There are two significant sources of Christian persecution in Colombia. One is the targeting of Christians, and especially Christian leaders, by criminal groups and paramilitary organizations that operate in places with what is called a “limited state presence”, essentially the jungle where the army fears to go.
Up to 40% of the country might be in this category. Pastors are killed routinely though it’s rarely reported. They are targeted because they refuse to allow their congregations to be recruited into the drug trade. Churches are frequently closed down too, but the threat of violence is ever present. This extends even into the cities.
In the capital, Bogota, a 2018 report claimed that 13% of Christian leaders had received death threats, and over 3% were targeted for extortion. The other significant source is on indigenous reserves, who are allowed by a strange 1998 Constitutional Court ruling to bar the practice of “non-traditional religions” on their reserves. Christian converts in these areas face severe harassment and are often forced to flee. This amounts to Colombia being perhaps the hardest country in Latin America to practice the Christian faith unmolested.
President Ivan Duque Marquez
“It seems that violence touches everyone. I have a church in central Bogota, yet still I get asked to pay a protection tax to those representing cartels. If I go to the police, it will only get worse as they are so compromised. So far I pay, but every day I agonise over whether I am not taking a strong enough stance.”
PASTOR IN BOGOTA
History of Christianity in Colombia
Spanish conquerors arrived in 1499, and violently displaced indigenous empires with genocidal ferocity. In their wake came Catholic orders, not all of whom were out to exploit the natives. From this the country became overwhelmingly Catholic, with 73% of the population today identifying as Catholic. Protestants arrived in the 19th century and constitute approximately 14% of the population today.
Evangelicals as a group however are significantly undercounted throughout Latin America, and Colombia may be no exception. It could be that they constitute 20% of the population, particularly after experiencing a Pentecostal explosion in recent decades. Some Catholic Bishops believe that on any given Sunday, there are more Protestant than Catholic worshippers in the churches.
Although the constitution allows for the free practice of religion, Christians have suffered here from the terrible civil war waged by groups such as the FARC and other outlawed groups that in their heyday controlled over half the country’s territory. A deal signed between the government and the FARC in 2016 has so far not resulted in a strong peace dividend for Christians in these areas, and criminal groups have increased their involvement in the drug trade in the last ten years. Christians who stand against these racketeers face severe persecution, and violence is never far from the practice of Christianity in this country.