Religious differences run deep in our pluralistic world. It may come as no surprise that such disagreements sometimes end up in violence.
Yet that rarely is the case in what might be called Christendom. Indeed, in large part, there is little discrimination let alone persecution against spiritual minorities in majority Christian nations. The exceptions tend to be countries that suffered under Communism or other authoritarian forms of rule.
In contrast, brutal mistreatment of religious minorities of all faiths is the norm in majority Muslim countries. The degree of harm varies — Christians live better in the small Gulf States than in Saudi Arabia, for instance, where not a single church is allowed to exist. Yet only under a secular dictator like Iraq’s Saddam Hussein did religious minorities appear to enjoy anything approaching legal equality.
This ugly reality is evident in the latest “Hall of Shame” report released by International Christian Concern. Lots of people behave badly, when it comes to vulnerable faith groups. But some people are far more likely to behave badly. ICC offers a very accessible assessment of the varied forms in which discrimination and persecution occur.
The group starts with the Worst of the Worst. As always, North Korea heads the list. In this totalitarian state, the national leader is treated as divine. To believe in anything else is political heresy. Explained ICC: “Since Christianity elevates God over the State, North Korea sees Christianity as a dangerous movement that challenges their power and must be silenced.”
Pyongyang once was a center of Asian Christianity. ICC estimates that 400,000 Christians have been martyred in the North, since that country was established in 1948. Tens of thousands are believed to be imprisoned for their faith today. In this case, religious persecution is simply another facet of probably the most extreme totalitarian rule on the planet.
Next are Iraq and Syria. Both were inadvertent havens for Christians and other religious minorities, because the two countries were ruled by secular dictators. Unfortunately, the Bush administration’s ill-considered invasion of Iraq blew up Iraq and ultimately the region, triggering a sectarian war, of which Christians were among the biggest victims. The subsequent rise of the Islamic State intensified the persecution.
Noted ICC, “Today, Christianity in Iraq and Syria is on the verge of extinction as a result of atrocities by ISIS, other militant Islamic groups, and a widespread increase in radical Islamic thought.” The Christian population of Iraq is barely a fifth of what it was before the U.S. invasion. Syria has lost about two-thirds of its Christians since the country dissolved into civil war. When — though today it seems more like if — peace again comes to those lands, many religious minorities who left are unlikely to return.
ICC includes Nigeria, in which Muslims hold a slight population edge, far different than the overwhelming majorities in Iraq and Syria. However, Nigerian Muslims are far more likely than Christians to utilize violence in pursuit of what amounts to religious cleansing. Explained ICC: “Christians in the North and Middle Belt regions face brutal daily persecution for their faith from the Islamic extremist groups Boko Haram and the Fulani militias.”
The central government’s high-profile campaign against Boko Haram has had only middling success at best and actually caused the terrorist group to concentrate its ill attention on Christians. And Abuja has done little to battle the Fulani militias, which have “killed over 800 Christians and injured 800 more. They displaced 21,000 victims, and destroyed over 100 churches and 700 homes.”
Next come what ICC terms “Core Countries,” which tend to be less bloody but no less constant in their persecution: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, China, and India. Oddly, the first three are allies of America while New Delhi is viewed as an increasingly good friend. Obviously geopolitical closeness to the U.S. does not moderate maltreatment of religious minorities.
Saudi Arabia is a veritable totalitarian state. From the standpoint of religious liberty, Riyadh is a horror: “Only Sunni Islam may be practiced publicly and any Saudi citizen who converts to Christianity or another faith is immediately guilty of apostasy, punishable by death. Even non-Saudi Christians living in the Kingdom risk imprisonment and deportation if they attempt to meet privately to pray or read the Bible.”
At the same time, the Kingdom provides money and personnel to radical and terrorist Islamist groups worldwide. The government has spent more than $100 billion over the years underwriting radical Islam in nations around the globe, including America. For these activities, concluded ICC, “Saudi Arabia deserves its well-earned lead place in the core of ICC’s Hall of Shame report.”
China acts like a typical Communist nation in attempting to suppress any organized groups loyal to anything other than the party and state. Today there are more Christians than Communist Party members. China is on the way to having the world’s largest Christian population by 2030. Fear of this future likely explains why “China frequently uses intimidation, arrests, destruction of church property, and church closures to persecute Christians.”
Egypt has proved to be a tragedy irrespective of who is in charge, including the current military dictator, who has used symbolism rather than substance in an attempt to win support from the Coptic Church. Noted ICC, “Egypt’s 10 million Christians have endured persecution for 1,400 years since Islam arrived. They are treated as second-class citizens,” while the government does little to protect them from violence. For instance, “Christian women are regularly abducted, raped, and forcefully married and converted,” often with the assistance of the police.
Pakistan is another brutal Islamic state in which all religious minorities are at risk. The persecution is “intense” and often violent. Noted ICC, “Pakistani Christians suffer from rigid job discrimination, potent blasphemy laws, abductions, and forced conversion and marriage, as well as bombings and terror attacks from Islamic radicals.” Minority believers languish at the bottom of society with the worst and least paid jobs.
India is a majority Hindu nation in which Islam is in the rare position of being a victimized minority. However, Christians are far fewer and thus more vulnerable. Unfortunately, violence and mistreatment have increased, since the triumph of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in 2014. Violent attacks are common. In some areas, radical Hindus, who behave like the far more common radical Islamists elsewhere, organize “assault and social boycotts (denying them public services, jobs, and goods) against” Christians.
Finally, ICC has added a “New and Noteworthy” category for nations that are not nearly as bad as the foregoing but nevertheless where events “indicate declining religious freedom and are cause for alarm.” The U.S. heads this list, since political correctness now legally trumps religious liberty in many states. Those seeking to punish people of faith naturally have turned to “the courts as a preferred venue to gradually marginalize and silence Christians.”
Russia increasingly has been discriminating against faiths other than Orthodoxy. Noted ICC, the so-called Yarovaya laws, ostensibly enacted to combat Islamic extremism, “place incredible restrictions on Christians and other religious minorities who are not part of the Russian Orthodox Church.” Ministers have been punished for proselytizing, holding services, preaching, and baptizing.
Although Mexico is a nominally Catholic nation, “discrimination against Christians in Mexico runs rampant in rural villages and other local communities, with little or no government intervention.” Evangelicals, in particular, who refuse to participate in local pagan rituals face “heavy fines, imprisonment, beatings, eviction from their communities, or in the most extreme cases, rape or murder.”
In its latest “Hall of Shame” report, ICC touches on only a few of the many instances of religious persecution around the globe. Unfortunately, in Muslim and authoritarian states, persecution is the norm. And while almost every faith faces hostility somewhere, Christianity is the most persecuted faith worldwide.
Despite rising social and legal hostility toward Christians in the U.S., Americans remain lucky. Religious liberty is precious and in short supply in so many nations. Which makes it important to assist persecuted brethren around the world. And to preserve this vital freedom at home.