One of the main tools Open Doors uses to track and measure the extent of persecution in the world is the World Watch List (#WWL). We have been monitoring the worldwide persecution of Christians since the 1970s. Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, the WWL methodology gradually evolved. In 2012, Open Doors’ research unit, World Watch Research (WWR), comprehensively revised the methodology of the WWL to provide greater credibility, transparency, objectivity and scientific quality. And in 2013 and 2016, we further refined the methodology. Each year, the World Watch List is independently audited by the only institution with academics dedicated to studying the religious liberty of Christians – the International Institute of Religious Freedom (IIRF).
Important (and Helpful) Definitions
Before diving into the details of the WWL methodology, it’s helpful to define some key terms:
Christian: For the purposes of the WWL, a Christian is “anyone who self-identifies as a Christian and/or someone belonging to a Christian community as defined by the church’s historic creeds.”
This definition is part theological and part sociological. It includes not only the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant denominations that define themselves based on theological creeds, but also all people who self-identify as Christians, including those who don’t belong to any specific denomination. The WWL methodology opts for this broad definition, following other institutions that report on worldwide Christianity.
Persecution: Any hostility someone experiences as a result of his or her identification with Christ. This can include hostile attitudes, words and actions towards Christians. While the inclusiveness of this definition presents its challenges, it seems best to cover the full range of hostility that Christians experience as a result of their Christian walk, rather than limit the term “persecution” to more overt forms of persecution or extreme forms of suffering. To say that persecution must be deliberate underestimates the implicit and indirect power of culture, which over time can create a society that excludes Christians from daily life.
Persecution engines: The eight persecution engines describe the distinct situations that result in the persecution of Christians, both violently and non-violently. They include:
- Islamic oppression – the state of countries, communities or households forced under Islamic control, either gradually through systematic Islamization and/or suddenly by militant force.
- Religious nationalism – when countries, communities or households are forced under the control of one particular religion (other than Islam).
- Ethnic antagonism – countries, communities or households forced to adhere to indigenous customs established by tribes or ethnic people groups.
- Denominational protectionism – one church denomination persecutes fellow Christians in an attempt to be the only legitimate or dominant expression of Christianity.
- Communist and post-communist oppression – a state system derived from Communist values controls and persecutes Christians and churches.
- Secular intolerance – the Christian faith is forced out of the public domain, and if possible, out of the hearts of people.
- Dictatorial paranoia – assisted by social movements, authoritarian government persecutes Christians who are seen as threats to their power.
- Organized corruption and crime – groups or individuals persecute Christians in a climate of impunity, anarchy and corruption as a means for self-enrichment.
The Smash and Squeeze Factor
These eight persecution engines contribute to persecution in two categories we call “smash” and “squeeze.”
Smash is any act of violent persecution.
Squeeze is the pressure that Christians experience in all areas of life.
The squeeze factor occurs in the following five spheres of life:
- private life
- family life
- community life
- national life
- church life
While it would seem that smash is the most prevalent and invasive expression of persecution, often it’s the squeeze that’s most prevalent and invasive.
WWL Data Collection
Open Doors collects data through the WWL questionnaire, a “field stream” survey completed by Open Doors field staff. These men and women gather information through a number of key contacts in the country who represent diverse networks of believers. Field reps send their key contacts (parts of) the questionnaire, through direct contact or other ways, depending on the specific country’s security situation. This organic approach gives the data-gathering process its “grassroots” character. Supported by input from several external experts who provide a cross-check for the results, the field stream questionnaire forms the basis for each country’s score, which determines their rank on the list. The persecution analysts of Open Doors’ World Watch Research group then put together all the information, giving feedback to survey respondents and following up on field reps’ responses.
How Countries Are Ranked
As a result of the WWL process, Open Doors is able to give each country a final score, which is the result of the impact of different persecution engines. For example, one country may score high due to “Islamic oppression” while another country has a comparable score due to “dictatorial paranoia.”
Because our starting point is the pressure and violence Christians experience in the five different spheres of life (listed above), the WWL methodology enables us to make comparisons between different persecution situations. Whether or not this pressure or violence originates from the same or different persecution engines is not relevant for the final scores, although it does provide insight into the daily lives of Christians in each country.
The WWL ranks countries according to their final scores. These scores are derived by measuring the squeeze (or pressure) that Christians experience in each of the five spheres of life, as well as the “smash” (violence) they experience as a result of their faith.
Why We Create the WWL
The most important reason for ranking countries is the ability to present to the broader public a complex reality of persecution against Christians around the globe. To effectively share the depth of persecution, we couple the WWL rankings with accompanying stories from the field–personal accounts that reveal the specifics of the persecution situation in each country.
Open Doors CEO David Curry calls the list a, “spiritual EKG showing the strength and vulnerability of the global Church–the body of Christ.”
“The World Watch List matters,” he says. “It matters because it is the most trusted measurement of religious persecution in the world today. This report helps us close the gap between us. It helps us understand how to pray, to support, to empathize and to stand with persecuted Christians when they suffer—and rejoice with them when conditions improve.
“In response, we call the Church to pray for, connect with and support our brothers and sisters who are both living and dying for their faith.”