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The Most Persecuted Group

from the April 27, 2015 eNews issue

Religious Persecution

Over 800 people drowned last weekend aboard a dilapidated ship while they were attempting to make land in Italy from Libya, fleeing the chaos there.

What they came across was Europe’s deadliest border control.

While free immigration advocates decry the U.S.-Mexico border as a risky barrier to those who try to cross into the United States, it is small compared to the terrors people face as they try to negotiate the five-hundred mile journey from Libya to the Italian coast.

Romans 13:1–7 makes it abundantly clear that God expects us to obey the laws of the government.

Every person must be subject to the governing authorities, for no authority exists except by God’s permission. The existing authorities have been established by God, so that whoever resists the authorities opposes what God has established, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.

— Romans 13:1–2, ISV

The ONLY exception to this is when a law of the government forces you to disobey a command of God.

But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”

— Acts 5:29, ISV

Who were the Victims?

The majority of those that died in the most recent maritime tragedy were Christians.

They included 350 Eritreans, many of them young men fleeing forced conscription, as well as people from war-torn Syria and Somalia, in addition to migrants from Sierra Leone, Mali, Senegal, Gambia, Ivory Coast and Ethiopia.

For example, almost two-thirds of Ethiopians are Christians, the majority of those Orthodox Copts, hundreds of whom have died in a string of tragic shipwrecks even before the latest tragedy.

Thousands of people have made it to the Italian shore; more than 11,000 migrants have been rescued by Italian authorities since the middle of last week alone.

Not as well know is an incident where fifteen Muslims threw twelve Christians overboard from a ship traveling from Libya to Italy.

The violence in the region is increasing. “If the reports are confirmed, this past weekend would be among the deadliest few days in the world’s most dangerous stretch of water for migrants and asylum seekers,” according to Judith Sunderland, acting deputy director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch.

There is more religious persecution in the 21st century than at any other time in history. Brutal religious persecution is going on around the world today. Thousands of religious believers were martyred in the last few years. Many others have suffered imprisonment, torture, burning, enslavement and starvation.


At present, eleven years after the war in Iraq, the Christian community in Mesopotamia has dwindled by more than two thirds. How many remain is hard to estimate; credible figures range from under half a million to as low as 200,000, the latter estimate postulated by The Economist. By some estimates, there around 60,000 Christians in Mosul ten years ago; that figure is said to have fallen by over one-half.

Most of Mosul’s Christians have fled east and north to the nearby autonomous region of Kurdistan. “Here is the last chance Christians have for survival,” says Kaldo Ramzi Oghanna of the Assyrian Democratic Movement, a political party tied to one of the world’s most ancient Christian denominations.

For the first time in over 1,600 years, the cities of Iraq will have been emptied of Christians. We may see the eventual extinction of the nearly two-millennium old Christian community in Mesopotamia.

Jordan & Lebanon

Jordan, which has a small Christian community, and Lebanon, the only Arab country that once had a Christian majority, remain relatively safe havens for Christians. But there too they are more nervous than before. “The community is fearful, because we look around and realize that the West doesn’t care about protecting us. No one will,” says Adeeb Awad, a church official in Lebanon, where a sectarian political system ensures representation by quota; the country’s non-executive president must, for instance, be a Christian.

The Turkish – Syrian Border

On the edge of a village near Midyat, Turkey is a stone building that is indicative of the trials Christians are facing in that country, whose fate may test Turkey’s commitment to the European Union. Thirty Kurdish families use it as a mosque. But members of Turkey’s Syrian Orthodox Christian minority (or Syriacs) insist it is St Mary’s church, which served their community for 200 years until civil strife and economic hardship forced them out. They want it back.

Some 3,000 Syriacs in the southeast say their land and houses have been seized, not just by Kurds, but also by the state. In Kayseri, an American couple was recently sent death threats by e-mail because they are “Christian”. A Protestant pastor in Izmit province received a menacing letter and found a red swastika painted on his door. In Tarsus, a New Zealand missionary was beaten and then told to leave by the mayor.

