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22 January 2015

The persecuted Church: this is family business

The persecuted Church: this is family business

From the Open Doors World Watch List 2015 map

Open Doors CEO, Lisa Pearce, returned from Iraq this November with the haunting story of one desperate mother, displaced and devastated by IS – "I haven't seen my daughter since IS took her. I cried and shouted at them – what could they want with a three year old? She's just a child."

At Open Doors we estimate that there are over 100million Christians persecuted for their faith. And each one has a story.

The 2015 World Watch List outlines the 50 countries where the persecution of Christians is most intense, providing insight into the trends and dynamics of persecution. It reveals a stark picture – more Christians are being persecuted, more severely, and in more countries than at any time since the research began.

North Korea remained the worst country in the world to be a Christian, with Somalia following a close second – a country where the discovery of your Christian faith is a death sentence.

Iraq and Syria have rightly had media attention over the last year –with Christians being driven out of the countries in which the faith was birthed. But this goes far beyond the Middle East. One of the most disturbing things is the global nature of this crisis. Sub-Saharan Africa is the most rapidly growing area of persecution and Christians also face persecution in Asia and South America: globally it is becoming inexorably harder to be a Christian –harder to get a job, to educate your children, to meet and worship with others. Many people are simply exhausted.

Islamic extremist is a central engine of persecution in 18 out of the top 20 countries on the World Watch List, playing a significant role in the persecution of Christians in 40 out of the overall 50 countries. However, it is not the only cause of persecution. Other persecution engines are:

  • Religious nationalism: eg Christians in India face intense pressure from often violent Hindu nationalists who consider Indian identity to be synonymous with Hinduism;
  • Tribal antagonism: eg Christians among the Hmong of Vietnam face persecution from their tribe who attempt to enforce the age-old norms, values and spiritualism of the tribe;
  • Denominational protectionism: eg Ethiopian Christians are vulnerable to persecution from the traditional church, who tries to protect its status as the only expression of Christianity;
  • Communist oppression: Communist states such as China aim to maintain strict systems of control –they particularly demand the registration and oversight of churches;
  • Dictatorial paranoia: eg in North Korea, Kim Jong Un and his clique seek to dominate every aspect of society: no one is allowed to organise outside state control;
  • Secular intolerance: the enforced insistence that all religion be expunged from public life, arguing that religious expression and opinion are injurious to the public good.
  • Organised corruption: eg in Latin America pastors or priests who stand out against violent cartels and offer a different way of life are threatened and killed with sickening frequency.

Another disturbing reality is the double-vulnerability faced by our sisters of the persecuted church: women and girls are already vulnerable in many of these societies and being or becoming a Christian significantly increases the level of vulnerability.

Indeed, we need only think of the 276 Nigerian school girls kidnapped from Chibok by Boko Haram last April. Sadly they are not alone. One report from a Muslim NGO highlighted that, in Pakistan, 100-700 Christian women and girls face kidnapping, forced marriages and conversions every year.

As the Church, the body of Christ, this is family business. When one part suffers, all suffer. That's why we're passionate about sharing the stories of the World Watch List and providing resources to equip individuals and churches in this country to connect with their family in other parts of the world. Visit www.opendoorsuk.org to find out the full picture.

Together, the Evangelical Alliance, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Release International and Open Doors UK have formed the Religious Liberty Commission (RLC), standing with our persecuted brothers and sisters through joint prayer, advocacy and practical help. The RLC's inauguration service will be hosted by Archbishop Justin Welby on 4 February 2015.

Zoe Smith, head of advocacy at Open Doors UK and Ireland.