What is Christian persecution?

A woman in India watches as her sister is dragged off by Hindu nationalists. She doesn’t know if her sister is alive or dead.

 

A man in a North Korean prison camp is shaken awake after being beaten unconscious; the beatings begin again.

 

A woman in Nigeria runs for her life. She has escaped from Boko Haram, who kidnapped her. She is pregnant, and when she returns home, her community will reject her and her baby.

 

A group of children are laughing and talking as they come down to their church’s sanctuary after eating together. Instantly, many of them are killed by a bomb blast. It’s Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka.

These people don’t live in the same region, or even on the same continent. But they share an important characteristic: They are all Christians, and they suffer because of their faith. While Christian persecution takes many forms, it is defined as any hostility experienced as a result of identification with Jesus Christ. From Sudan to Afghanistan, from Nigeria to North Korea, from Colombia to India, followers of Christianity are targeted for their faith. They are attacked. They are discriminated against at work and at school. They risk sexual violence, torture, arrest and much more.

But the pain and the tragedy are not the whole story. James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” That joy is what we see when we hear and work with Christians all over the world who suffer because they serve Jesus. God cares for His people, and He will never leave or forsake them.

Why does Christian persecution happen?

Above: Photo courtesy of IMB.org

There are many reasons why Christians are persecuted. Sometimes, religion may be tied to ethnic or cultural identity. In other places, governments that thrive on power view Jesus as competition and those who follow Him as threats to their control. Still, other areas put such a high value on their majority religion that any other faith is seen as something to be rooted out and violently oppressed.

Here are some of the main reasons Christians are targeted for following Jesus:

1. Authoritarian governments who view Christianity as a threat to power

In some countries, Christian persecution takes place under authoritarian governments. In places like North Korea or Eritrea, authoritarian governments seek to control all religious thought and expression as part of a comprehensive plan to tightly oversee all aspects of political and everyday life. These governments regard some religious groups as enemies of the state because they hold religious beliefs that may challenge loyalty to the rulers.

2. Suspicion of anything outside the majority cultural faith

In some places, there is great hostility toward nontraditional and minority religious groups viewed as foreign or non-native to the culture. For example, in Niger, more than 98% of the population is Muslim, and hostility comes more from society than from the government. In India, Hindu nationalists claim that to be Indian is to be Hindu, so non-Hindus—religious minorities like Christians and Muslims—are targeted for abuse. In these places, to be a Christian is to claim an identity other than the one claimed by the dominant culture, and that is often powerfully opposed.

3. Extremist groups who want to destroy Christians

In some areas of the world, there are radicalized extremist groups who wage war against anyone who doesn’t adhere to their specific interpretation of religion. For instance, in places like the Middle East and Nigeria, Islamic extremist groups terrorize communities and churches, killing those they consider to be “infidels” (often in coordinated bombings), raping and kidnapping women, and burning down homes and churches. Their victims can be fellow adherents of a religion—for instance, Boko Haram attacks on Muslims in Nigeria—but they always target Christians out of hatred for other faiths.

4. Official and cultural domination of a single religion

Around the world, there are many places that have official laws instilled to tightly control or even discourage Christians from openly practicing their faith, all in the name of service to a dominant religion. In places like the Maldives or Saudi Arabia, Islam is such a dominant religion that to try to worship Jesus openly can be unheard of—especially outside of the prescribed (and restrictive) settings. In places like Pakistan, the laws are guided by Islamic law, which means if a Christian is accused of “blasphemy,” they can be sentenced to death. Christians in Iran are only allowed to worship in churches that don’t speak the language of everyday Iranians. And in places like Malaysia, there are restrictive rules about conversion from Islam for certain ethnic groups.

5. Religious freedom is a disrespected human right

Freedom of religion, like all freedoms of thought and expression, is inherent. Our beliefs help define who we are and serve as a foundation for what we contribute to our societies. However, today, many people live under governments that abuse or restrict freedom of religion. Christians in such areas face persecution, suffer deeply, and are denied basic freedoms that humans should be entitled to.

For instance, in Eritrea, there are violations of the freedom of expression, assembly, and religious belief and movement, in addition to extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, extended detention, torture, and indefinite national service, which cause many Eritreans to flee the country.

In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This declaration came as a result of the treatment of the Jews in Nazi Germany. The document states that every person is entitled to basic human rights. This reaffirmed the dignity and worth of all human beings regardless of a person’s race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth, or another status. In 1966, the United Nations developed the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in addition to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 18 of the ICCPR focuses on four elements of religious freedom:

  • Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others, and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
  • No one shall be subject to coercion, which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.
  • Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
  • The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.

When countries restrict religious freedom—including the free expression of Christianity and free worship of Jesus—they are rejecting this vital human right, which is built into the conscience of every human being and has been validated time-and-time again throughout history.

What is Global Christian Relief doing to help address the issue of Christian persecution?

Above: Photo courtesy of IMB.org

Our vision for Global Christian Relief (GCR) is to create the most extensive, covert network serving persecuted Christians, from North Korea and Iran to Afghanistan and Sudan, and everywhere God’s people are threatened, vulnerable or alone.

Our goal at Global Christian Relief is simple: to meet the needs of millions of persecuted believers so they can be a light for the gospel in their communities and advance the Great Commission. We’ll do this through:

  • Visionary projects: We’re working alongside partners in the field for long-term impact. We want to help the church stand strong—and partner with the local believers who know what the church needs to thrive.
  • Global access: We want to take you into the countries where it’s hard to live for Jesus and connect you with your brothers and sisters, risking everything to follow Him.
  • Expanded networks: We will serve God’s people wherever the need is greatest. No matter what. No matter the boundaries.
  • Impact and stories: When you give to Global Christian Relief, you deserve to know where your dollars are going and who they’re helping. We are committed to sharing the unheard stories of persecuted believers so you can see exactly how your support impacts the church.
  • The Frontline Partner program: Our Frontline Partners enable us to be nimble and meet the always changing needs of our persecuted family. Through your monthly Frontline Partner gift, you’ll help meet both short- and long-term needs.

Read more about Global Christian Relief on our About Us page.