Persecution situations are usually highly complex and it is not always clear if and to what extent pressure felt by Christians or even violence against them is directly related to their Christian faith. Basically, persecution is related to religions, ideologies or corrupted mind-sets, i.e. elementary human impulses seeking exclusive power in society. The WWL methodology considers these impulses to be the power sources behind eight different “persecution engines” (see Appendix 4).
Diagram 1: Persecution engines acting as vehicles for the different elementary human impulses seeking exclusive, absolute power
World Watch Research uses the term “Persecution engine” to describe a distinct situation which is causing Christians to be persecuted either violently on non-violently. This situation of persecution can be considered as the consequence of a societal “power dynamic”. A power dynamic normally represents a worldview that has a claim of superiority over other worldviews. That is not a problem in itself, as long as this power dynamic is coupled with a true sense of pluralism. When this is not the case, the drivers of the power dynamic will strive for absolute submission of society to their worldview. The drivers of the power dynamics are often smaller (radical) groups within the broader group of adherents of that worldview, who are not necessarily representative of that broader group, but who somehow get sufficient space to maneuver towards their aim. Examples of power dynamics are secular humanism, Islam and Communism.
In total WWR has defined 8 persecution engines corresponding to their related background power dynamics, as illustrated in the diagram below. These persecution engines each display their own brand of hostility towards Christians and are central both for scoring the WWL questionnaires and for the analysis of the persecution of Christians and their communities.
Diagram 2: Eight Persecution engines and their corresponding societal Power dynamics
Definition of persecution
There is no international, legal definition of persecution. Situations can be defined as persecution where persons experience the denial of the rights listed in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, the WWL methodology has opted for a theological rather than a sociological definition: Thus persecution is understood to be “any hostility experienced as a result of one’s identification with Christ. This can include hostile attitudes, words and actions toward Christians.” The definition of “Christian” and the “categories of Christianity” used by World Watch Research can be found in Appendix 2.
How the WWL is compiled
Open Doors has been monitoring the worldwide persecution of Christians since the 1970s. The WWL methodology gradually evolved during the 1980s and 1990s and was comprehensively revised in 2012 by Open Doors’ research unit, World Watch Research (WWR), in order to provide greater credibility, transparency, objectivity and academic quality. Further refinements are regularly made.
The WWL methodology distinguishes two main expressions of persecution: squeeze (the pressure Christians experience in all areas of life) and smash (plain violence). While smash can be measured and tracked through the reporting of concrete incidents, the squeeze is documented by discerning how Christian life and witness is placed under pressure in 5 specific spheres of life (see Appendix 3). After a series of initial research inquiries, a questionnaire consisting of 84 questions (covering the reporting period 1 November – 31 October) is filled out by Open Doors’ field staff and networks in countries experiencing persecution. An example from Block 1 of the questionnaire can be viewed below.
Diagram 3: Extract from Block 1 of the questionnaire used for WWL 2018
The completed questionnaires are cross-checked by input from external experts. Scores are calculated for each of the spheres of life with variables being taken into account (See Appendix 1 for a detailed scoring example. The Long WWL methodology offers further discussion on these points). For instance, persecution can be worse for some categories of Christians than others or much worse in some parts of a country than in others. Also, the intensity and frequency of persecution is taken into consideration. Different persecution engines (see Appendix 4), persecution drivers (see Appendix 5) and a distinct Persecution pattern (see Appendix 6) become visible for analysis. An audit is made by IIRF (International Institute for Religious Freedom, http://www.iirf.eu/) to confirm that all results have been calculated according to the WWL Methodology.
A final score is calculated for each country which is then used to determine the order of countries from position 1 to 50 on Open Doors’ annual World Watch List. The WWL scores make possible a detailed comparison of Christian life in the countries listed. Below is an example of the final scores for the highest ranking countries on the WWL 2017. (Please note that for WWL 2018 the block scores will only be presented to one decimal place to avoid giving any false impression of accuracy.)
