Recently someone requested I post information on the persecution of Christians. Here you go.
In 2013 Reuters reported statistics from Open Doors, a group that supports persecuted Christians. They wrote that the number of Christians who lost their life for their faith in 2012 was 1,201. All of these were in Syria.
This year they reported 2013 numbers, which they said spiked to 2,123. The five most dangerous countries for Christians are North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, in that order. Although there were no Christian martyrs in North Korea last year, Open Doors says Christians there face “unimaginable pressure.” There has been a strong drive to purge Somalia of Christianity.
Christians are persecuted more than other religious groups. 111 countries limit or restrict Christianity. 90 countries limit or restrict Islam.
Christians have been persecuted from the start of Christianity, beginning with Jesus himself. First century Christians were persecuted by Jews and Romans. Christians were persecuted for hundreds of years, until 313 when Constantine legalized Christianity with the Edict of Milan.
Once in power, the church, persecuted for centuries, became persecutor, beginning with heretics, those who disagreed with mainline orthodox teaching. Monatists, Novatians, Marcionites, Valentinians, Gnostics, Manichaeans and others were persecuted. Augustine taught that those in error have no rights. The first recorded executions for heresy were in 385 AD. This would later develop into the Inquisition, which resulted in the torture and execution of Jews, Muslims, heretics, dissidents and others. Around the world, throughout history, Christians have been both persecuted and persecutors.
How should we as Christians respond to persecution?
The apostle Paul was once a persecutor of the church. After his conversion he became persecuted. He writes in 2 Corinthians 11:
“Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters…”
Jesus, in fact, told his followers to expect persecution:
“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves…” (Matthew 11)
“Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name.” (Matthew 24)
This does not mean that people should encourage their own persecution. Just expect it. In at least one instance Jesus walked away from potential martyrdom:
“They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” (Luke 4)
At the outset of his letter, James says, “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)
Here’s what we can say. Expect persecution, but don’t go looking for it. When others are persecuted, stand beside them, announce it from the rooftops, shed light on it. Love God and neighbor as God Jesus called us to do. Feed the hungry, visit those sick and in prison, welcome the stranger, live with grace and generosity, serve the least, the last and the lost. And if persecutions come, count it joy.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5)
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” (Romans 12:12-13)
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God;* for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21)