Around the world, Christians face persecution and even death for their beliefs. This is a horrifying reality, but Christians are not the only group of people being persecuted for their religion. It’s easy to empathize with fellow Christians when they suffer, but in the Bible, we read that the greatest commandment is to first love God, and then to love our neighbors. Regardless of what our neighbor believes, when they face suffering, we’ve been called by Christ to offer tangible love.
So, we wanted to explore difficult instances of religious persecution happening around the world and also offer ways that you can help.
Christians are highly persecuted
Firstly, we wanted to explore Christian martyrdom and persecution. In the Middle East, up to two–thirds of Christians have been eradicated (fled or murdered) from the very lands in which Bible stories are set. Take Iraq for example. The country was home to 1.5 million Christians in 1990. By 2003, the number was below 500,000 and as of today, fewer than 120,000 Iraqi Christians remain. Systemic targeting of Christians led German Chancellor Angela Merkel to state in 2012 that Christians were “the most persecuted religion in the world.”
Beyond the Middle East, there’s highly concerning Christian persecution elsewhere as well. In China, there’s been an increase in police raids shutting down Christian churches. In North Korea, practicing Christianity can get you sent to a government-run concentration camp or killed. On Easter Sunday 2019, suicide bombers attacked Christian churches killing 253 and injuring 500 more in Sri Lanka.
Often, the Christians most likely to be attacked live in the greatest poverty. When Jesus called us to love the orphans and widows, persecuted Christians will often fit the description. If you want to help persecuted Christians, consider supporting Voice of the Martyrs.
Persecutions of Jews
The Jewish people have endured long-standing religious persecution. In the Old Testament, we read of their enslavement to the Egyptians, and in the New Testament, the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire on the Jews is a dominant theme. As Christianity rose to be a major religion, it brought an increased hostility to the Jewish people, with Christians, unfortunately, labeling Jews as “Christ-killers.” No group has gone through such systematic religious killings as the Jews faced just 85 years ago during the Holocaust, which killed two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population.
Unfortunately, anti-Semitism is still a toxic force in this world. In fact, the 2017 race riot in Charlottesville had ample anti-Semitic undertones and hate speech against Jews.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has been working for over 100 years to combat anti-Semitism. Consider supporting their work.
In Iran, the Baha’is are the largest religious minority and they face terrible persecution including unjust arrests leading to false imprisonment, attacks, confiscation of property and even executions. They also are denied access to employment opportunities, higher education, government services and basic civil rights.
Although the Baha’is are considered to be one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world, their story is often not shared in the press. Prominent Baha’i celebrities like Rainn Wilson and Justin Baldoni have been shedding more light on the faith in recent years. Wilson explained that “lots of people know about the Faith in LA and many of The Office cast have come to gatherings that my wife and I have hosted. People have a pretty positive view of the Baha’is and are very upset about the terrible persecution they’re suffering in the birthplace of our faith, Iran.”
Atheists also face discrimination
Today, a lack of faith in God is punishable by death in thirteen Muslim countries: Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
Not believing in God can also result in social discrimination in more developed parts of the world. For example, no American who identifies as an atheist has ever been elected president. In fact, seven US states actually ban atheists from holding a public office.
In the Western world, Islamophobia is very common and unfortunately steadily increasing. Politicians openly use anti-Muslim sentiments as a tool to get elected. Mosques are vandalized, anti-Muslim legislation is frequently passed and the public opposes the establishment of Muslim properties like schools and cemeteries. In fact, from 2012-2018, New America documented 763 Islamophobic instances in America. European attitudes can be similar.
In the developing world, Muslim persecution gets far worse. In Myanmar, the Rohingya region’s conflict has forced 600,000 Muslims to flee their homeland with deaths in the 10,000’s. Internal longstanding differences between Sunni and Shia Islam sects have led to recent violent conflicts in places like Iraq and Syria; in effect, these are religious civil wars.
Consider donating to UNICEF to help the Rohingya refugees.
Discrimination against Sikhs and Hindus
As there’s been an uptick in Islamophobia following the September 11 attacks, there’s also been an increase in discrimination against Sikhs, Hindus and other Eastern religions. In America, stories of targeted attacks on these religious minorities are a regular occurrence, including the July 2019 attack of a Hindu priest in New York City and the murder of a Sikh man in Stockton in August 2019.
Like many other groups, these peaceful religious groups also face discrimination abroad.
Freedom of religion is a human right
Unfortunately, there are far more cases of people facing persecution for their religious beliefs than this article has room to cover. In 1948, the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights outlined freedom of religion as a universal human right.
If this article has impacted you, consider supporting the UN’s Human Rights (OHCHR) division which works tirelessly to protect people when they are stripped of human rights like the freedom to worship.