The report is in, and the results are not good. 2019 saw a huge increase in the persecution of Christians worldwide, including murder, genocide, wrongful imprisonment and the destruction of church buildings. Open Doors, USA, released its annual report on Christian persecution last week and the figures are truly alarming. Last year a staggering 9,488 Christian church buildings were attacked and/or destroyed, compared to 1,266 in 2018. That is a staggering 650% increase in just 12 months! Those figures are not a typo. The number of Christian churches attacked or destroyed last year by Muslim extremists numbered not in the tens, or even hundreds. It was 9,488 worldwide!
The Open Doors annual report, entitled “World Watch List”, ranks the worst 50 countries in the world for the persecution of Christians. Worst offenders in 2019 were North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Eritrea, Sudan, Yemen, Iran, India, China, Burkina Faso and Nigeria.
More concerning than the mere destruction of church property is the increasing violence towards Christians themselves. The report found that an estimated 250 million Christians experience high levels of persecution, including ongoing threats to their safety. In the small African nation of Burkina Faso, hundreds of thousands of Christians were forced to flee from their homes and seek asylum in neighbouring countries last year because of hostile persecution from their Islamic government. The United Nations recently declared Burkina Faso as the “fastest-growing displacement crisis in Africa”.
The Open Doors report indicates that 2,983 Christians were murdered for their faith last year. That is eight Christians killed every day. A further 3,711 Christians were arrested and imprisoned for their faith. Not because they broke the law. Not for any crimes. Simply because they believe in Jesus and choose to worship him. In China last year, 5,596 Christian churches were shut down by the government, most of them because they refused to install government surveillance cameras in their church buildings.
The nation of Cameroon, although only 48 on the World Watch List, has recently seen a spike in attacks by radical Islamic extremists against Christian communities, conducted under the benign eye of their government. An unknown number of Christians were murdered there last year, possibly thousands.
Although Christian murders declined in Nigeria in 2019 because of a change in tactics by Islamic extremists, it continues to be a centre of concern. Last year at least 1,000 Nigerian Christians were murdered by Islamic extremists, and over 6,000 have been murdered there since 2015.
It’s important that we understand exactly what is involved in these horrific murders. On many occasions, a band of Islamic militants simply walks into a village of innocent Christians and opens fire. Their sub-machine guns mow down everyone in the village – men, women and children – and then the extremists return to their communities and proclaim a great victory for Allah. On other occasions, Islamic suicide bombers walk into Christian church services and blow themselves up. For example, last Easter three suicide bombers blew themselves up in three Christian churches while Easter services were under way, killing 250 Christians and wounding 500 more.
The persecution of Christians around the world is not well-known. This is largely because it is under-reported by the media. On the other hand, attacks against Muslims often gain front page attention. Last year’s attack by a single unhinged white supremacist on a New Zealand mosque received world headlines. A total of 51 Muslims were murdered as they worshipped, and this was rightly condemned as a terrible tragedy and a hateful crime. Sadly, the many branches of the media saw fit to depict this as an act of Christian terrorism, whereas the truth is that the criminal who perpetrated this hateful crime had NOTHING to do with Christianity at all. He was the furthest thing from a Christian that it is possible to be!
While it is understandable that the media reported the New Zealand massacre, it is totally perplexing that the ongoing world-wide genocide of Christians by Islamic extremists is met with a collective media yawn. Because of this, the average person on the street in western nations has no idea of this ongoing genocide. In fact, the popular impression among the western masses is that Christianity is the main perpetrator of prejudice and hate in our world.
What is going on here? Is the media blinkered by political correctness and unwilling to call out Islamic extremism? Is the media inveigled with powerful atheistic / secular forces who are quietly content to watch this world-wide persecution of Christianity and have no wish to draw attention to it? Or is this merely another example of Western parochialism; if it’s not happening in our country we aren’t interested?
Perhaps all three elements are at work in varying degrees.
Whatever the reason, we ought to be concerned. Terrible things are happening in our world, and we aren’t being told. A rising tide of genocide, wrongful imprisonment, dislocation and destruction is being swept under the carpet. And it’s getting worse.
Open Doors USA CEO, David Curry, stated that the 2019 report should “sound the alarm” for what is a growing world-wide human rights issue. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom responded with similar deep concern after the report was formally presented to them last week.
How should we respond as individuals? We need to pray for the millions of Christians who are subject to ongoing, daily persecution around the world. We need to pray for peace for our world. We need to pray for wise, godly government of all nations. We need to pray for the various international human rights bodies, that they may have the courage and power to exert a restraining influence on offending nations. We need to give to agencies that are providing practical support for displaced and persecuted people groups. We need, as a nation, to give serious thought to how we treat people who flee to our shores because their lives are at risk.
And that’s just a start.
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