Diagram 4: Extract from the WWL 2017 Table and Scores
(The highest possible score in each Block is 16.667)
The most important reason for ranking countries is to be able to present a complex reality to the broader public. However, the WWL rankings must always be viewed in conjunction with the corresponding country Persecution Dynamics which explain the particularities of the persecution situation.
WWL Scoring example
The following shows how the country scores and rankings are calculated for the annual Open Doors World Watch List
1. Background details required prior to scoring
For each country, the Persecution engines, Drivers of persecution and Christian Communities affected are first identified.
2. Six blocks of questions for each country are answered and scored
The WWR research analyst uses the information gathered from all the country staff, contacts and external experts who have filled out a WWL-Questionnaire, to now answer and score the six blocks of questions for each country. Altogether there are 84 questions to answer and score. (Further questions are asked for gathering background information in Block 7, but these are not included in the scoring process.)
Block 1: Private Life (10 questions)
Block 2: Family Life (13 questions)
Block 3: Community Life (13 questions)
Block 4: National Life (16 questions)
Block 5: Church Life (20 questions)
Block 6: Physical Violence (12 questions)
3. An example showing the background considerations for answering and scoring ONE of the questions in Blocks 1-5
The score for each question can range between 0 and 16 points. For the purpose of the example, we have chosen the third question in Block 1 (Private Life).
In this imaginary WWL country, we shall say “Yes” – with the following scoring:
(1) Number of categories of Christian communities affected by persecution
In the imaginary WWL country, the danger to privately own or keep Christian materials mainly concerns three categories of Christian communities i.e. the historical Christian communities, the communities of converts to Christianity and the non-traditional Christian communities:
“3 out of 4 categories affected” = 3 points.
(2) The proportion of general population living in the territory affected by persecution
In the imaginary WWL country, the danger applies in the whole territory, so the proportion of the general population living in that territory is 100%:
“76-100% of population” = 4 points.
(3) Intensity = the degree of persecution (or level of pressure) caused by a driver of persecution.
The consequences of discovery in the imaginary WWL country are severe:
“high intensity” = 3 points.
(4) Frequency = the rate at which incidents of persecution happen.
The danger is frequent though not permanent in the imaginary WWL country:
“frequent” = 3 points.
The total number of points for this question is therefore 3 +4 + 3 + 3 = 13 (out of a maximum of 16 points).
The average score for this question = 13/4 = 3.250. (Fractions to 3 decimal places are required.)
4. An example showing the background considerations for obtaining the score for ONE whole block
The process illustrated above for 1.3 is carried out for all questions of the block, and each time the points and average score per question are listed. The table below shows the imaginary scores for our chosen WWL country.
In the example above, the total of the average scores for all ten questions in Block 1 = 30.250 (out of a possible maximum of 40.000).
Block 1 is just one of six different blocks contributing to the maximum score of 100 points for all six blocks. So that each block is given the same weighting, they each have a maximum threshold of 16.667 points (=100/6). Since not all blocks have the same number of questions, the FINAL BLOCK SCORE is calculated via the following equation:
FINAL BLOCK SCORE =
Total of the average scores per question / Maximum total possible of average scores per question x 100 / 6
Therefore, in our Block 1 example above, the Final Block score = 30.250 / 40.000 x 100 / 6 = 12.604.
5. Final block scores for Blocks 1-5 (denoting “SQUEEZE”) are added together
Blocks 1 to 5 form the ‘squeeze part’ of the questionnaire. The same scoring procedure as shown above for Block 1 is now done for Blocks 2 to 5. For our imaginary WWL country, the resulting table is as follows:
The SQUEEZE in our imaginary WWL country (i.e. the amount of pressure in the Five Spheres of Life) = 55.736.
Now the SMASH needs to be added …
6. How the points for Violent Incidents within the reporting period are calculated for Block 6
The country score is completed by adding Block 6, which deals with many different forms of physical violence occurring within the WWL reporting period which stretches from 1 November to 31 October.
