~by Pastor Mike Middaugh
2014 may be remembered by the various military clashes and pockets of violence that arose in countries around the world. Tensions between Russia and the Ukraine, fighting between Palestine and Israel, and the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria all mark a tumultuous year. If it seems to you that much of this violence, revolves around religious issues, you would be correct.
On January 7th Open Doors released its latest World Watch List, its annual ranking of the top 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution. As Open Doors released the study they announced that “this year the threshold was higher for a country to make the list, indicating that worldwide levels of persecution have increased.” The most challenging statistic of the study showed that roughly 4,344 Christians were killed for their faith in 2014, more than double the 2,123 killed in 2013, which in turn was nearly double the 1,201 who lost their lives to violence the year before.
Overall in 2014, pressure on Christian increased in 29 countries, decreased in 11 and remained stable in 7. Three countries were added to the watch list this year – Mexico, Turkey, and Azerbaijan, while Bahrain, Niger, and Morocco dropped off.
The researchers at Open Doors measure persecution as “the degree of freedom a Christian has to live out his or her faith in five spheres of life (private, family, community, national, and church life,)” as well as by tallying acts of violence. They emphasize the fact that much of the persecution taking place in the world is not necessarily violent, but instead looks like a more subtle “squeeze” which makes daily life harder for Christians who wish to practice their faith. The persecution being felt by Christians in these countries stems from two main drivers, the primary being what the researchers title “Islamic Extremism” and the secondary being “dictatorial paranoia” in countries such as North Korea and China.
The top five countries where Christians experience religious persecution are North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
If you are interested to learn more you can visit the Open Doors website where the study is published here: https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/world-watch-list/
Or, read Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra’s extensive review of the information here:
As Christians living in the United States how should we respond to this news? Here’s a few thoughts:
First, we need to maintain a certain level of perspective in realizing that injustice is universal. Christians in many places around the world are being persecuted. Certainly Jews today, and in the past, have also experienced great persecution. Likewise, Muslims today, and in the past, have experienced great persecution, as have many other groups. Acknowledging that persecution is universal and that it is always and forever wrong helps us maintain perspective and credibility as we fight to end persecution, and win others to our cause.
Second, it is a reminder not to be flippant with our own beliefs or our ability to worship freely. As we remember those who have been imprisoned or killed for their Christianity, let us not be casual with our own.
Finally, if we are tempted to become angry or embittered towards certain people groups who may, or may not be responsible for persecution, let us always remember the way of Jesus who taught us to pray for our enemies and to operate with hearts of forgiveness. As we live lives of forgiveness we are freed from the captivity of anger and bitterness and released to work for peace and the betterment of those around us. This is a high calling and lofty goal, but we follow a Savior who won by dying. We certainly should not wish for that ourselves, but his grace, forgiveness, mercy and love toward us can empower us to respond with the same.