An estimated 76 percent of the world’s population live in countries with “high or very high levels of restrictions on freedom of religion or belief.” If you are reading this article, you are likely in the 24 percent who enjoy some latitude on what you believe and how you practice your beliefs.
Open Doors, a ministry aiding persecuted Christians in some of the world’s most hostile regions, says that each month:
- 322 Christians, on average, are killed for practicing their faith.
- 772 forms of violence—beatings, rapes, arrests, forced marriages—are perpetrated against Christians.
- 214 churches and Christian properties are destroyed.
- Christians in more than 60 countries are oppressed not only by neighbors but by their government.
“All over the world, like the early martyrs of the church, believers are literally soaked in blood as [they] die for their faith,” says Lord David Alton, a longtime member of the House of Lords in the British Parliament and a leading religious freedom advocate.
Alton, who will speak in May at the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians in Washington, D.C., noted that out of 185 nations studied by Pew Research, 151 of them persecuted religious minorities. Whether in communist regimes like North Korea or Islamist-dominated regions of north Africa, Asia or the Middle East, accounts of both grievous suffering and amazing courage can be found.
“Last year, I visited detention centers in South Asia where escaping Pakistani Christians, hunted down for their faith, are incarcerated and kept like animals,” Alton says. “If for people like these the faith is worth dying for, we who enjoy so many freedoms must live for it and use our freedoms on their behalf.
“The Book of Genesis reminds us that every person is crafted in the image and likeness of God. That places a duty on those of us who have a voice to speak out and to act on behalf of all who are vulnerable and powerless. The Apostle Paul says we also have a special duty to the people who are of the household of faith.”
Alton says he is encouraged by a renewed interest in the issue of religious freedom and human rights. For example, the British government sponsored a two-day event recently to challenge the “religious illiteracy” that exists among many Western policymakers and to focus on Article 18 of the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed in 1948. Article 18 concerns the right to believe, not to believe, or to change one’s beliefs.
“All over the world this right is trampled on daily,” Alton says. “And indifferent policymakers, even when confronted with hard evidence of Christians being subjected to genocide, crimes against humanity or persecution, have chosen to look the other way. … Maximilian Kolbe, murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz, said, ‘The most deadly poison of our time is indifference.’ It was true then, and it is true now.”