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A new report on Christian persecution ordered by the UK’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Jeremy Hunt, finds that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world.
The review, led by the Bishop of Truro the Right Reverend Philip Mounstephen, found that one in three people suffer from religious persecution globally, with 80% of the persecuted being followers of Jesus Christ.
Hunt felt that given the research consistently showed that Christians are the most persecuted religious group, such a study was warranted to further investigate the nature and scope of the persecution. Hunt also added that “political correctness” played a role in not confronting the issue sooner.
The report, which is not yet finalized, defines persecution as “discriminatory treatment where that treatment is accompanied by actual or perceived threats of violence or other forced coercion.”
In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the report found that severity of Christian persecution came close to meeting the UN definition of a genocide.
The primary effect of this acute persecution has been a mass exodus of Christians from these countries. In Syria, the Christian population has gone from 1.7 million in 2011 to 450,000 in 2019. In Iraq, the number of Christians has declined dramatically from 1.5 million in 2003 to below 120,000 today.
Given the scale of persecution of Christians today, indications that it is getting worse and that its impact involves the decimation of some of the faith group’s oldest and most enduring communities, the need for governments to give increasing priority and specific targeted support to this faith community is not only necessary but increasingly urgent.
-Bishop of Truro’s Independent Review for the Foreign Secretary of FCO Support for Persecuted Christians – Interim Report
Truro’s review isn’t the only group to reach these dire conclusions. In 2016, Pew Research found that Christians were targeted in 144 countries, up 19 from 125 in 2015.
Christian persecution NGO Open Doors reported earlier this year that
“approximately 245 million Christians living in the top 50 countries suffer high levels of persecution or worse,” up 30 million from last year. The NGO stated that the number of countries classified as having “extreme” levels of persecution has risen from one (North Korea) to 11.
In the MENA, the Christian population has substantially declined over the past century, from 20% to less than 4% today. The report cites political failures, an increase in religious conservatism (primarily Muslim), and a rise in radical Islamic militants.
In South Asia, the report finds that persecution against Christians has grown in large part to the growth of militant nationalism in the region. Political parties in Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka are embracing militant religious causes to increase their populist electoral base.
In 2017, Sri Lanka (majority Buddhist) experienced a rise in attacks against Christians and Muslims, with 97 attack documented throughout the year. In India, persecution has risen sharply since the right wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. Attacks more than doubled from 358 in 2016 to 736 in 2017.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, despite the region being overwhelmingly Christian, persecution has increased in a number of countries on the southern edge of the Sahara desert which have formed a bit of a “fault line” where Christian and Muslim majority countries collide.
The worst persecution in the region came from the radical Islamic militant group Boko Haram in Nigeria. The groups distinct aim is to “eliminate Christianity and pave the way for the total Islamisation of the country.” In 2015, U.S. intelligence reports estimated that 200,000 Christians were at risk of being killed by Boko Haram.
In Maiduguri, a city in north-east Nigeria, research from the Catholic Church reported that the massacres by the Islamists had “created 5,000 widows and 15,000 orphans and resulted in attacks on 200 churches and chapels, 35 presbyteries and parish centres.”
In communist China, the Christian church is also increasingly under attack.
When it comes to China’s own citizens, its communist ideology and nationalistic outlook leads it to suppress the Christian church in a number of ways. The Communist party in China has historically attempted to limit freedoms throughout Chinese society so as to maintain a strong grip on the country and to ensure it stays in power. In recent years President Xi has sought to control the church. As part of this, the Chinese state has provided ‘active guidance’ for Chinese churches to adapt to China’s socialist society and legislation came into force in February 2018 which gave the state far-reaching powers to monitor and control religious organisations. -Bishop of Truro’s Independent Review for the Foreign Secretary of FCO Support for Persecuted Christians – Interim Report
Persecution in China against Christians often takes place in subtle ways, with church leaders beings arrested on trumped up charges of tax fraud or embezzlement as a way to shut down their ministry.
The report’s findings come after more than 250 people were killed and more than 500 wounded in attacks at hotels and churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday.