Christian persecution is not a first-century phenomenon. Nor is it confined to remote places or even a handful of geographic regions. For hundreds of millions of Christians worldwide who daily experience verbal harassment, discrimination, imprisonment, displacement, torture, rape, and even death, the threat and the struggle are real.
According to a newly released report from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), “the persecution of Christians is today worse than at any time in history. Not only are Christians more persecuted than any other faith group, but ever-increasing numbers are experiencing the very worst forms of persecution.”
Yesterday, November 5, was the 22nd International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP)—a timely and fitting occasion to focus attention on those who suffer for their beliefs.
Persecuted Christians “often suffer in silence and isolation,” said Godfrey Yogarajah, Executive Director of the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission, which sponsors IDOP each year. In a statement, he added: “The IDOP has been a source of solidarity and encouragement to persecuted Christians by reminding them that they are part of a larger, global family of believers.”
Christians are by no means the only religious or minority group subject to harsh treatment and religious persecution, and the IDOP does not seek to diminish the real and urgent needs of those groups. It does seek to draw attention, however, to those persecuted for their belief in Christianity, which remains the world’s most oppressed faith community, according to the ACN report. Titled Persecuted and Forgotten?, the report cautions that in some regions, the church is on the verge of extinction as a result of genocide and other crimes against humanity.
The headlines out of the Middle East are a testament to the growing plight of persecuted Christian believers. The ACN report cites the decimation of the church community in Syria—from 1.2 million to less than 500,000—during the ongoing civil war. In Iraq, indigenous Christians and Yazidis have been slaughtered or driven from their ancestral homes, reducing their population from 1.5 million to less than 250,000.
The faces of Christian persecution exist not only in the Middle East, however. Consider the following:
- Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five has languished on death row in a Pakistani prison for seven years, charged with blasphemy.
- In Nigeria, Christians face the terror and violence from the extremist group Boko Haram as well as Hausa-Fulani herdsmen, who have forced whole villages from their lands and livelihoods.
- Chinese Christians have been forced into a sort of “black market” faith under the repressive Xi Jinping regime, which has targeted state-sanctioned churches and leaders with harassment and has closed or demolished houses of worship. The result has been a surge in unregistered or “underground” churches.
- North Korea has ranked number one on the Open Doors USA annual World Watch List for 16 years, and is designated as the most oppressive place in the world for Christians. Under the totalitarian and oppressive regime of Kim Jong Un, Christians are arrested, imprisoned, tortured, starved, and killed for their beliefs in Jesus Christ.
- In Turkey (a U.S. ally and NATO member state) the regime of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has seized large numbers of church properties and forbidden the training of religious leaders. Many foreign religious workers and church members have been deported, denied entry, or refused resident permits. American Pastor Andrew Brunson has been imprisoned for more than a year on false charges of espionage.
These are but a few examples of the oppression experienced daily by Christian believers around the world. The ACN report charges that the scale of religious persecution is not widely or fully appreciated, particularly in the West and among the media. If, in fact, there is ambivalence to persecution of the Christian variety, particularly in the U.S., it may stem from one view that associates Christianity with power and privilege, therefore making it immune to persecution itself.
From a U.S. foreign policy standpoint, it appears that the current administration is prepared, at least in part, to recalibrate that view. Speaking at the annual dinner of In Defense of Christians last month, Vice President Mike Pence announced plans to redirect U.S. funds allocated for victims of Islamic State (ISIS) away from the United Nations, saying that “from this day forward, America will provide support directly to persecuted communities through USAID.”
Pence announced that he will travel to the Middle East in late December, saying, “I promise you one of the messages that I will bring on the president’s behalf to leaders across the region is that now is the time to bring an end to the persecution of Christians and all religious minorities.”
Christians suffering around the globe have many practical needs—food, shelter, medical attention, security. Some needs can be solved by policy; some cannot. Yet, the number one thing persecuted Christians ask for, according to Open Doors and others on the frontline, is prayer—not just for one day a year, but for every day.
Erin Rodewald is a Los Angeles-based strategist, writer and researcher/editor specializing in foreign policy, international relations and American politics. With more than 20 years of communication experience, she has served as the press secretary for the president of the Los Angeles City Council and has provided strategic public relations council for public affairs, business-to-business and high tech clients. Erin served on the team that organized and executed the international events and initiatives commemorating the Ronald Reagan Centennial Celebration. She is the co-owner of a high tech public relations firm and holds an MPP from Pepperdine University. Follow Erin on Twitter @EDRodewald.
Photo Credit: By Jessica Kennedy, via Flickr.