Persecuted & Forgotten? – A Report on Christians Oppressed for their Faith 2015-2017
IN TERMS OF the numbers of people involved, the gravity of the crimes committed and their impact, it is clear that the persecution of Christians is today worse than at any time in history. Not only are Christians more persecuted than any other faith group, but ever-increasing numbers are experiencing the very worst forms of persecution. It is in this context that the Report concludes that in 12 of the 13 countries reviewed, the situation for Christians was worse in overall terms in the period 2015-17 than within the preceding two years.
Estimates for the number of Christians worldwide who suffered some form of persecution for their faith in 2016 range from some 200,000 to as many as 600,000. While firm numbers are hard to come by—and the number of deaths are reported to have fallen below 100,000 in the past two years—there is little doubt that the level of Christian persecution remains extremely high in a great number of places around the world.
An especially notable example of this was China where intolerance was on the rise, as evidenced by a renewed clampdown on dissident clergy and destruction of churches as well as crosses and other Christian symbols.
In many countries the situation was already so severe, it could scarcely get any worse, and yet it did – the obvious exception being Saudi Arabia, where a long-established pattern of some of the world’s worst oppression saw no obvious indications of deterioration.
Elsewhere, in countries such as Syria and Iraq, the worsening situation facing Christians during the period under review was primarily related to the impact of a surge in violence and intimidation which had peaked in preceding years, namely 2013-15. In both of these countries and in certain others, the overall situation for Christians was worse than in the previous two years, even though by summer 2017 the violence had reduced markedly.
This relates to crucial factors showing the profound impact of persecution, especially the ensuing displacement of Christians, the political consequences of destabilization and the loss of morale among the Church communities.
In a message broadcast on BBC Radio in December 2016, Prince Charles referred to a recent meeting in London, at which Aid to the Church in Need arranged for him to meet witnesses of persecution of Christians and others in the Middle East and elsewhere. He reflected: “Clearly, for such people, religious freedom is a daily, stark choice between life and death. The scale of religious persecution is not widely appreciated.”
At a time in the West when there is increasing media focus on the rights of people regardless of gender, ethnicity or sexuality, it is ironic that in much of the secular media there should be such limited coverage of the massive persecution experienced by so many Christians.
The pervasive nature of persecution—and evidence implicating regimes with whom the West has close trading and strategic links—mean that it behoves our governments to use their influence to stand up for minorities, especially Christians. No longer should Christians be sacrificed on the altar of strategic expediency and economic advantage.
Additional findings of the Report include:
- In Iraq, the exodus of Christians is so severe that one of the world’s oldest churches is on course to all but disappear within three years unless there is dramatic change for the better.
- This same exodus is threatening the survival of Christianity in parts of Syria including Aleppo, formerly home to one of the largest Christian communities in the whole of the Middle East.
- ISIS and other Islamist militant groups have committed genocide in Syria and Iraq.
- Governments in the West and the UN failed to offer Christians in countries such as Iraq and Syria the emergency help they needed as genocide got underway. If Christian organizations and other institutions had not filled the gap, the Christian presence could already have disappeared in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.
- The defeat of ISIS and other Islamists in major strongholds of the Middle East offers the last hope of recovery for Christian groups threatened with extinction. Many would not survive another similar violent attack.
- ISIS affiliate Boko Haram has carried out genocide against Christians in northern Nigeria.
- Christians have suffered increased violence and oppression as a result of a rise in religious nationalism. In India, for example, persecution has risen sharply since the 2014 rise to power of the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
- In worst-offending North Korea, “unspeakable atrocities” against Christians include enforced starvation, abortion and reports of faithful being hung on crosses over a fire and others being crushed under a steamroller.