Global Christian Persecution Hits 30-Year High

As the religious liberty organization Open Doors marks its 30th anniversary since it introduced the World Watch List compiling the 50 countries where Christians are persecuted the most, many Christians in several countries face more persecution than ever.

In the latest 2023 World Watch List, North Korea returned to the top spot after the country intensified arrests under its “anti-reactionary thought” law.

In last year’s World Watch List, Afghanistan reached the top spot after the Taliban seized power.

However, Afghanistan dropped to the 9th spot after the Taliban focused on suppressing women’s rights and hunting down those who worked with the previous government. Other countries included in the list are Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria, and Pakistan.

Although many Muslim-majority countries and communist states were included in this year’s World Watch List, many Christian-majority countries have surprisingly joined the list, such as Mexico in the 38th place and Colombia in the 22nd place.

The World Watch List was created in 1993 by Wybo Nicolai, a former global field director for Open Doors. He says the number of countries that persecute Christians and the intensity of that persecution has only increased since 2010.

Founded by “Brother Andrew” van der Bijl in 1955, Nicolai joined the Christian organization in 1985 as a researcher for the Soviet Union. But after the fall of the Berlin Wall and, subsequently, the dissolution of the USSR in the early 1990s, Open Doors began looking beyond Eastern Europe, and Nicolai started mapping the countries where Christians are persecuted the most.

When he began collecting data in 1991, Nicolai tried to find a way to track and measure Christian persecution in the most objective and scientific as possible. Thus, the World Watch List was made, and many Christians, politicians, and academics have used it to track religious freedom globally.

The list ranks countries based on six aspects where Christians and churches face the most discrimination and persecution: private life, family life, community life, levels of violence, and national life. Since 2022, the list of 10 countries where Christians face the most pressure has changed very little.

The US was notably not included in the list even since last year, despite many American Christians voicing concern about discrimination and a “culture war” in the country.

While the US has become more secular over the years, Wybo Nicolai acknowledged that the experience of American Christians was very different from Christians in countries such as North Korea, Somalia, and Yemen.

Lisa Pearce, the interim CEO of Open Doors U.S., also said Christians should pay attention whenever religious freedom is threatened. She stated that Christians should support those persecuted and learn from them.

I would say to American Christians that relative to many, many, many places in the world, you have extraordinary freedom,” Pearce noted. “Use it well.

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