To cover the various forms of violence, a different method of scoring to that used in Blocks 1-5 is required.
The first two questions deal with killings and attacks on churches and can get a maximum of 30 points each. Each killing gives 3 points. Ten or more killings give the maximum number of 30 points.
The other 10 questions dealing with other forms of physical violence can get a maximum of 3 points. The scoring for this is: 1 incident = 1 point; 2 – 9 incidents = 2 points; 10 or more incident = 3 points. The maximum possible number of points for all 12 questions = 90.
In our imaginary WWL country, we have the following reported incidents and points:
In the example above, the total number of points for all 12 questions of Block 6 = 10 (out of a possible maximum of 90).
Block 6 is just one of the six blocks contributing to the maximum WWL score of 100 points for all six blocks. So that each block is given the same weighting, they each have a maximum threshold of 16.667 points (=100/6). The FINAL BLOCK 6 SCORE is calculated via the following equation:
FINAL BLOCK 6 SCORE = Number of points / Maximum possible number of points for block x 100 / 6
= 10 / 90 x 100 / 6 = 1.852.
7. Finally, the scores for Blocks 1-5 and Block 6 are added together
To get the final WWL score for a country, all the Block totals are added together. The maximum for each block is 16.667 and the maximum total possible is 100.
Our imaginary WWL country thus has a final total score rounded to 58 points. Its ranking on the WWL depends on the number of countries achieving a higher/lower final total score.
It should be noted that from WWL 2018 onwards, the final Block scores appearing in the official WWL Table will be displayed only to one decimal place (see example below). The reason for this is to avoid giving the impression of a degree of accuracy that would be misleading.
Definition of Christian and category of Christian
The WWL is a tool focusing on persecution experienced by Christians. The WWL methodology defines ‘Christian’ (sociologically) as “anyone who self-identifies as a Christian and/or someone belonging to a Christian community as defined by the church’s historic creeds”. Based on this definition the WWL methodology distinguishes four types of Christianity:
- Communities of expatriate Christians: This category applies to a situation in which foreign Christian residents (expatriates or migrant workers) are allowed to rent or own church buildings to a certain degree or at least to conduct church services, but they are not allowed to have contact with nationals regarding Christianity.
- Historical Christian communities: This category applies to the typical historical churches, such as Catholic, Orthodox and traditional Protestant churches, which have often been part of a country’s history for hundreds of years. Their situation and degree of freedom differ from country to country.
- Communities of converts to Christianity: This category considers people who once belonged to a dominating religion or ideology, traditional religion, organized crime or other strong identifier and who changed identity in order to become Christian. Converts may be absorbed by one of the other types of churches but often gather in ‘house’ or ‘underground’ churches.
- Non-traditional Christian communities (such as Evangelical, Baptist and Pentecostal congregations) and/or other Christian communities not included in the above three groups: This category deals with the great variety of new Protestant expressions and includes the independent churches in many countries. Some of them may be disputed by other Christians in terms of having a serious lack of theological orthodoxy but as long as they self-identify as Christians (see definition of Christian) they are included in this category.
Explanation of the 5 spheres of life and violence
A ‘five spheres concept’ has been developed to track the various expressions of persecution in the different areas of a Christian’s life. The WWL questionnaire contains questions specific for each sphere and a score is recorded. The maximum for each of the 5 spheres and 1 violence block is 16.667, making a maximum overall score of 100 points when the scores for violence are added.
1. Private Life
The guiding WWL question asked is: “How free has a Christian been to relate to God one-on-one in his/her own space?”
The questions set out in the WWL questionnaire deal with conversion, private worship, possession of religious material, freedom of expression (e.g. in spoken word and writing, through images and symbols, access to information and media, privately sharing a belief with others), freedom of private assembly, and isolation of Christians.
2. Family Life
The guiding WWL question asked is: “How free has a Christian been to live his/her Christian convictions within the circle of the family, and how free have Christian families been to conduct their family life in a Christian way?”
