Christian organisations are warning that global persecution shows no sign of letting up during 2017, with new anti-Christian legislation planned in super-powers China and Russia.
Persecution of Christians is on the rise after years of sustained pressure in countries such as China, Christian organisations have warned.
As figures from the Centre for Studies on New Religions (CSNR) revealed more than 90,000 Christians were killed in 2016 for being Christians, advocacy groups such as Release International and missions such as Hudson Taylor Ministries warned that life is becoming increasingly dangerous for Bible-believing Christians in China.
In its December 2016 magazine, the Hudson Taylor Ministries claimed a new ‘harsh religious winter is coming to the church in China’, which could affect the 70 million-strong Christian movement in the country.
The article explained: ‘These dark clouds, gathering forebodingly on the horizon, worry many Chinese Christians. The older generations remember the severe days of persecution in Chinese history. Even the 1980s and 1990s were very difficult times for the Chinese Church.
‘But it appears the current period of relative ease for Chinese Christians, worshipping in house churches in particular, will change’. This is because Chinese leader Xi Jinping is overseeing the further restriction of religious activities.
In 2016, the Chinese Communist Party’s central planning meeting drew up new regulations, to be enacted, that will make it an ‘offence to organise citizens to attend religious training, conferences and activities abroad; to preach, organise religious activities and establish religious institutions or religious sites at schools; and provide religious services through the internet’.
Already, in the past few years, churches have been ordered to remove crosses, or have had church buildings decommissioned. Worryingly too for Release International partners on the ground in China, is the disappearance of Christian pastors, human rights lawyers and others.
In February’s Evangelical Times, Paul Robinson, chief executive of Release, commented on the disappearance of human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, amid fears he has been tortured. He said, ‘Forced confessions are common, and in the case of Christian lawyers, often extracted under extreme intimidation and torture’.
According to various reports, since July 2015, China has rounded up and detained more than 230 human rights lawyers and activists.
China is not the only country whose government’s attitude to Christians is causing extreme alarm.
Release’s 2017 ‘Persecution trends’ map has revealed persecution hotspots. The majority of these, perhaps unsurprisingly, are Muslim countries, with Iran and Pakistan coming high on the list. Partners in Pakistan are concerned that 2017 will bring ‘more discrimination, forced conversions and forced marriages’.
Partners on the ground in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East — where Christians and other minority groups have been fleeing from Islamic State — have reported on what happens to those Christians remaining behind, claiming ‘those unwilling to renounce their faith have been tortured, sexually abused and even crucified’.
North and East Africa have also hit the headlines, with 17 largely Islamic countries (including the once mainly Christian Nigeria) stridently persecuting Christians. According to the Centre for Studies on New Religions, more than 70 per cent of all the deaths of Christians in 2016 occurred in North Africa.
Whole villages designated as nominally Christian have often been attacked by mobs. For example, in Nigeria, Islamic terrorist groups Boko Haram and the nomadic Fulani have destroyed entire villages, killing all those who cannot escape.
According to Release’s figures, two million people have been displaced in Nigeria alone. Some six million have been killed in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo.
Charity Tearfund reports how, in April 2016, armed men rampaged through the Kavumu village, raping and attacking 33 girls, some of whom were just three-year-old toddlers.
‘This isn’t an uncommon story’, Tearfund’s newsletter read. ‘Yet Tearfund, with its vibrant network of local Christian partners, stands as a beacon to continue to bring life-saving assistance in Jesus’ name in this drastic situation’.
So what can Christians in the West do to help their brothers and sisters in Christ? Barnabas Fund’s website offers various ways to get involved, not only through giving money for campaigns and missions. Barnabas advocates volunteering, organising fund-raisers, and raising awareness in churches and communities in the UK, by booking speakers to educate people about praying for God’s persecuted church. Other evangelical agencies that help persecuted Christians can also be supported.
Persecution is not going to go away. The Lord Jesus Christ himself told his disciples, ‘In this world you will have trouble’. But he also said, ‘Fear not; I have overcome the world’. With this confidence, we can pray to our God to help his people stand fast, and to come to the relief of his people, for the honour and glory of his Son.