An Egyptian protester holds a poster depicting Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, center, holding his two sons, with the colors of the American flag and Arabic writing that reads, "with no comment," during a march marking the first anniversary of 26 Coptic Christians killed during an anti-government demonstration, in front of the National State T.V. building, known as Maspero, in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012. Muslim clerics, Christian priests, activists and former liberal lawmakers were among those marching to mark the anniversary of the "Maspero massacre," referring to the name of the state TV building, where the clashes broke out a year ago. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Updated: May 1, 2013 2:17PM
Nearly a third of the world’s population celebrates Good Friday and Easter this weekend, testimony to the influence of a religion that is a foundational pillar of Western civilization and the advancement of human rights. Yet, the observance of the faithful is shadowed by the reality that Christians are persecuted in a third of the nations of the world and are literally running for their lives from parts of the Middle East where the faith originated.
At least 100 million Christians in 65 countries suffer persecution, according to Open Doors USA, a non-denominational organization supporting oppressed Christians. That persecution can come from terrorism, as is the case with the so-called “Arab spring” that unleashed killings, assaults and arson against Coptic Christians in Egypt. Civil war in Syria forced tens of thousands of Christians to flee the country as violence and abductions targeted their community, Open Doors reports. The chaos of the worst years of the Iraqi war resulted in the number of churches falling to 57 today from more than 300 in 2003, according to the MidEast Christian News service.
Or oppression can originate with governments. North Korea outlaws Christianity and punishes Christians with imprisonment in labor camps or even death, reports Open Doors. Saudi Arabia decrees death for conversion to Christianity. Pakistan is notorious for directing draconian blasphemy laws against Christians.
We know of the widespread oppression thanks to the work of Open Doors and other organizations and individuals alarmed by the growth of bigotry against Christians.
International Christian Concern operates the website Persecution.org to document assaults on Christians around the world. Recent postings report on discriminatory building regulations and forced church closures in Indonesia; mob violence by Buddhist nationalists against Christians, and Muslims, in Sri Lanka, and Sudan’s air strikes killing Christian civilians in the Nuba Mountains region.
Open Doors maintains a list of the countries where the worst oppression occurs. The top 20 include Muslim nations such as Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Mali, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Pakistan, Libya, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Qatar, countries where persecution is rated as extreme or severe.
Muslim persecution of Christians is tracked by Raymond Ibrahim of the Gatestone Institute and the Middle East Forum. His recent work reported about Syrian rebels beheading a Christian and feeding his body to dogs, Saudi religious police raiding a house and detaining 41 people for “plotting to celebrate Christmas,” and the murder by Islamic gunmen of a convert to Christianity in Somalia. Ibrahim began his work to document that “the persecution of Christians in the Islamic world is on its way to reaching pandemic proportions.”
According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Christians make up 4 percent of the people of the Middle East and North Africa, Christianity’s birthplace. It was 20 percent a century ago. It’s worth noting the Christian population is growing in Israel, the only state in the region built on Western values and a refuge for Christians persecuted elsewhere. In the latest Open Doors list, the Palestinian Territories jumped from 44th to 36th in the ranking of persecution of Christians.
Oppression of Christians is of profound significance beyond the faithful. Journalist Rupert Shortt, author of “Christianophobia,” published by the British think tank Civitas, wisely observes, “Religious freedom is the canary in the mine for human-rights generally.”