The questions set out in the WWL questionnaire deal with the forced allocation of religious identity, registration of civil affairs, weddings, baptisms, burials, adoptions, child rearing, indoctrination of children, harassment of or discrimination against children, separation of families, isolation of converts, pressure to divorce, custody of children, and inheritance rights.
3. Community Life
Community life includes the workplace, business, health care, education, and local public life and civic order.
The guiding WWL question asked is: “How free have Christians been individually and collectively to live their Christian convictions within the local community (beyond church life), and how much pressure has the community put on Christians by acts of discrimination, harassment or any other form of persecution?”
The questions set out in the WWL questionnaire deal with threat or obstruction to daily life, dress codes, monitoring of Christians, abduction and forced marriage, access to community resources, community ceremonies, participation in communal institutions and and disadvantages in education, discrimination in employment and obstruction in business, policing issues (fines, interrogations, forced reporting).
4. National Life
The interaction between Christians and the nation they live in includes rights and laws, the justice system, national public administration and public life.
The guiding WWL question asked is: “How free have Christians been individually and collectively to live their Christian convictions beyond their local community, and how much pressure has the legal system put on Christians, and how much pressure have agents of supra-local life put on Christians by acts of misinformation, discrimination, harassment or any other form of persecution?”
The questions set out in the WWL questionnaire deal with national ideology, constitution, registration of religion in IDs, conscientious objection, travel within a country and abroad, discrimination by authorities, barring from public office or professional progress, policy interference with businesses, expression of opinion in public, Christian civil society organizations and political parties, reporting about religious or social conflicts, smear campaigns, toleration of public disrespect, religious symbols, blasphemy accusations, impunity, equal treatment in court, monitoring of trials.
5. Church Life
Church life is understood as the collective exercise by Christians of freedom of thought and conscience, particularly as regards uniting with fellow Christians in worship, life, service and public expression of their faith without undue interference. It also pertains to properties held or used by Christians for these purposes.
The guiding WWL question asked is: “How have restrictions, discrimination, harassment or other forms of persecution infringed upon these rights and this collective life of Christian churches, organizations and institutions?”
The questions set out in the WWL questionnaire deal with the hindrance in gathering of Christians, registration of churches, monitoring or closing of unregistered churches, church building and renovation, expropriation and non-return, disturbance or disruption of services, prevention of activities inside or outside churches or among youth, acceptance of converts, monitoring of preaching and published materials, election and training of leaders, harassment of leaders or their families, Bibles and other religious materials and their printing, importing, selling or dissemination, and confiscation, broadcasting and Internet use, interference with ethical convictions (regarding family and marriage) and personnel policy of Christian institutions, Christian civil society organizations and social activities, interaction with the global Church, and the denouncing of government persecution.
Violence is defined as the deprivation of physical freedom or as serious bodily or mental harm to Christians or serious damage to their property and can occur in all spheres of life – as illustrated in the diagram below.
Diagram showing how violence can cut through all spheres of life (© Christof Sauer, IIRF)
Explanation of Persecution engines
There are different types of Persecution engine, each displaying their own brand of hostility towards Christians. WWL methodology works with 8 categories of Persecution engine
1. Islamic oppression
This engine describes the persecution situation where countries, communities and households are being forced under Islamic control. This can be done gradually by a process of systematic Islamization (building up pressure) or suddenly by the use of militant force (violence) or by both together.
- An example of gradual Islamization is found in many countries where the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic NGOs and other likewise groups roll out a holistic Islamic mission strategy, coupled with a ban on conversion at the family and local community level.
- An example of the use of militant force can be seen in groups such as Islamic State, Boko Haram and al-Shabaab.
The scope of this ‘Islamic movement’ is global.
2. Religious nationalism
This engine describes the persecution situation where countries, communities or households are being forced under the control of one particular religion (other than Islam). This religion can be Hinduism, Buddhism or Judaism, or even other. The process can be gradual and systematic (via a building-up of pressure), or abrupt (through violence). Often it is the combination of both that increasingly makes life for Christians in the country difficult.
