In the reporting period for the 2018 World Watch List, four trends have played a significant role in the persecution of Christians worldwide. By no means are they the only trends affecting believers globally. However, our research and reports from our on-the-ground partners and field reps in more than 60 countries indicate that these trends are the major forces influencing the persecution of Christians around the world. We identify and highlight them to provide insight into the battle the global Church is facing today.
Enduring the ‘Slow Creep’ of the Islamist Revolutionary Movement
In terms of media coverage, the Islamist Revolutionary Movement is one of the most widely recognized sources of persecution for Christians in the world today–and it continues to spread–aiming to bring many parts of the world under Sharia law. The movement, which often results in Islamic militancy and persecution of Christians, is expanding in Asia (the Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia) and Africa (Egypt, Nigeria, Somalia). The Islamic State group and other violent radical movements continue to make headlines as they push to bring the world under Sharia law through acts of terrorism and insurrection. We call this the “smash” factor (violence).
But another force is at play called the “squeeze” factor. While violent terrorist acts receive the majority of media attention, Islamists around the world are furthering their agenda through diplomatic and political action, as well as grassroots social efforts. In many countries, democracy is used to peaceably enact legal changes in accord with Sharia law and Islamic customs. For Christians in these countries, the persecution “squeeze” they face in the form of pressure often far outweighs the violence and is even more difficult to endure. The slow creep of Islamic control in every facet of life becomes unbearable, leading to many Christians practicing their faith underground, out of the public eye, for fear of repercussions should their faith be discovered. In areas where militant Islam is present, this fear is only heightened.
In Central Asia, Christian persecution is on the rise in countries like Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan—and Azerbaijan is new to the list at #45. Central Asia is experiencing a grassroots revival of Islam, and that means more pressure from the nationalist pro-Islamic governments and within society—causing increased persecution levels on two fronts. Open Doors International’s Wybo Nicolai points out that on the on the grassroots level, we’re seeing a “revival of Islam” in Central Asia.
“That means there is also more pressure from the community, the family, toward those Central Asians who have the courage to think independently, to think outside the box,” he explains. “Maybe because of a dream or an interaction with a Christian, they decide to follow Jesus and leave behind Islam. So you see an increase of intolerance on two levels. There’s an increase in intolerance from the authorities, and there’s an increase of intolerance in the family and society. This double hit is causing much more persecution in Central Asia than what we have seen in the past.”
Growing expansion of the Secularist Revolutionary Movement
The expansion of the secular humanist movement and its agenda of equality has been taking place for decades now in places like Europe and the United States. The secularist revolution is now expanding to historically conservative nations, particularly in the form of a new sexual agenda that’s at odds with the traditional Christian worldview. For radical proponents of secularism, the mere existence of Christianity is unnerving, as it excludes other truth claims even when Christians do not actively impose their views on others.
In Latin American countries, for example, accusations of discrimination are becoming more commonplace and result in legislation, attacks on parental rights, censorship, limited freedom of expression, church registration laws, slander campaigns and public insults directed at Christian individuals and organizations. In many countries, Christian belief is portrayed as archaic, backward and detrimental to the health of the individual and society as a whole. As a result, this stigma pressures Christians to practice their faith in secret, avoiding proselytization. Christians are also sometimes deemed unfit for service in public office, corporate leadership or community affairs.
Rising Religious Nationalism
In many countries, citizenship is equated with a particular religious practice or conviction, and those who would hold to any other belief system are made out to be alien elements that pose a risk to the fabric of society. While this religious nationalism clearly benefits the leaders and adherents of the dominant religion, it also serves as a binding agent for unstable societies, which is appealing to government officials who would otherwise have difficulty gaining or maintaining power. Government leaders who portray themselves as protectors of the dominant religion garner the support of the people and a legitimacy to their rule as a result.
As the whole of society becomes centered around a particular religion, Christians are forced to the outskirts through legislation, cultural pressure or violence. Radical groups often experience impunity in these climates, as they have the government on their side. The primary example of growing religious nationalism (apart from the Islamist Revolutionary Movement noted above) is India, in which the ruling BJP party is uniting the nation under Hinduism at the expense of religious minorities like Christians. Hindu radicals in the country pose an increasing threat to Christians and other religious minorities, and their violence often goes unpunished.
In an effort to preserve power, insecure governments are using the country’s majority religion to marginalize Christians and other religious minorities. This phenomenon has been observed in some parts of Asia with Hindu nationalism (India, Nepal) and Buddhist nationalism (Myanmar, Sri Lanka) both gaining ground.
Increasing Ethno-Religious Cleansing
Ethnic cleansing based on religious affiliation is growing in a number of sub-Saharan African countries, mainly due to the agenda of political Islam. Political Islam uses various tactics to stratify society between Muslims and non-Muslims for the sake of expansion. One common occurrence is the voluntary “ghettoization” of Muslim populations to foster radicalism, encouraging them to invade surrounding non-Muslim territories. The result is the forced expulsion of those who differ in race, ethnicity or religion through murder, torture, extrajudicial executions, rape, attacks on civilians, arbitrary arrest and detention, etc.
This closely resembles the definition of ethnic cleansing given by international criminal law, yet the governments of many of these countries lack the stability needed to punish violators. Leaders often feel pressured to succumb to the demands of radical elements for the sake of “keeping the peace,” although this only serves to worsen the situation and put the Christian population at increased risk of ethnic cleansing, and even genocide.
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