Open Doors released today its latest World Watch List (WWL). The annual list ranks the top 50 countries “where Christians face the most persecution”
Researchers calculate that 4,344 Christians were “killed for faith-related reasons” in 2014, which is “more than double the 2,123 killed in 2013, and more than triple the 1,201 killed the year before that,” reports World Watch Monitor (WWM). (Measuring martyrdoms has drawn debate in recent years, and Open Doors is usually on the conservative end of estimates.) By far the largest number of deaths occurred in Nigeria, where 2,484 Christians were killed; the next deadliest country for Christians was the Central African Republic (CAR), with 1,088 deaths. The remaining three deadliest countries were Syria (271 deaths), Kenya (119 deaths), and North Korea (100 deaths).
In addition, 1,062 churches were “attacked for faith-related reasons” in 2014. The majority of attacks took place in five countries: China (258 churches), Vietnam (116 churches), Nigeria (108 churches), Syria (107 churches), and the Central African Republic (100 churches). Last year’s highest-profile incident: a government campaign to “de-Christianize” the skyline of one of China’s most Christian cities. (The Pew Research Center also recently tallied the countries with the most government destruction of religious property.)
But it wasn’t increased violence that primarily drove persecution to record levels in 2014, but rather increased “cultural marginalization,” according to Open Doors. In other words, the “more subtle ‘squeeze’ dimensions of persecution” which make “daily life … harder and harder” for Christians. A substantial study by the Pew Research Center found that nearly 75 percent of the world’s population now lives in countries with high levels of social hostility involving religion. [CT compared how both groups rank the world’s worst persecutors.]
“Even Christian-majority states are experiencing unprecedented levels of exclusion, discrimination, and violence,” said David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA. “The 2015 World Watch List reveals that a staggering number of Christians are becoming victims of intolerance and violence because of their faith. They are being forced to be more secretive about their faith.”
The primary culprit in Africa and worldwide: “Islamic extremism,” which was the “main persecution engine” in 40 of the 50 countries on the 2015 watch list, including 18 of the top 20 countries (only 6 of which are in the Middle East).
The No. 2 driver of persecution was “dictatorial paranoia,” or “where leaders seek to control religious expression,” noted Open Doors. “It is the main persecution engine in 10 countries, including North Korea, and shows up as a secondary persecution engine in 16 more countries.”
And while “organized corruption”‘ is the main driver of persecution in only Colombia and Mexico, it is No. 3 (after “Islamic extremism” and “dictatorial paranoia”) “when its status as a secondary engine is taken into account,” noted Open Doors. “Christians increasingly have to pay a heavy economic price to remain faithful to Christ.”