Christians may be the most persecuted group in the world, and their persecution is on the rise. As Islamic extremism takes hold and repressive governments step up their campaigns against Christianity, the Pope has been moved to warn of “a form of genocide”, and for campaigners to speak out over “religio-ethnic cleansing.”
Organisations that monitor religious persecution have rung alarm bells worldwide, from South America to sub-Saharan Africa and from Asia to the Middle East, warning of a rapid increase in attacks and repression, The Guardian has reported.
It quotes the Pope, who, on a recent trip to South America, said he was dismayed “to see how in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world many of our brothers and sisters are persecuted, tortured and killed for their faith in Jesus.” He continued:
“In this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place, and it must end.”
Earlier this month, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote an article for The Times ahead of a Lords Debate on religious freedom. He wrote:
“Around the world, Christian churches are burned in south India, Muslim and Christian villages attacked in parts of Myanmar. As for the Levant and Mesopotamia, we are all too terribly aware of extreme violence by Isis and its allies against every other group.
“Earlier this year I visited Egypt to offer condolences following the murder of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya, who died proclaiming ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’. Of the 37 Anglican provinces to which I travelled during my first 18 months in office, almost half were living under persecution. They fear for their lives every day.”
Lord David Alton, who led the Lords debate told the House: “Some assessments claim that as many as 200 million Christians in over 60 countries around the world face some degree of restriction, discrimination or outright persecution.
“Whatever the real figures the scale is enormous. From Syria, Iraq, Iran and Egypt to North Korea, China, Vietnam and Laos, from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma, from Cuba, Colombia and Mexico to Eritrea, Nigeria and Sudan, Christians face serious violations of religious freedom.”
Examples of this persecution are not hard to find. Archbishop Welby recalled a man who he had met “like Job, sitting on a heap of ash. The raiders had killed his wife and six children. He had hidden down a well for three days.”
The charity Open Doors, which has been serving persecuted Christians since the 1950s, relays the story of ‘Maryam’ (not her real name), a Christian in the Middle East who chose to become a Christian after attending a Home Church.
She had already quit her government job due to her faith: “Much too dangerous,” she said.
“At that time I worked in a job that was state controlled. Every time they gave us questionnaires that we should fill out, and one of the questions is about religion. Of course you have to fill out: ‘Muslim’. But I could not do that anymore.
“Now I am working part time with some small companies, who are not asking about faith.”
Although Maryam’s family are not opposed to her religious choice, she still fears being found out. “Neighbours are the problem,” she says. “The government tells on radio and TV that if you know a person that is not dedicated to the government or to Islam you should go to the police and tell them – when you suspect someone of being a Christian.”
In China, Pastor ‘L’ spoke of government oppression in Wenzhou, where the newly built Sanjiang church was torn down in April.
“On April 28, Sanjiang Church came tumbling down. From that point on, the dam burst. Wenzhou began to tear down crosses on a grand scale. All along the way, there has been resistance. The most serious was on July 21, 2014, in Pingyang County, when SWAT police rushed protesters and started beating them. Fourteen people were injured, two or three of them quite seriously.
“Pastor Huang Yizi held prayers at the scene of the protest and was subsequently sentenced to a year in prison.
“At the end of June and beginning of July 2015, we began receiving a large number of verbal notices that crosses needed to be torn down. And unlike the previous times, this time they wanted to tear them all down.
“With this campaign of total demolition, everyone feels like this is no longer simply about tearing down crosses. It’s not merely about symbols—they want to attack your beliefs. Everyone feels like this is the beginning of a deeper repression, where they first do away with your symbols and then attack at a deeper level, destroying your internal organization, your doctrine, your church finances, even your pulpits.”
One of the consequence of this persecution is “a form of religio-ethnic cleansing of Christian communities”, said John Pontifex of Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic campaign group that monitors persecution. “The persecution of Christians is at a level we’ve not seen for many, many years and the main impact is the migration of Christian people. There are huge swathes of the world which are now experiencing a very sharp decline in the number of Christians.”