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The Real Meaning of Religious Persecution

ICC Note:

This article in the American Spectator contrasts a growing hostility in America against Christians with persecution that believers experience around the world, highlighting a number of countries listed in a recent report on religious freedom published by the Hudson Institute.


2/2/09 North Korea, China, Iraq, Burma, Indonesia, Pakistan, Laos (AmericanSpectator) “The persecution of Christianity in America has begun,” complains Rick Scarborough of Vision America. He points to criticism of Christian supporters of California’s Proposition 8, banning gay marriage, and cites an email to him “so vile that I cannot reprint the letter.”

Some Christians may be treated badly, but Christians are not being persecuted.

In America, that is.

Elsewhere in the world there is persecution of Christians and other religious believers. Real persecution. The faithful are arrested and imprisoned. Their homes and churches are invaded and confiscated. And hundreds or thousands every year are martyred — sometimes by mobs and other times by governments.

Many think of ancient Rome when they think of persecution. But persecution continues in many guises. The Hudson Institute recently released Religious Freedom in the World, edited by Paul Marshall (published by Rowman & Littlefield). The book rates 101 countries, with 95 percent of the world’s population. Twenty of these nations are not free. Another 40 are only partly free.

In many of these countries everyone is oppressed. But religious believers often are singled out for particularly harsh treatment. For instance, Religious Freedom in the World describes North Korea: “Defectors report that Christians are given the heaviest work, the last amount of food, and the worst conditions in prison. Those caught praying in prison are beaten and tortured. A recent defector reports that she saw some Christians working in a foundry put to death with hot irons. In addition, defectors report that children and grandchildren of Christians also face life imprisonment for the religious beliefs and activities of their forebears.”

China actually looks good but only in contrast. Todd Nettleton of Voice of the Martyrs complained that persecution was on the upswing before the Olympics: “There are more raids, foreign Christians are not having their visas renewed and are being forced to leave the country. There are numerous circumstances where the churches are under attack by the government.” Similarly, Bob Fu, who founded the China Aid Association, explained: “From all measures we can find in terms of religious freedom, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, it all shows it’s becoming much worse.” But it wasn’t just in 2008, he added: “In the past two years, we found more than 3,000 underground pastors were arrested, detained, some sentenced.”

Despite the drop of violence in Iraq, Christians and other minorities remain under fierce attack. The Commission recently warned “about severe violations of religious freedom there. The situation is dire for Iraq’s smallest religious minorities, including ChaldoAssyrian Christians, other Christians, Sabean Mandaeans, and Yazidis, who face a threat to their very existence in the country.”

The Burmese military junta deploys brutal force against democracy activists and rebellious ethnic groups with equal avidity. Millions of people have been displaced within its borders or forced into Thailand. “Christians are favorite targets of persecution because their religion is seen as being of the West,” notes James Jacobson, head of Christian Freedom International.

THESE ARE MERELY a few of the worst persecutors. And what the statistics miss are the real people who suffer from persecution. In Indonesia I visited sites where churches and a Bible school had been demolished by mobs of Muslim extremists — and where the local authorities refused to allow Christians to rebuild. In Pakistan I met a mother and children in hiding: the father had sought asylum in America after converting, which led to death threats. His family threatened to kidnap the children to ensure their Muslim upbringing.

In Laos I talked with a church planter who was shadowed by security agents in Vientiane and who traveled incognito outside of the capital. I spoke with ethnic Karen refugees who fled the Burmese military, many of whom had spent years in refugee camps across the border in Thailand. I interviewed a young Christian girl in hiding in Dhaka, Bangladesh, after she was kidnapped and forced into marriage by a Muslim family.

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