The Ignored Pandemic: 360 Million Christians Persecuted Worldwide

February 15, 2022

6 min read

The year 2021 “saw the worst persecution of Christians in history”—with an average of 16 Christians butchered for their faith every single day.

This is according to the World Watch List-2022 (WWL), which was recently published by the international humanitarian organization, Open Doors.  The report ranks the top 50 countries where Christians are most persecuted for their faith. Annually published and released at the beginning of each year, the WWL uses data from field workers and external experts to quantify and analyze persecution worldwide.

According to the WWL-2022 (covering from Oct. 1, 2020 – Sept. 30, 2021), “over 360 million Christians suffer high levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith—a rise of 20 million from last year. The number represents one in seven Christians worldwide. This year records the highest levels of persecution since the first list was published 29 years ago…”

For this same reporting period, 5,898 Christians were murdered “for their faith,” a number representing a 24% increase from 2021 (when only 4,761 Christians were killed).  Additionally, “6,175 believers [were] detained without trial, arrested, sentenced or imprisoned,” and 3,829 Christians were abducted.

Perhaps even more reflective of the hate for Christianity, 5,110 churches and other inanimate Christian buildings (schools, monasteries, etc.), were attacked and profaned.

Crunching these numbers into daily averages, the above statistics mean that every single day around the world, more than 16 Christians were murdered for their faith; 27 were either illegally arrested and imprisoned by non-Christian authorities, or abducted by non-Christian actors; and 14 churches were destroyed or desecrated.

For the first time since these WWL reports were published, Afghanistan, which for years was usually ranked the #2 worst nation (following North Korea) shot up to the #1 spot, meaning “Afghanistan is now the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian.”  Additionally,

Christian men are facing almost certain death if their faith is discovered.

Women and girls may escape death but may be married to young Taliban fighters who want “spoils of war.” When women and girls are raped, they will be trafficked.

The incoming Taliban government gained access to recordings and reports that helped to identify Christians who were often detained, in order to identify networks of Christians, before being killed.

Taliban fighters are actively tracking down Christians from existing intelligence, even going door-to-door to find them.

Ten other nations, following Afghanistan, received the same “extreme persecution” designation, meaning they are only marginally safer for Christians.  They are: North Korea (#2), Somalia (#3), Libya (#4), Yemen (#5), Eritrea (#6), Nigeria (#7), Pakistan (#8), Iran (#9), India (#10), and Saudi Arabia (#11).  In these countries, Christians face persecution ranging from being harassed, beat, raped, imprisoned, or slaughtered merely for being identified as Christian or attending church.

Notably, the “extreme persecution” meted out to Christians in nine of these top 11 worst nations either comes from Islamic oppression or is occurring in Muslim majority nations.  That means 82% of the absolute worst persecution is taking place in the name of Islam.

This trend affects the entire list:  the persecution Christians experience in 39 of the 50 nations on the list is also either from Islamic oppression or is occurring in Muslim majority nations. The overwhelming majority of these nations are governed by some form of shari’a (Islamic law). It is either directly enforced by government or society or, more frequently, both, although societies—family members outraged by convert relatives in particular—tend to be more zealous in its application.

In a section titled, “Emboldened: The ‘Talibanization of West Africa and beyond,” the report suggests that this trend is only worsening:

[T]he fall of Kabul has fuelled [sic] a new mood of invulnerability among other jihadist groups worldwide. The groups believe that they won’t face serious opposition from the West for their expansionist agendas and are exploiting nations with weak or corrupt governments. …..Sub-Saharan Africa, already the place where violence against Christians is highest, has faced further steep rises in jihadist violence, with fears that a significant part of the region faces destabilization….

In another section, the report elaborates:

In Nigeria and Cameroon, Boko Haram continues to wreak havoc, the Islamic State group is active in West Africa and Mozambique, and al Shabab controls large portions of Somalia. It seems like nothing can be done to stop the advance of Islamic extremism.

We know what radical Islamic ideology looks like for believers because we’ve seen it in Iraq and Syria. When ISIS took over parts of the Middle East, Christians were executed, abducted, sexually assaulted and hunted. Where groups like Boko Haram and al Shabab are active, similar threats are inevitable. When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, they tried to appear moderate—but there’s no sign that Christianity will be anything other than a death sentence.