- An example is Hindu mob violence in India against Christians who witness in the public domain against the background of ever-increasing legislation that curtails religious freedom (e.g. anti-conversion laws).
The scope of these ‘religious movements’ is mostly national.
3. Ethnic Antagonism
This engine describes the persecution situation where communities and households are being forced to adhere to age-old indigenous customs established by tribes or ethnic people groups. There is a huge variety of groups here. The ‘mechanics’ of this engine is comparable to Islamic oppression and Religious nationalism – there often is a combination of a gradual building-up of pressure and incidental outright violence.
- An example of subtle pressure is when the authorities of an indigenous community in Myanmar or Mexico refuse to allow a Christian family’s children to attend school.
- An example of outright violence is when Christian families are driven out a village because they do not want to participate in traditional ceremonies.
The scope of this ‘ethnic movement’ is mainly subnational (part of the territory of the country) but can involve the crossing of national borders depending on the regional spread of the ethnic people groups.
4. Denominational protectionism
This engine describes the situation where fellow Christians are being persecuted by one church denomination to make sure it remains the only legitimate or dominant expression of Christianity in the country. This engine is comparable to the other engines that are related to religious expressions: It is characterized by a combination of subtle pressure and outright violence, although in practice the balance is often towards non-violence.
- Outright violence can, however, happen as the Ethiopian Orthodox anti-reformist movement in Ethiopia has been showing for several years now against Christians in their own churches who want to reform the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
The scope of this ‘ecclesiastical movement’ is national, especially when the denomination involved has narrow ties with the State.
5. Communist and post-communist oppression
This engine describes the situation where Christians are being persecuted and churches controlled by a state system that derives from Communist values. Key for controlling churches is a rigid system of state registration and monitoring. This system may still be in use in countries after the fall of Communism, as is the case in Central Asia. Although the engine relies on a combination of pressure and violence, the violence is often not particularly visible because the system’s hold on the church is complete and tight.
- An example is President Berdymukhamedov’s authoritarian government in Turkmenistan, where no religious activities beyond state-run and state-controlled institutions are allowed.
- However, extreme cases such as North Korea with its concentration camps do show a high prevalence of violence against Christians.
The scope of this ideological movement is national, tough in the past it was global.
6. Secular intolerance
This engine describes the situation where Christian faith is being forced out of the public domain, if possible even out of the hearts of people. Its drivers seek to transform societies into the mold of a new, radically secularist ethic. This new ethic is (partly) related to a radically new sexual agenda, with norms and values about sexuality, marriage and related issues that are alien to, and resisted by the Christian worldview. When Christian individuals or institutions try to resist this new ethic, they are opposed by (i) non-discrimination legislation, (ii) attacks on parental rights in the area of education, (iii) the censorship of the Cross and other religious symbols from the public square, (iv) the use of various manifestations of “hate” speech laws to limit the freedom of expression, and (v) Church registration laws. Most of this is not violent, although arrests of pastors and lay people have happened.
- An example of this engine is compulsory sexual education based on gender ideology (including LGBTI insights) in nursery and primary schools in some countries and the serious threat against parents who want to withdraw their young children from these lessons.
The scope of this ‘secularist movement’ is global.
7. Dictatorial paranoia
This engine describes the persecution situation where an authoritarian government at different levels of society, assisted by social stakeholder groups, does all it can to maintain power. There is no special focus on realizing an ideological vision; it seems lust for power and the benefits it brings with it are decisive. The dynamics of this engine is comparable to Communist and post-Communist oppression: although the engine relies on a combination of pressure and violence, often the threat of violence is sufficient to force the non-state controlled Church underground.
- Example: The government of Eritrea has been controlling the Church in Eritrea more and more. It began by reacting very strongly against the new Christian communities (e.g. imprisoning Christians in shipping containers), but has continued by putting increasing pressure on the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (e.g. through curtailing the clergy).
