The Persecuted Church
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Serhii Ivashchuk
I’ve often heard Christians in the U.S. speak about being “persecuted” for their beliefs, or for being marginalized as a result of their convictions. While I believe there have been isolated cases of Christians in America being wrongly prosecuted for taking various stands, I’m not ready to call anything any American Christian has suffered persecution.
Not when real persecution exists around the world in ways that can only be deemed unconscionable. As in imprisonment, torture and death. Currently 2,983 Christians are killed every year. In other words, eight Christians are killed for their faith every day.
A study just released by the Pew Research Center has found that government restrictions on religion have reached their highest level globally in more than a decade. The total number of countries with “high” or “very high” levels of government restrictions has risen to 56, representing 28% of all countries/territories in the world.
Most of these countries are in the Asia-Pacific region (25 countries, or half of all countries in that region) or the Middle East-North Africa region (18 countries, or 90% of all countries in the region). Of the two, the Asia-Pacific region has the largest increase due to a greater number of governments in the region using force against religious groups, including property damage, detention, displacement, abuse and killings.
China continues to have the highest score on the Government Restrictions Index (GRI) out of all 198 countries and territories in the study. The Chinese government restricts religion in a variety of ways, including banning entire religious groups (such as the Falun Gong movement and several Christian groups), prohibiting certain religious practices, raiding places of worship, and detaining and torturing individuals.
Of particular interest to Christians would be the rising number of “anti-conversion” laws—not simply in Muslim countries, but in places such as India in regard to Hinduism. In all, 21 countries currently criminalize what they deem “apostasy” (e.g., a Muslim or Hindu becoming a Christian).
The good news?
Consider China, where the Protestant church has grown from 1.3 million members in 1949 to at least 81 million members today. The Catholic Church in China has grown from 3 million members to more than 12 million during the same 50-year period.
But make no mistake:
American Christians are not being persecuted,
… but Christians in other countries are.
“In 2018, Government Restrictions on Religion Reach Highest Level Globally in More than a Decade,” Pew Research Center, November 10, 2020, read online.
Jayson Casper, “Pew and IDOP Agree: Religious Persecution Is Worsening Worldwide,” Christianity Today, November 10, 2020, read online.
International Day of Prayer (IDOP), read online.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.