International Day of Prayer for the persecuted Church reminds us of some hard truths.
Last November 10 was one of the International Day[s] of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (known by the acronym IDOP). Initiated over 20 years ago by the World Evangelical Alliance, 100,000 congregations around the world and millions of Christians participate on this day.
“This November let us unite in prayer for our persecuted brothers and sisters,” IDOP said in a brief video that highlights a few examples of recent persecution, including the Easter Sunday church bombings in Sri Lanka and the ongoing slaughter of Christians by Islamic groups in Nigeria and increasingly Burkina Faso.
Discussing this day’s significance, Vernon Brewer, the CEO and founder of World Help, a Christian humanitarian organization, wrote:
It’s easy to go about our lives and forget that in places like Nigeria, Iran and North Korea being a Christian can often lead to death. After all, for the most part, persecution for our faith isn’t something most of us face… But I can’t forget the believers I’ve met in Iraq, China or at the North Korean border. I can’t forget their scars or their haunted eyes and horrific stories… The more I travel, the more I see that in many countries Christian persecution is worse than ever before.
Statistics bear out this grim assertion: “4,136 Christians were killed for faith-related reasons,” noted Open Doors USA in its World Watch List 2019. “On average, that’s 11 Christians killed every day for their faith.” Additionally, “2,625 Christians were detained without trial, arrested, sentenced and imprisoned” and “1,266 churches or Christian buildings were attacked.”
The report further asserts that a whopping 245 million Christians around the world are currently suffering from persecution. In other words, “1 in 9 Christians experience high levels of persecution worldwide.”
Typically women fare worse: “In many places, they experience a ‘double persecution’— one for being a Christian and one for being a woman.” As for specific numbers: “At least six women every day are raped, sexually harassed or forced into marriage to a Muslim man under the threat of death for their Christian faith…”
A separate study led by Rev. Philip Mounstephen, the Bishop of Truro, and published earlier this year, states that “Evidence shows not only the geographic spread of anti-Christian persecution, but also its increasing severity. In some regions, the level and nature of persecution is arguably coming close to meeting the international definition of genocide, according to that adopted by the UN.”
After studying the bishop’s detailed report, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt concluded that the persecution of Christians is “near genocide levels.”
Both studies make clear that the majority of persecution occurs in the Muslim world. In seven of the top ten worst nations, “the primary cause of persecution is Islamic oppression,” notes Open Doors. Additionally, 38 of the 50 nations that persecute Christians the most are Muslim majority.
The Bishop of Truro’s report gives specifics:
“The persecution of Christians is perhaps at its most virulent in the region of the birthplace of Christianity—the Middle East & North Africa.”
“Christianity now faces the possibility of being wiped-out in parts of the Middle East where its roots go back furthest. In Palestine, Christian numbers are below 1.5 percent; in Syria the Christian population has declined from 1.7 million in 2011 to below 450,000 and in Iraq, Christian numbers have slumped from 1.5 million before 2003 to below 120,000 today.”
“In countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia the situation of Christians and other minorities has reached an alarming stage.”
“[T]here is mass violence which regularly expresses itself through the bombing of churches, as has been the case in countries such as Egypt, Pakistan, and Indonesia.”
“The single-greatest threat to Christians [in Nigeria] … came from Islamist militant group Boko Haram, with US intelligence reports in 2015 suggesting that 200,000 Christians were at risk of being killed… Those worst affected included Christian women and girls ‘abducted, and forced to convert, enter forced marriages, sexual abuse and torture.’”
“An intent to erase all evidence of the Christian presence [in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, north-east Nigeria and the Philippines] was made plain by the removal of crosses, the destruction of Church buildings and other Church symbols. The killing and abduction of clergy represented a direct attack on the Church’s structure and leadership.”
Outside the Muslim world the persecution of Christians is getting significantly worse, particularly in North Korea, where “never-ending pressure and violence” is directed against Christians; in India, for the first time in modern history Christians are experiencing “extreme persecution.”
In the end, numbers and statistics will never suffice to capture the magnitude of the problem. “Too many to count, too many unknown,” states the video by International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church: “All because they bear the name of Jesus.”