According to a report released by Open Doors, a nondenominational organization that has been monitoring Christian persecution since the 1970s, roughly 215 million Christians were persecuted in 2017 because of their faith. This translates to 1 out of 12 Christians worldwide.
Every year, Open Doors releases its World Watch list, which tracks persecution of Christians worldwide. The list is based on data obtained from Open Doors field workers and external experts, ranking the top 50 countries where Christians are persecuted, although Christians are persecuted in 65 countries.
North Korea has ranked #1 on the list for thirteen years. It is illegal to be a Christian in North Korea. If Christians are discovered, they are either killed or sent to labor camps.
The number one cause for persecution of Christians worldwide is the spread of Islam, which was the primary reason cited in the previous year’s report. Of the top ten countries where Christians are most persecuted, eight are Islamic: Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq, Yemen and Iran.
Women and girls suffer immensely under Islamic oppression. According to Open Doors, every day, six women are raped, sexually harassed or are forced to marry a Muslim, because of their faith. More specifically, it’s incredibly dangerous for a Muslim once they become a Christian. Muslim Background Believers (MBB) are Christians who are specifically targeted for persecution or death by Muslim family members because they left Islam, and because the Qur’an instructs killing those who leave Islam.
This is not new news. The Catholic News Agency reported in 2014 that one Christian is killed in the Middle East every five minutes. Citing Father Gabriel Nadaf of a Greek Orthodox Church in Nazareth, Israel, Nadaf faces death threats for publicly stating the plight of Christians in the Middle East. He remarked:
What is happening in the Middle East is genocide, and it is happening today, now. Every five minutes, a Christian dies in the Middle East, and Muslim leaders know it.
Affirming his sentiment, Susan Michael, the U.S. director of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem claimed that “Islamic extremism originated in the Middle East and is the main cause of persecution of Christians in the world today. It is a dangerous and violent ideology that must be stopped.”
However, persecution of Christians exists in secular Christian countries where drug cartels primarily target pastors and Christians leaders. Those who leave the criminal life often do so because they became Christians. In Mexico and Colombia, for example, organized crime and corruption have fostered a secular ideological grip on nearly every area of life to eliminate all public religious expression and any social or political involvement by Christians.
Open Doors hopes that the list will encourage non-persecuted Christians to support, connect with, and pray for the persecuted church. In an email to supporters, it stated:
While it’s easy to move through life disconnected from what happens to believers in other parts of the world, the World Watch List helps us close the gap between us and our persecuted family.
Its CEO David Curry stated,
The World Watch List matters. It matters because it is the most trusted measurement of religious persecution in the world today. But even more important, the list matters because it’s a spiritual EKG showing the strength and vulnerability of the global Church.
The ranking is independently audited. Persecution is calculated by an analysis of the level of violent persecution and the socio-economic or cultural pressure Christians experience on a daily basis in their church, national, community, family and private lives. Detailed information about each country can be read here.
Open Doors was founded in 1955 by the Dutch Brother Andrew, who smuggled bibles into hostile regions and wrote about his experiences in God’s Smuggler. The organization supports the persecuted church by providing bibles, emergency aid, discipleship training, vocational skills, trauma counseling, and advocacy worldwide.