BBC Criticizes U.S. Christians Who May be Playing Hanky-Panky With Martyr Statistics

If Christians kill other Christians, do the dead still count as martyrs for Jesus?

With that question in mind, Ruth Alexander of BBC News takes issue with the much-bandied-about number that annually, around the world, 100,000 Christians are killed because of their faith.

Alexander looked into that squishy statistic and found that

… it comes originally from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in the US state of Massachusetts, which publishes such a figure each year in its Status of Global Mission (see line 28).

Its researchers started by estimating the number of Christians who died as martyrs between 2000 and 2010 — about one million by their reckoning — and divided that number by 10 to get an annual number, 100,000.

But where does that number of one million come from?

When you dig down, you see that the majority died in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

More than four million are estimated to have been killed in that war between 2000 and 2010, and CSGC counts 900,000 of them — or 20% — as martyrs. … This means we can say right away that the internet rumours of Muslims being behind the killing of 100,000 Christian martyrs are nonsense. The DRC is a Christian country. In the civil war, Christians were killing Christians. …

If you were to take away the 90,000 deaths in DR Congo from the CSGC’s figure of 100,000, that would leave 10,000 martyrs per year.

If it’s an error on CSGC’s part, the researchers have been there before.

In earlier estimates of martyrs, CSGC included killings that occurred in the Rwandan genocide. Again this is puzzling. It was not a conflict about religion — it was a case of Hutus killing Tutsis, and both sides were Christian.

As for the Congo, Alexander asks CSGC director Todd Johnson if he shouldn’t be lowering his estimates, given that the violence there is less widespread today than it was at its peak.

“That’s a weakness of this approach,” Johnson concedes. … “[The death toll] is probably decreasing year by year right now, but the method is not exact enough to [make those adjustments], so I’ve just kept it at 100,000 the last couple of years but I’m likely going to have to lower it unless something comes to our attention.”

In Johnson’s defense, the situation is always in flux, and I’m sure reliable numbers are hard to come by. Also, for the record, no one doubts that in Africa and elsewhere, religious strife really does result in unprovoked, horrific mass killings of minority Christians — mostly by Muslims.

Then again, the persecution complex nursed by many Western Christians leads them to spout habitual exaggerations, resulting in much dismissiveness and eye-rolling among non-Christians. This is a disservice to the actual victims — by both groups. It would be best for atheists not to shrug off evidence of real anti-Christian violence, just as it would behoove Johnson’s organization to try harder not to inflate the number of Christian martyrs, much less by a factor of 10.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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