According to the International Society for Human Rights, a secular observatory based in Frankfurt, Germany, 80 per cent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians. Statistically speaking, that makes Christians by far the most persecuted religious body on the planet.
According to the Pew Forum, between 2006 and 2010 Christians faced some form of discrimination, either de jure or de facto, in a staggering total of 139 nations, which is almost three-quarters of all the countries on earth. According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, an average of 100,000 Christians have been killed in what the centre calls a ‘situation of witness’ each year for the past decade. That works out to 11 Christians killed somewhere in the world every hour, seven days a week and 365 days a year, for reasons related to their faith.
In Baghdad, Islamic militants stormed the Syriac Catholic cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation on 31 October 2010, killing the two priests celebrating Mass and leaving a total of 58 people dead. Though shocking, the assault was far from unprecedented; of the 65 Christian churches in Baghdad, 40 have been bombed at least once since the beginning of the 2003 US-led invasion.
The effect of this campaign of violence and intimidation has been devastating for Christianity in the country. At the time of the first Gulf War in 1991, Iraq boasted a flourishing Christian population of at least 1.5 million. Today the high-end estimate for the number of Christians left is around 500,000, and realistically many believe it could be as low as 150,000. Most of these Iraqi Christians have gone into exile, but a staggering number have been killed.
India’s northeastern state of Orissa was the scene of the most violent anti-Christian pogrom of the early 21st century. In 2008, a series of riots ended with as many as 500 Christians killed, many hacked to death by machete-wielding Hindu radicals; thousands more were injured and at least 50,000 left homeless. Many Christians fled to hastily prepared displacement camps, where some languished for two years or more.
In Burma, members of the Chin and Karen ethnic groups, who are strongly Christian, are considered dissidents by the regime and routinely subjected to imprisonment, torture, forced labour, and murder. In October 2010, the Burmese military launched helicopter strikes in territories where the country’s Christians are concentrated.
A Burmese Air Force source told reporters that the junta had declared these areas ‘black zones’, where military personnel were authorised to attack and kill Christian targets on sight. Though there are no precise counts, thousands of Burmese Christians are believed to have been killed in the offensive.
North Korea is widely considered the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian, where roughly a quarter of the country’s 200,000 to 400,000 Christians are believed to be living in forced labour camps for their refusal to join the national cult around founder Kim Il Sung. The anti-Christian animus is so strong that people with Christian grandparents are frozen out of the most important jobs — even though Kim Il Sung’s mother was a Presbyterian deaconess. Since the armistice in 1953 that stabilised the division of the peninsula, some 300,000 Christians in North Korea have disappeared and are presumed dead.
As these examples illustrate, anti-Christian violence is hardly limited to a ‘clash of civilisations’ between Christianity and Islam. In truth, Christians face a bewildering variety of threats, with no single enemy and no single strategy best adapted to curb the violence.
Because the bulk of the globe’s 2.3 billion Christians today are impoverished and live in the developing world, and because they are often members of ethnic, cultural and linguistic minorities, experts regard their treatment as a reliable indicator of a society’s broader record on human rights and dignity.
Ask God how you should pray as you reread this article.
Source story: This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 5 October 2013