“Just stand with us, be a voice for us, and stand for us when we are in pain.” That is the call to the American church from Benita,* a Christian woman from India who has been persecuted for her faith.
On Thursday, Open Doors released its annual World Watch List. The list helps activists, policy makers and those interested in international religious freedom acknowledge the crisis of religious persecution around the world as Christians experience it.
The World Watch List - which goes through an independent audit before publication - ranks the 50 worst perpetrators of Christian persecution and categorizes countries as high, very high or severe oppressors. According to the research, three trends are driving the current levels of persecution:
Rogue Nations: These use police state and security structures to stamp out any identity or meaning outside of the country’s leadership.
Oppression of Women: Forced marriage, rape, and sexual harassment are being deployed as tactics and added forms of oppression against females.
Spread of violent extremism within Islam: Suicide bombings, executions and marginalization of non-conforming people and groups continue to grow.
The data help us understand the importance and breadth of the issues. Some countries on the list are in the news almost every day. North Korea (#1) and Iran (#10) are two examples. With missile launches from North Korea and protests in Iran, both countries are vitally important to U.S. foreign policy. But these challenges do not come out of a vacuum; they are supported by repressive policies that harm people by denying their political, economic and religious rights. The World Watch list helps show how religious freedom is part of the constellation of rights and how their diminution contributes to some of the greatest geopolitical challenges we face.
But the Watch List, perhaps more importantly, brings to light the atrocities committed in places we might not hear about in major headlines. Sudan (#4) is a country that several years ago was often in the news, but today is rarely mentioned. Yet church destruction is continuing despite governmental assurances that the country is improving its human rights record. In tiny Eritrea (#6), the government continues to deny the ability of religious leaders to shepherd their flocks. It also tortures and detains prisoners who are held simply for trying to live out their faith.
David Curry, CEO of Open Doors USA, dedicated the event to “a 47-year-old nun, who, like Mother Teresa (did), works with the poorest of the poor in India.” She has faced many threats on her life from Hindu extremists for working with the poor in Jesus’ name. She was attacked, raped and tied to her bed. Rather than helping, police destroyed evidence. “Today … that is what justice is like for Christians in India” added Mr. Curry.
Mr. Curry called for leaders around the world to pursue justice so that all people have “the right to decide for themselves, in their own hearts and own minds, what they believe. Or if they want to have no faith at all.”
There are actions that can be taken today for the sake of persecuted people around the world. And our leaders should leverage these opportunities. When U.S. Vice President Mike Pence goes to Egypt he should raise the issues of the second class of citizenship that Christian Egyptians face.
It also means that there are things we can do as ordinary citizens. Christian Egyptian woman Tabitha* asked us all to pray. “When you pray with us, you feel our pain,” she said.
Nathan Wineinger Director of Government Relations
1. Read the World Watch List and pick a country to pray for throughout 2018: https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/world-watch-list/?display=list
2. Read the full report on the country you choose: https://www.opendoorsusa.org/2018-world-watch-list-report/
3. Write to the White House and ask Vice President Pence to raise persecution issues with the leadership of the countries he visits on his Middle East tour.
*Names changed due to security concerns.
(c) 2018 Wilberforce Initiative