“Protestants are the most persecuted group in Turkey,” says Ihsan Ozbek, pastor of the Kurtulus Protestant Church in Ankara. For a time Turkey did protect the Christians in that nation. Laws against Christians repairing churches were scrapped, enabling the Syriacs to restore the ancient Mar Gabriel monastery near Bardakci. Yet recent attacks against Syriacs, including the detonation of a landmine under a car, have rung alarms—and made fellow Syriacs in Europe reconsider plans to return.

The head of Turkey’s Catholic Church, Bishop Luigi Padovese, was murdered on June 3, 2010. His death sent shock waves through the country’s small, diverse, and hard-pressed Christian community. The 62-year-old bishop, who spearheaded the Vatican’s efforts to improve Muslim-Christian relations in Turkey, was stabbed repeatedly at his Iskenderun home by his driver and bodyguard Murat Altun, who concluded the slaughter by decapitating Padovese and shouting, “I killed the Great Satan. Allahu Akhbar!” He then told the police that he had acted in obedience to a “command from God.”

Some observers see this as a sign of a mounting campaign against Christians by Islamist forces within the country.


According to a report published by the Pew Forum in December, the Christian share of the population of sub-Saharan Africa has soared over the past century, from 9% to 63%. Meanwhile, the think-tank says, the Christian proportion of Europeans and people in the Americas has dropped, respectively, from 95% to 76% and from 96% to 86%.

Southern Africa is seeing its persecution as well. In Nigeria scores of Christians have died in Islamist bomb attacks, targeting Christmas prayers.

A World-Wide Problem

In Iran and Pakistan Christians are on death row, for “apostasy”—quitting Islam—or blasphemy. Dozens of churches in Indonesia have been attacked or shut. Christians also face harassment in formally communist China and Vietnam. In India, Hindu nationalists want to penalize Christians who make converts.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended that the Secretary of State name Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern in its 2012 Annual Report.

Other nations recommended were: Burma, China, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

The USCIRF found that Pakistan continued to tolerate systematic and ongoing violations of religious freedom. Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws and other religiously repressive legislation fostered an atmosphere of violent vigilantism where sectarian violence was chronic.

USCIRF also added the following to its 2012 Watch List: Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia and Venezuela.

The most Persecuted Group

Most people in the West would be surprised by the answer to the question: who are the most persecuted people in the world? According to the International Society for Human Rights, a secular group with members in 38 states worldwide, 80 per cent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians.

The Center for the Study of Global Christianity in the United States estimates that 100,000 Christians now die every year, targeted because of their faith — that is 11 every hour. The Pew Research Center says that hostility to religion reached a new high in 2012, when Christians faced some form of discrimination in 139 countries, almost three-quarters of the world’s nations.

Persecution in the West

Those 139 countries also include Western countries as well. Christians in the United States, Britain, Canada, and Europe may not be killer by the State. A rival religion, Human Secularism, first demanded recognition, then equality, and now is demanding prominence in society.

The United States is seeing one of the most concerted attacks on Christians and their values than any country in the West.

A Navy Chaplin, who his commanding officer said was “best of the best” is facing the end of his nineteen year career because of his faith. He is being investigated because of his Christian beliefs regarding marriage and human sexuality. The chaplain, Lt. Cmdr. Les Modder, has even said that he was told to “deep-six the Jesus talk”.

The Liberty Institute, who is defending Modder has stated that this attack on LTC Modder:

“Would send a dangerous message that other chaplains who share his beliefs — the vast majority of military chaplains — may also suffer adverse personnel actions and would have a profound chilling effect on any chaplain who seeks to provide biblical care.”

The assault on Christian values has even entered into the presidential election cycle in the United States. Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stated that Christian values need to make way for abortions.

The former First Lady said:

… deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed” to give women full access to “reproductive health care and safe childbirth,”

The presidential hopeful and apparent Democratic candidate gave no examples as to how religious beliefs got in the way of safe childbirth, but has stated that they do interfere with abortions. (She had also said that abortions should be “Safe, legal, and rare.” They are now legal, but they are neither safe nor rare.)

If Christians around the world do not stand up and defend their faith, those that are not suffering overt persecution will soon see it.

This concept is captured best by Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) a Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me
And there was no one left to speak for me.

If Christians do not speak out against persecution everywhere, who will speak for us?

Further Reading


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