Each year Open Doors International releases its World Watch List, a ranking of the top 50 nations where Christians suffer the most severe persecution. The annual compilation is based on information gleaned by Open Doors' researchers the previous year through Oct. 31. That happened to be the very day that al Qaeda-linked terrorists in Iraq took 100 worshipers hostage at Our Lady of Salvation, a Syriac Catholic church in Baghdad. The attack killed 58 people, including three priests.
What's startling about the 2011 list, however, is that many of the year's heinous acts against Christians weren't even included. After Nov. 1, the world saw a wave of violence unleashed on Christians. Among the most notable was when the Pakistani Muslim governor of Punjab Province dared defend minority Christians and advocate repeal of the controversial blasphemy law. Salman Taseer visited the jail cell of Asia Noreen (also called Asia Bibi), a Christian mother of five who was sentenced to death on a trumped-up charge of insulting Mohammed, Islam's prophet. On Jan. 4 one of Taseer's bodyguards assassinated him. The murderer declared he was happy he had killed a blasphemer, and many others celebrated after his murder.
On Christmas Eve in Jos, Nigeria, dozens of Christians were killed by Boko Haram, a radical Muslim group. Jos is the main city in Plateau State, which sits on the tension-charged religious fault line between the Islamic Sharia-governed northern states and the largely Christian south. Last week Islamists killed 18 in Christian villages in Plateau State.
On Dec. 26 in Iran, special security officers raided the homes of Christians in Tehran and throughout the country, arresting 25 people. By Jan. 11, the number of arrested Christians rose to at least 70. The reason? Iran's government claims that Christians threaten the state.
Finally, as worshipers left the New Year's Mass at the Coptic Orthodox Church of Two Saints in Alexandria, Egypt, a bomb exploded in front of the church, killing at least 23, all Coptic Christians. Egypt has long been considered a moderate country, but even Egypt seems to have joined the growing list of Muslim-majority nations intolerant of religious freedom for Christians and other minorities.
Pope Benedict XVI continues to keep the issue of Christian persecution in front of world media and global leaders. Last week he called Muslim countries to do more to protect Christian minorities so they may practice their faith without violence or discrimination. Egypt, which claims Coptic Christians are not persecuted, responded the pope's remarks by recalling its ambassador to the Vatican to protest what Cairo described as meddling in Egypt's internal affairs.
Pope Benedict's call for Pakistan to repeal its blasphemy laws, often used against innocent Christians, was also met with ire. An Islamic party leader in Pakistan claimed that the pope's words have "hurt the sentiments of the entire Islamic world."
It is beyond troubling that angry protests have met the pope's request that Pakistan and Egypt protect their Christian minorities and that Pakistan rescind its blasphemy laws. This indicates just how bad the plight of Christians has become. Those who speak out against anti-Christian violence are branded as evil. This patent refusal of Muslim nations to address the carnage against their oppressed Christian minorities is both shocking and disturbing.
A day after the pope's remarks, an off-duty policeman in Egypt opened fire on a train, killing one and wounding five others. All the victims were Coptic Christians. While Egypt's state media claimed the attacks were not sectarian, reports have emerged that the gunman targeted those seated near women not wearing headscarves and that during his rampage he yelled "Allah akbar" - Allah is great.
Certainly, some of these cases go as far as systematic "religicide." Rather than targeted killing because of ethnicity, these atrocities aim to rid the country of a religion. Extremists seek to exterminate Christians.
In particular locations, we see that campaigns against Christians may succeed. An example of this is Asia Minor, where the churches cited in the Book of Revelation have been reduced to fields of rubble.
But will the Gospel ultimately be eradicated? Absolutely not. Jesus promises in Matthew 16:18 that He will build His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Taking the long view across history, we know that ultimately Jesus will triumph.
Meanwhile, however, persecuted Christians count on us for prayer, support and solidarity to stand alongside them as they endure often unspeakable affliction and hardship for the sake of the Gospel. When one of us suffers, we all suffer. We must not forget them.
Carl Moeller, Ph.D., is president and CEO of Open Doors USA, the American arm of Open Doors International, a worldwide ministry which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians in restricted countries since 1955. For more information go to www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.