For the world’s 2.3 billion Christians, the week ahead marks the culmination of one of the holiest seasons of the year — the anticipation and arrival of the Christ child. Sadly, the advent period has been marred by persecution, as global headlines make clear.
In China, authorities arrested more than 100 leaders and members of the Early Rain Covenant Church in early December. A week later, finding the church building locked, faithful congregants gathered at a nearby park for worship, where police arrested even more members. ChinaAid founder and president Bob Fu says these arrests represent “a major escalation of religious persecution in China.”
Earlier this year, the Xi regime revised its religious regulations, which has resulted in the closure of many unregistered churches throughout China, as well as persistent harassment and mass arrests of the nation’s minority Christian community. Cell phones are monitored, homes are searched, church leaders are followed, and scores have been detained for their beliefs. Among those imprisoned is Pastor Wang Yi, leader of Early Rain, who has declared that the “Communist regime is filled with fear at a church that is no longer afraid of it.”
Meanwhile in Iran, authorities there arrested more than 100 Christians in early December on the grounds of apostasy and proselytizing the faith. Conversion to Christianity is considered a crime in the Islamic Republic. Even so, the underground church in Iran has seen a surge in new believers in recent years. “The underground church in Iran is growing and the government is alarmed and increasingly feels threatened,” writes Dr. Hormoz Shariat, president and founder of Iran Alive Ministries.
In Pakistan, two Christians were sentenced to death last week on charges of blasphemy, even as Catholic mother Asia Bibi waits to restart her life following years on death row and her recent acquittal for the same charge. With increased regularity, blasphemy laws (in Pakistan and elsewhere) are being used as an excuse to persecute religious minorities. Such laws and the Pakistani government’s failure to hold accountable perpetrators of crimes against religious minorities prompted the U.S. Department of State to include Pakistan on its annual list of “countries of particular concern” earlier this month.
Christians have been harassed in more countries than any other religious group
Dozens of Christians have been killed and church buildings torched in places like Northern Nigeria and Egypt. Church leaders in India are bracing for a difficult Christmas week as attacks on their community and houses of worship persist. Prolonged war and genocide have reduced ancient Christian populations in the Middle East to near extinction. To live as a Christian in many parts of the world is a dangerous prospect.
To be sure, Christians are not the only religious group targeted for persecution, but Christians have been harassed in more countries than any other religious group, according to the Pew Research Center. In a season punctuated by presents and merrymaking, the hard truths of persecution are a sobering reminder of the work that remains toward promoting and protecting freedom of religion or belief — Christian or otherwise.
- Read the latest news about Christians in China
- Learn more about the Christian church in Iran
- Visit the 21Wilberforce Speak Freedom Center to get involved