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Christians Under Fire, A Groundbreaking Study

In more than 60 countries, 80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination are directed toward Christians. A new study titled “Under Caesar’s Sword: Christian Response to Persecution” reveals the findings of 17 scholars in Christianity who traveled the world for three years to investigate how Christian communities respond when their religious freedom is severely violated. Referred to as the world’s first systematic global investigation of Christian responses to persecution, the 25 countries in which the scholars conducted qualitative research is where most of the persecution has taken place. [Exceptions are North Korea, which was inaccessible for research, and Eritrea, Somalia and Yemen, which were outside of the project’s logistical capabilities.]

The first-hand research attempts to answer three questions: how do Christian communities respond to repression? why do they choose the responses that they do? and what are the results of these responses?

In many countries, Christians suffer persecution from both state and non-state actors. Government types include Communist, such as China, Cuba, North Korea, and Viet Nam; Islamist, like Saudi Arabia and Iran; religious nationalism, such as India, Sri Lanka, and Russia; and secular regimes, where examples are found in the post-Soviet republics of central Asia. Even some democracies host and/or enable discrimination and violence toward Christians, as happens in India and Indonesia. In addition to governments, non-state actors that persecute Christians include organized groups and terrorists such as ISIS in the Middle East, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hindu extremists in India, Boko Haram and Fulani militants in Nigeria, and al-Shabab in Somalia and Kenya.

Christian responses to persecution, which are not mutually exclusive, fall under three types:

SURVIVAL - whereby Christians intend to preserve the life and the most characteristic activities of their communities including worship, education, community life and often evangelization. This includes carrying on in secret, speaking in a language acceptable to a regime, and fleeing.

ASSOCIATION - a step beyond survival including building relationships, bridges, and partnerships. This includes engaging in interreligious dialogue, cooperating with other Christian communities and forging coalitions and partnerships inside countries.

CONFRONTATON - Christians openly challenge the persecuting government or non-state actors. This can involve protests or court proceedings, and can result in imprisonment, martyrdom, or in rare cases, taking up arms.

Major findings from Under Caesar’s Sword, released by the Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame, the Religious Freedom Institute, the Religious Freedom Research Project at Georgetown University with collaboration from Aid to the Church in Need, are:

  • Christian communities most commonly adopt survival strategies, then association, with confrontation being the least common response.

  • Christian responses to persecution are almost always nonviolent, and with very few exceptions, do not involve acts of terrorism.

  • Theology - a Christian community’s theology of suffering, church and culture influences the response of that community.

  • Protestant evangelical and Pentecostal Christians are more likely to be persecuted than mainline Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox Christians or other Christians associated with ancient churches.

  • The intensity of persecution only partly explains Christians’ responses.

  • Success can be difficult to define, but some strategies of response have produced tangible results worthy of emulation.

  • Mainstream media and human rights organization coverage of Christian persecution is minimal.

The authors included policy recommendations for persecuted communities, non-indigenous or multinational NGOs, external governments and multilateral institutions, churches and Christian communities, media and journalists, academics, and businesses. The findings are articulated through various media that can be accessed at

For those who wish to act in solidarity with persecuted Christians, this body of work challenges us to understand their response, to appreciate their courage and conviction, and to imitate their creative and faithful pragmatism.

Lou Ann Sabatier

Director of Strategy and Communications

Take Action:

1. Read Under Caesar’s Sword.

2. Watch the 26-minute documentary about how Christians respond to persecution.

3. Pray that this report will be widely distributed, that the recommendations will be embraced, and most importantly, pray for the persecuted.


(c) 2017 Wilberforce Initiative

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