Christians are “the most widely targeted religious community,” according to a report from Under Caesar’s Sword (UCS).
Christians respond to persecution in a variety of ways, UCS explained, with nonviolent survival strategies being most common.
Persecution comes at the hands of both state and non-state actors, and expressions include “arbitrary detention … imprisonment … forced flight from homes … attacks on and destruction of churches” as well as “blasphemy laws, onerous religious registration regulations, and laws outlawing proselytism.”
Nineteen nations were identified as having high levels of Christian persecution taking place within their borders, including China, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.
“Most of the world’s persecution of Christians takes place within a geographic band that begins around Libya, moves eastward to Egypt and the rest of the Middle East, expands north to Russia and south to Sri Lanka, and then proceeds eastward to China, Indonesia and North Korea,” the report noted.
Locations in which Christians are a small minority are where persecution most often occurs, and Christians not affiliated with “mainline Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox Christians or other Christians associated with ancient churches” were more likely to face persecution.
“Although Western commentary regularly blames Islam, the regimes that repress Christians vary widely,” UCS emphasized – from Islamic regimes in Iran and Saudi Arabia to Communist states in China and North Korea, to expressions of religious nationalism wedding “state, faith and national identity” in India and Russia, to “regimes that impose a harsh secular ideology, such as the post-Soviet republics of Central Asia.”
UCS identified three Christian responses to persecution: survival, association and confrontation.
Survival efforts “to preserve the life and the most characteristic activities of their communities” are most common. This can include “cultural adaptation,” “tactical alliances with a dominant religious tradition” or even fleeing to a neighboring country.
Association initiatives are another common response. “Ecumenical partnerships” between Catholic, Protestant and Islamic leaders to unite against the violence of Boko Haram in Nigeria were cited as one example.
Confrontation, the least adopted strategy, involves working to oppose unjust practices even if it means imprisonment or death. “In rare cases, Christians take up arms against a government or rival social groups,” UCS explained. “More commonly, Christians document human rights abuses in order to elicit assistance.”
The report summarized, “Christian responses to persecution embody a ‘creative pragmatism’ dominated by short-term efforts to provide security, build strength through social ties and sometimes strategically oppose the persecution levied against them. The fact that these efforts are pragmatic should not obscure that they often are conducted with deep faith as well as creativity, courage, nimbleness, theological conviction and hope for a future day of freedom.”
UCS is a collaborative project of the University of Notre Dame, the Religious Freedom Institute and Georgetown University’s Religious Freedom Research Project.
The full report is available here.