The scope of this engine is national.
8. Organized corruption and crime
This engine describes the persecution situation where groups or individuals are creating a climate of impunity, anarchy and corruption as a means for self-enrichment. It has two main ‘branches’: (i) corruption within state structures and (ii) corruption of society by organized crime. This engine expresses itself through a combination of systematic pressure caused by fear for violent repercussions in case of non-compliance, and by such violence.
- Corruption from within: Princes in Saudi Arabia are often free to do what they want. The country is theirs. The trade-off is giving radical Islamic forces a high level of influence both within and outside the country. The negative effect of this on Christians worldwide is enormous through the spread of Wahhabism (a very radical strand of Islam) in moderate Muslim countries.
- Organized crime: In Latin American countries such as Colombia and Mexico criminal groups (drugs, human trafficking etc.) use violence to keep the Church under control, especially at the level of the local community. At the national level the interests of these groups are served by co-opting politicians and the security apparatus of the state.
The scope of this engine is global.
List of drivers of persecution
The term “drivers of persecution (engines)” is used to describe people and/or groups causing hostilities towards Christians in a particular country. WWR uses 12 drivers in its documents:
1. Government officials at any level from local to national
E.g. teachers, police, local officials, presidents, Kim Jong Un
2. Ethnic group leaders
E.g. tribal chiefs
3. Non-Christian religious leaders at any level from local to national
E.g. imams, rabbis, senior Buddhist monks
4. Christian religious leaders at any level from local to national
E.g. popes, patriarchs, bishops, priests, pastors
5. Violent religious leaders
E.g. Boko Haram (Nigeria), Hamas (Palestinian Territories), Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) and the Sinhala Ravaya (SR) (both in Sri Lanka)
6. Ideological pressure groups
E.g. LBTGI rights groups, Abortion Rights UK, National Secular Society
7. Normal citizens (people from the general public), including mobs
E.g. students, neighbors, shopkeepers, mobs
8. Extended family
E.g. one’s direct family members or the wider circle of kinsmen
9. Political parties at any level from local to national
E.g. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India, AKP in Turkey
10. Revolutionaries or paramilitary groups
11. Organized crime cartels or networks
E.g. There are several cartels in Latin America, Italy and other parts of the world.
12. Multilateral organizations (e.g. UN/OIC) and embassies
E.g. UN organizations pushing for compulsory sex education programs contrary to Christian values, OIC pushing for Islamization of the African continent.
Understanding the Persecution pattern
The detailed country scores of the 6 blocks of the WWL questionnaire converge into a specific pattern, the country persecution pattern. This persecution pattern consists of the following elements:
- The average score over blocks 1 to 5;
- The deviance from the average score of the scores for the different spheres of life;
- The level of violence experienced by Christians in the country.
The example below is for Uzbekistan (WWL 2017).
The WWL 2017 Persecution pattern for Uzbekistan shows:
- Although there have been increases in the scores for pressure particularly in the private and church spheres, the average pressure on Christians has reduced slightly from 13.413 (WWL 2016) to 13.326 but remains at a high level.
- Pressure is strongest in the private, national, and church spheres. This is typical for a situation in which Dictatorial paranoia is the leading persecution engine.
- Pressure from Islamic oppression is present mostly in the private, family and community spheres and is exerted particularly on MBBs by the social environment.
- There has been a significant number of violent incidents in Uzbekistan; the score for violence against Christians shows a marked increase rising from 2.778 (WWL 2016) to 4.259.
- The overall persecution situation in Uzbekistan is caused by a paranoid government seeking to increase its control over all areas of life.
World Watch Research recognizes the potential for using the persecution pattern as part of the consistency check for questionnaires. The persecution pattern can also serve to predict trends in ongoing persecution in countries on the WWL. Finally, the persecution pattern can serve as a tool giving early indications of upcoming persecution in countries not yet on the WWL.