Christianity arguably the most persecuted religion in the world

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Pastor Dale Morgan

Dec 5, 2010, 5:15:40 AM12/5/10
Faith Under Fire....

Christianity arguably the most persecuted religion in the world

Published On Sat Dec 04 2010
Toronto Star

Bullet holes on a stone relief of the Virgin Mary which decorated the entrance to the Sayidat al-Nejat Catholic Cathedral, or Syrian Catholic Church, in central Baghdad on Nov. 1, 2010, the day after seven security force members and 46 Christian worshippers were killed.

Bullet holes on a stone relief of the Virgin Mary which decorated the entrance to the Sayidat al-Nejat Catholic Cathedral, or Syrian Catholic Church, in central Baghdad on Nov. 1, 2010, the day after seven security force members and 46 Christian worshippers were killed

Earlier this month, Christians who are free to observe their faith gathered in churches around the world for the annual International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. They recited pre-written invocations for fellow Christians who face violence and oppression.

Maybe pew-bound Christians should instead heed the sentiments of escaped American slave Frederick Douglass: “I prayed for 20 years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”

Certainly, there are many reasons to take action:

Terrified Christians in Iraq are still mourning the 50-plus deaths in an Oct. 31 attack against worshippers attending mass at Our Lady of Salvation church in Baghdad, in which a militant group called the Islamic State of Iraq sprayed the sanctuary with bullets.

 • StarAsia Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian mother of five in Pakistan, remains on death row — after spending more than a year in prison — for allegedly blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad. Last week, a court blocked a presidential pardon until an appeals court hears her case. Also in Pakistan, police said two Muslim extremists shot a Christian to death in Punjab province shortly after the victim was granted bail in a “blasphemy” case — and less than a week after Islamic militants in the same province killed four members of a Christian family for their faith.

 • In Uzbekistan, a Christian man has been fined the equivalent of seven years' salary for possessing a movie about Jesus.

 • The Vietnamese government has announced the continuation of a massive military operation to “wipe out” Christians in the central highlands who refuse to join the state-approved church.

Christianity is arguably — and perhaps counter-intuitively — the most persecuted religion in the world. And the reason for the blissful obliviousness to that fact of well-fed Christians in the West is “ignorance,” says Michael Horowitz, a U.S. Jewish activist who has written on Christian persecution. Horowitz contends this lack of awareness “is fostered by preconceptions and conventional wisdoms that lead many in the West to dismiss anti-Christian persecution as improbable, untrue, impossible.”

Persecution of Christians just doesn't compute. After all, it's the faith of record in the world's richest and most powerful countries, where Christians have been ensconced for centuries.

And given Christianity's well-documented history of brutality, modern-day elites are more conditioned to think of Christian believers as the persecutors, not the victims, says Horowitz.

But the face of Christianity has changed drastically. “There's still the mindset that Christianity is white, Western and European,” says Paul Marshall, of the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., and a former senior fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom.

Today, he points out, two-thirds of the world's Christians live outside the West. “The average Christian, if one can use that term, is now a Nigerian woman,” Marshall says. And numbering 2 billion, there are plenty of Christians to oppress.

Virtually every human rights group and Western government agency that monitors the plight of Christians worldwide arrives at more or less the same conclusion: Between 200 million and 230 million of them face daily threats of murder, beating, imprisonment and torture, and a further 350 to 400 million encounter discrimination in areas such as jobs and housing. A conservative estimate of the number of Christians killed for their faith each year is somewhere around 150,000.

Christians are “the largest single group in the world which is being denied human rights on the basis of their faith,” the World Evangelical Alliance has noted.

In a report to a conference on Christian persecution hosted by the European Parliament last month, the U.S. Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life put it this way: while Muslims and Jews worldwide and Baha'is in Iran certainly suffer too, Christians were “harassed” by government factors in 102 countries and by social factors, such as mob rule, in 101 countries.

“Altogether, Christians faced some form of harassment in two-thirds of all countries,” or 133 nations, the report said. Muslims also face “substantial” harassment, the Pew report found, but in fewer countries.

Christians face harassment in more countries “than any other religious group,” a Pew Forum spokesperson told the Star.

Put in sharper focus, “at least” 75 per cent of all religious persecution in the world is directed against Christians, the conference was told.

The euphemistic term “harassment” encompasses vigilante and terrorist attacks against Christians in more than a dozen Muslim countries. In Sudan, an estimated 1.5 million Christians have been murdered by the Islamic Janjaweed militia, including some who were crucified. In Nigeria, 12 states have introduced sharia law. Thousands of Christians were killed in the ensuing violence.

In Saudi Arabia, the only faith permitted by law is Islam. Christians are regularly imprisoned and tortured on trumped-up charges of drinking alcohol, blaspheming or owning religious artifacts.

In Egypt, Coptic Christians are still reeling from a church attack last January in which eight worshippers were killed. “The situation is deteriorating and is very tense,” Sam Fanous, a leader of Toronto's Coptic community, told the Star from Cairo. He said that after Friday Muslim prayers, streets fill with anti-Coptic protests.

In historically tolerant Indonesia, Islamic militias have bombed churches in majority Christian regions and killed or forcibly converted thousands.

China, meantime, continues to shutter “underground” churches and ship pastors to prison.

Open Doors International, a group that reaches out to persecuted Christians, lists the 10 most repressive countries for minority religions and Christians in particular: North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Maldives, Afghanistan, Yemen, Mauritania, Laos and Uzbekistan.

The plight of Christians in Communist and formerly Communist countries is “slowly easing,” says Marshall, but getting worse in India and across the Muslim and Arab world, where even to own a Bible means courting danger.

The reasons for this torment are complex, but generally in these places Christianity is seen as a proselytizing faith and a vehicle for Western imperialism and colonialism. “There is a tendency to associate Christianity with the West,” Marshall says.

So why aren't Christians marching in the streets and demanding action the way Jews did on behalf of their Soviet brethren in the 1970s and '80s?

“Because most of the persecution of Christians is not happening in our own backyard and the issue is not generally reported in the mainstream media,” says Corey Odden, CEO of The Voice of the Martyrs Canada, which is dedicated to raising awareness and support for persecuted Christians around the world.

“The lack of understanding comes from a lack of knowledge.”

Marshall, co-author of a 1997 book about Christian persecution, Their Blood Cries Out, has another reply: “I kick myself [and] ask myself that all the time.”
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