New research reveals one more reason to remember 2014: for the greatest number of religious freedom violations against Christians worldwide in recent memory—even in Christian-majority countries. Of the worst 50 nations, 4 out of 5 share the same primary cause. And, while the number of martyrdoms did double from 2013, the main driver of persecution in 2014 wasn’t violence.
Open Doors released today its latest World Watch List (WWL). The annual list ranks the top 50 countries “where Christians face the most persecution,” aiming to create “effective anger” on believers’ behalf.
“This year, the threshold was higher for a country to make the list, indicating that worldwide levels of persecution have increased,” stated Open Doors in announcing its analysis of the “significant trends” in 2014 that drove persecution higher worldwide, “even in places where it has not been reported in the past.”
So while countries such as Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) fell significantly in rank on this year’s watch list (Sri Lanka dropped 15 spots to No. 44, and the UAE dropped 14 spots to No. 49), their level of persecution dropped only slightly from last year’s list (by four points and two points, respectively, on a 100-point scale). And while three countries—Bahrain, Morocco, and Niger—were removed from the list this year, the level of persecution in each remained virtually the same from 2013 to 2014.
Overall in 2014, pressure on Christians increased in 29 countries, decreased in 11, and remained stable in 7. Three countries—Mexico, Turkey, and Azerbaijan—were added to the watch list this year.
Open Doors researchers measure persecution by “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.
Researchers calculate that 4,344 Christians were “killed for faith-related reasons” in 2014, which is “more than double the 2,123 killed in 2013, and more than triple the 1,201 killed the year before that,” reports World Watch Monitor (WWM). (Measuring martyrdoms has drawn debate in recent years, and Open Doors is usually on the conservative end of estimates.) By far the largest number of deaths occurred in Nigeria, where 2,484 Christians were killed; the next deadliest country for Christians was the Central African Republic (CAR), with 1,088 deaths. The remaining three deadliest countries were Syria (271 deaths), Kenya (119 deaths), and North Korea (100 deaths).
In addition, 1,062 churches were “attacked for faith-related reasons” in 2014.The majority of attacks took place in five countries: China (258 churches), Vietnam (116 churches), Nigeria (108 churches), Syria (107 churches), and the Central African Republic (100 churches). Last year’s highest-profile incident: a government campaign to “de-Christianize” the skyline of one of China’s most Christian cities. (The Pew Research Center also recently tallied the countries with the most government destruction of religious property.)
But it wasn’t increased violence that primarily drove persecution to record levels in 2014, but rather increased “cultural marginalization,” according to Open Doors. In other words, the “more subtle ‘squeeze’ dimensions of persecution” which make “daily life … harder and harder” for Christians. A substantial study by the Pew Research Center found that nearly 75 percent of the world’s population now lives in countries with high levels of social hostility involving religion. [CT compared how both groups rank the world’s worst persecutors.]
“Even Christian-majority states are experiencing unprecedented levels of exclusion, discrimination, and violence,” said David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA. “The 2015 World Watch List reveals that a staggering number of Christians are becoming victims of intolerance and violence because of their faith. They are being forced to be more secretive about their faith.”
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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra