By Jeremy Weber
For the third year in a row, the modern persecution of Christians worldwide has hit another record high.
But the primary cause, Islamic extremism, now has a rival: ethnic nationalism.
Thus, Asia increasingly merits concern alongside the Middle East, according to the 2017 World Watch List (WWL) released today by Open Doors.
This being the list’s 25th anniversary, Open Doors also released an analysis of persecution trends over the past quarter-century.
The annual list examines the pressures faced by Christians in five spheres of life (private, family, community, national, and church), plus levels of religiously motivated violence, in order to rank the top 50 countries where “Christians face the most persecution.” [Full list below.]
In 25 years of “chronicling and ranking” the political and societal restrictions on religious freedom experienced by Christians worldwide, Open Doors researchers identified 2016 as the “worst year yet.”
“Persecution rose globally again for the third year in a row, indicating how volatile the situation has become,” stated Open Doors. “Countries in South and Southeast Asia rapidly rose to unprecedented levels and now rank among such violent areas as the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa.”
The findings and trends noted by Open Doors are stark:
- Approximately 215 million Christians experience high, very high, or extreme persecution.
- North Korea remains the most dangerous place to be a Christian (for 14 straight years).
- Islamic extremism remains the global dominant driver of persecution, responsible for initiating oppression and conflict in 35 out of the 50 countries on the 2017 list.
- Ethnic nationalism is fast becoming a major driver of persecution. “While this took an anti-establishment form in the West, in Asia it took an anti-minorities form, fueled by dramatic religious nationalism and government insecurity. It is common—and easy—for tottering governments to gain quick support by scapegoating Christians.”
- The total number of persecution incidents in the top 50 most dangerous countries increased, revealing the persecution of Christians worldwide as a rising trend.
- The most violent: Pakistan, which rose to No. 4 on the list for a level of violence “exceeding even northern Nigeria.”
- The killings of Christians in Nigeria saw an increase of more than 62 percent.
- The killings of Christians were more geographically dispersed than in most time periods studied. “Hitting closer to home, 23 Christian leaders in Mexico and four in Colombia were killed specifically for their faith,” said Open Doors of the “rare” event.
- The worst increase: Mali, which moved up the most places on the list from No. 44 to No. 32.
- Asia is a new center of concern, with persecution rising sharply in Bangladesh, Laos, and Bhutan, and Sri Lanka joining the list for the first time.
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