Extremism Is a Growing Threat
In several countries, Open Doors points to growing extremism as a cause of rising persecution. In India, for example, the nationalistic BJP party “wants to solidify around the Hindu faith,” so police are often ordered not to respond to attacks on Christians. “If most Indian citizens knew what was happening in these Christian communities,” says Curry, “they would vote for different people.” A new anti-conversion law in part of India also is leading to the arrest of Christians.
One reason extremism is so dangerous, Curry adds, is because the beliefs don’t need a specific territory or stay within borders. ISIS ideology, as one example, has “metastasized around the world” even though some groups have been defeated.
Africa Remains Hotspot for Murders
Of the 4,761 Christians killed for religious reasons in 2020, more than 90 percent occurred in Africa. Almost half of the total murders last year were in Nigeria, where an average of 10 Christians are killed each day. Boko Haram, the Fulani, and other Islamic extremist groups have been conducting violent attacks throughout Africa’s Sahel region.
Curry describes the situation in Nigeria as genocide, noting that the extreme persecution has spread to countries that have larger Christian populations, such as Burkina Faso and Mozambique.
An estimated one in six Christians in Africa currently faces religious discrimination and violence. One bright spot is Sudan, which dropped out of the top 10 to the 13th spot on the latest World Watch List. Because Sudan recently abolished its apostasy law, people who convert to Christianity no longer face the death penalty.
‘This is about freedom of conscience’
Christian persecution is defined, according to Open Doors, as “any hostility experienced as a result of one’s identification with Christ.” That includes “hostile attitudes, words, and actions toward Christians.”
Although Christians aren’t the only religious group facing persecution, says Curry, they’re the largest faith minority in many nations. “Everybody should have the right to choose their own faith,” he says. “This is about freedom of conscience.” Open Doors encourages people to take the 2021 Prayer Pledge, interceding on behalf of persecuted Christians worldwide.
Sam Brownback, the U.S. State Department’s ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, has a warning for countries that perpetrate faith-based violence. “I also want to tell those persecuting nations your days are numbered. The rest of the world is taking notice,” he says in an Open Doors video.
Brownback reports that grassroots efforts are underway to combat escalating persecution. “An alliance has now formed of 32 nations to defend religious freedom for all faiths all the time everywhere around the world,” he says. That International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance plans to prioritize pandemic-related advocacy during 2021, Brownback adds.
Other upcoming alliance goals include seeking the release of prisoners of conscience, ending more apostasy laws, protecting religious sites in conflict zones, combatting the misuse of technology, teaching religious respect, and promoting interfaith dialogue.