I have been reading about the modern world’s persecution of Christians, the scope of which resembles New Testament times. It’s a rising trend and it saddens me.
Christianity Today reported in 2017 that “for the third year in a row, the modern persecution of Christians worldwide has hit another record high.” (“Countries Where It’s Hardest to Be a Christian” by Jeremy Weber, January 11, 2017)
According to the article, 215 million Christians experience “high, very high, or extreme persecution.” For perspective, the United States’ estimated population was approximately 326 million in November 2017. In other words, the number of persecuted Christians worldwide represents an amount equivalent to 66% of America’s population.
North Korea remains the most dangerous place to be a Christian. Christians there suffer terribly. The most violence against Christians occurs in Pakistan, exceeding even northern Nigeria,” the article continues. “Hitting closer to home, 23 Christian leaders in Mexico and four in Columbia were killed specifically for their faith.”
According to the article, the “top 10” nations where it is currently most dangerous and difficult to practice the Christian faith are North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, and Eritrea. The same article states that the “top 10” nations over the past 25-year span were North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Somalia, Afghanistan, Maldives, Yemen, Sudan, Vietnam, and China. Persecuted Christians in these places and others have asked to be remembered in our prayers.
“Islamic extremism” (distinguished from the Islamic faith) remains the dominant driver of Christian persecution according to the article, but “ethnic nationalism” is a significant driver too. It’s common for unstable governments to gain support by scapegoating Christians, the article informs.
Although it breaks God’s heart to see his believers persecuted, Jesus warned us that Christians would be persecuted for their faith — as it had occurred to Him. But He comforted us, assuring us that persecuted Christians do not face their persecutors alone.
“I am sending you our as sheep among wolves. Be as wary as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware! For you will be arrested and tried, and whipped in the synagogues. Yes, you must stand trial before governors and kings for my sake. This will give you the opportunity to tell them about me, yes, to witness to the world.When you are arrested, don’t worry about what to say at your trial, for you will be given the right words at the right time. For it won’t be you doing the talking – it will be the Spirit of your heavenly Father speaking through you! Brother shall betray brother to death, and fathers shall betray their own children. And children shall rise against their parents and cause their deaths. Everyone will hate you because you belong to me. But all of you who endure to the end shall be saved.” (Matthew 10:16-22)
Yet for all the violence that may be inflicted against Christians because of our faith, Christ does not want us to react or retaliate with fear, with hate, with anger, or with violence. Christ’s message from God is a message of love and forgiveness.
Perhaps forgiveness is the directive that we’ll struggle with most as we experience or witness persecution of those who follow Jesus’ teachings. Why? Because Jesus’s teachings require us to forgive those who persecute us for our faith.
“Your heavenly Father will forgive you (for your sins) if you forgive those who sin against you; but if you refuse to forgive them, he will not forgive you.” (Matthew 6:14-15)