Although Islam continues to have the lions’ share of persecution, religious nationalism in non-Muslim nations is also causing them to rise in the ranks.   In Myanmar (#12),

Converts to Christianity … find themselves persecuted by their Buddhist, Muslim or tribal families and communities because they have left their former faith and have thereby removed themselves from community life. Communities who aim to stay ‘Buddhist only’ make life for Christian families impossible by not allowing them to use neighborhood water resources.

Rising Hindu nationalism has catapulted India into #10, among the “extreme persecuting” nations:

The persecution of Christians in India has intensified, as Hindu extremists aim to cleanse the country of their presence and influence. The extremists disregard Indian Christians and other religious minorities as true Indians, and think the country should be purified of non-Hindus. This has led to a systemic—and often violent—targeting of Christians and other religious minorities, including use of social media to spread disinformation and stir up hatred. The COVID-19 pandemic has offered a new weapon to persecutors. In some areas, Christians have been deliberately overlooked in the local distribution of government aid and have even been accused of spreading the virus.

Several other nations have, one way or another, exploited COVID-19 to discriminate against or persecute Christians.  For example, “COVID-19 gave Chinese authorities (#17) a reason to shut down many churches—and keep them shut.”

Similarly, in Qatar, “Violence against Christians rose sharply because many churches were forced to stay closed after COVID-19 restrictions.”  Moreover, Qatar—“host for this year’s World Cup, where converts from Islam especially face physical, psychological and (for women) sexual violence”—jumped 11 spots (now #18 from #29 last year).

In Bangladesh (#29), local authorities told Muslim converts to Christianity who, like their Muslim counterparts, sought governmental aid “to return to Islam or receive nothing.”  As one Bangladeshi explained, “We see many villagers and neighbors receive relief aid from government support but we Christians do not get any support.”

In the Central African Republic (#31), which was “hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic … Christians were denied government aid and told to convert to Islam if they wanted to eat.”

Another notable trend concerns the growing number of internally or externally displaced people—84 million: “a significant number [of whom] are Christians fleeing religious persecution.” Those Christians that end up as refugees in neighboring Muslim nations “can be denied humanitarian and other practical assistance by authorities.”  Additionally,

Christian women fleeing their homes and seeking safety report sexual assault to be the leading source of persecution, with multiple reports of women and children subjected to rape, sexual slavery, and more, both in camps and while they journey in search of safety. Poverty and insecurity compound their vulnerability, with some drawn into prostitution to survive. As jihadism spreads and destabilizes nations, we can expect this Christian exodus to multiply further.

Although the report is limited to the 50 worst persecuting nations, it appears that persecution in general is growing over all around the world.  For example, although North Korea is now ranked #2, as a reflection of how bad matters have gotten over all, the report explains that “The persecution score for North Korea actually went up [compared to last year], even though its ranking went down.”

Similarly, hate crimes against Christianity in Western Europe are at an all-time high.  According to a Nov. 16, 2021 report  by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, at least a quarter, though arguably much more, of all hate crimes registered in Europe in 2020 were anti-Christian—representing a 70% increase in comparison to 2019.  Christianity is, furthermore, the religion most targeted in hate crimes, with Judaism at a close second.

Although media outlets rarely identify those behind these anti-Christian hate crimes, many of which revolve around church vandalism, it is telling that the European nations suffering the most also happen to have Europe’s largest Muslim populations—namely, Germany (where anti-Christian hate crimes have more than doubled since 2019) and France (where two churches are reportedly attacked every single day, some, as in the Muslim world, with human feces).

Even so, and as a reflection of how bad matters have gotten elsewhere around the globe, no Western European nation made the top 50 list.

In the end, perhaps the most disturbing trend is that the number of persecuted Christians continues to grow annually. As seen, according to the newest statistics, 360 million Christians around the world are experiencing “high levels of persecution and discrimination.”  This represents a 6% increase from 2021, when 340 million Christians experienced the same level of persecution; and that number represented a 31 % increase from 2020, when 260 million Christians experienced the same level of persecution; and that number represented a 6% increase from 2019, when 245 million experienced the same level of persecution; and that number represented a 14% increase from 2018, when 215 million was the number.

In short, the persecution of Christians, which was already horrific, has increased by nearly 70% over the last five years, with no signs of abating.

How long before this seemingly irreversible trend metastasizes into those nations currently celebrated for their religious freedom?

Reprinted with author’s permission from Raymond Ibrahim

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