Last year brought a rising tide of persecution against Christians around the world, according to a new report Open Doors USA released Jan. 7.
Open Doors, a group that advocates for persecuted Christians, unveiled its annual World Watch List ranking the 50 most dangerous countries for Christians. North Korea topped the list for the 13th straight year, but conditions worsened the most across Africa, where eight of 12 ranked countries moved up the list.
“The 2015 World Watch List documents the greatest rise in violence against Christians in the world in the modern era,” said David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors. “Even Christian-majority states are experiencing unprecedented levels of exclusion, discrimination, and violence.”
Although conditions worsened in a host of nations, signs indicate the worst is yet to come. Curry pointed to Iraq, where a decade of increasing persecution led to a major geopolitical problem: the Islamic State.
“Now, that ideology and the tactics used by the Islamic State are being adopted and used in Africa,” he said. “We think it portends big problems to come in that region.”
Kenya rose on the list more than any other country, jumping to No. 19 from No. 43 a year ago. Sudan (No. 6) and Eritrea (No. 9) both moved back into the top 10, and Nigeria (No. 10) moved into the top 10 for the first time ever.
Open Doors found conditions significantly deteriorated in Nigeria, where more than 2,400 people died for their faith in specific, targeted attacks—a number that doesn’t include the scores who have died as collateral damage in Boko Haram attacks. This week The Wall Street Journal reported Boko Haram now controls a swath of land the size of Belgium.
Wednesday’s event featured Damaris Atsen, a Nigerian Christian whose husband was killed by Islamic militants. Atsen, a single mother of four, brushed away tears as she told her story and pleaded for prayers of peace: “We have so many widows in Nigeria.”
Open Doors estimates some 100 million Christians are persecuted globally each year. Islamic extremism is the prime culprit, accounting for most persecution in 40 of the 50 countries on the list, including much of the top 10: North Korea, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, Eritrea, and Nigeria.
“This is a strong religious belief that is held by these people—an extremist version of Islam,” Nina Shea, a Hudson Institute senior fellow, told me after the event. “It’s very hard for our secular media and political leaders to accept that.”
Colombia (No. 35) and Mexico (No. 38) were the only two nations in the Western Hemisphere to make the list. Colombia moved down 10 spots from last year, but Mexico had been unranked in 2014.
The threshold for making the 2015 list increased, meaning worldwide persecution rose between Nov. 1, 2013, and Oct. 31, 2014, the timeframe used to compile the report. Bahrain, Morocco, and Niger dropped off the list, but Open Doors reported conditions in those countries remain mostly unchanged.
Open Doors uses a variety of metrics to determine how much Christians are able to live out their faith, including spheres of private, family, community, national, and church life. The process also counts violent incidents, which were most intense in Nigeria, Syria, and Iraq.
Curry and Shea stressed the need for American Christians to get involved to help the persecuted church, including prayer and material support. Shea cited Christians in Mosul, Iraq, where the Islamic State forbade Christmas and shut down, destroyed, or repurposed churches, and 120,000 Christians are living in nylon tents. She said if no one acts to help them, “They’re going to be eradicated, and a 2,000 year-old Church will be gone.”
Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., who attended the event, urged Americans Christians to contact their elected officials, many of whom he said do not make religious freedom a priority.
“What we know in Congress is that for one person who speaks out there may be 100 out there who are silent on the issue but feel the same way,” Aderholt told me. “One person speaking out speaks for a multitude of people.”
Courtesy: WORLD News Service
Photo courtesy: Thinkstock
Publication date: January 13, 2015