followers of ‘destructive religious movements undermining the current political system. Dozens of Christians were arrested in 2017. Church meetings are often disrupted and raided, especially in unregistered churches which are considered illegal. In Kyrgystan children are not permitted to be involved, and amended laws may require 500 members before they can register. Believers from Muslim backgrounds have been locked up by their families, beaten and exiled from their communities; most keep their faith secret.
In five countries where the main dominant religion is Christianity, there is still a high level of persecution. In the African states of Ethiopia, Kenya and Central African Republic, Islamic oppression is rampant. In Mexico and Colombia organised crime and corruption have created an environment that is hostile to Christian expression in the public domain and seeks to eliminate Christian involvement in social and political discourse.
In many western nations there is a growing intolerance towards active Christians who wish to stand up for their faith and spread the Gospel. Christian values and teaching clash with the demands of ‘political correctness’ and ‘diversity’ when it is required to believe that ‘all gods are equal’ and all lifestyles are valid and acceptable to God. In our last edition we featured the case of a Christian teacher in Oxford, Joshua Sutcliffe. His popular Bible study group that was attended by 100 children was shut down by the school authorities after he described marriage as being between a man and a woman in answer to a pupil’s question. He was then suspended for accidentally calling a transgender pupil a ‘girl’ rather than a ‘boy’. For 19 years Paul Son volunteered as a Christian chaplain at Brixton prison in London, holding classes, attended by up to 70 prisoners, who greatly benefitted from his teaching. These were closed down and he was then banned from the prison, after a Muslim senior chaplain was appointed, who wanted to wipe out ‘Christian domination’ at the prison. Such anti-Christian measures are becoming common in Europe and North America.
All of this happening is another sign of the coming of the Lord Jesus. He said, ‘But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake. But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony. Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But not a hair of your head shall be lost.’ Luke 21.12-18.
In response we need to stand up for those who are persecuted, help them as we are able and be ready ourselves to stand for Jesus in the midst of a world which has lost its way and is heading for destruction. The world may fight against the Lord Jesus, but He is the only hope for this last generation before his return.