Persecution of Christians Worldwide

A brief overview of some of the worst offenders and what you can do about it

by Reader Daniel Lieuwen

More Christians have been killed for their faith in the past century than in all the centuries of Christianity combined. As millions of were Orthodox Christians in East Bloc countries, the faithful of the Orthodox Church have a special responsibility to fight against such evils.

While persecution is now much less frequent in Russia and Eastern Europe than it was in the Soviet era, it has become increasingly common place in many other countries.

A.M. Rosenthal recently wrote in The New York Times: "Eleven countries where Christians are currently enduring great religious persecution are China, Sudan, Pakistan, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Egypt, Nigeria, Cuba, Laos, and Uzbekistan. They evidence a worldwide trend of anti-Christian persecution based on two political ideologies -- Communism and militant Islam." (1)

It must be understood that this is by no means an exhaustive list -- for example Indonesia was left out. Nearly every Muslim country persecutes its Christian minority. In Iran, people who convert to Christianity are frequently killed by the government. In other countries (e.g., Iraq, Syria), family members who kill a Christian convert are not punished. Many atrocities occur in other countries as well.

The worst horrors are in the Sudan. A civil war has been on-and-off since independence in 1956 between the Arab, Muslim north and the black (Christian and animist) south. The north has been working toward the Arabization and Islamization of the country -- they imposed Islamic law in the south in 1983, which caused a big flare-up in the smoldering civil war. Matters were made worse when an Islamic military government overthrew a democratic government in 1989. One-and-a-half million people have died over the past ten years -- most the result of government imposed "famines, warfare, and the displacement of millions of people from their homes."(2) Food and medicine are denied to those who refuse to convert to Islam. Men and even children are crucified. Many women are raped. Many women and children are enslaved. They can be bought for as little as $15.(3)

In China, Christians have been beaten to death. They are frequently tortured and imprisoned for many years. Heavy fines and confiscation of property are also frequently employed.(4)

The list goes on and on. A great deal of material is available. One particularly good place to find more in International Christian Concern's web site which has links to many other groups working on issues related to the persecution of Christians -- both secular (e.g., Amnesty International) and religious (e.g., International Christian Concern, Christian Solidarity International).

What can we do about it?

* The first thing is to learn what is happening.

* Pray. Pray for those suffering for their faith, to pray for the persecutors so that God will change their hearts, to pray for ourselves and our nations that we will not "become weary in well-doing," but stand for justice for the oppressed.

* Encourage your priest to add the old petitions for those suffering for their faith back into the services. The ancient petition for those "in the mines" refers to Christians in captivity.

* Organize prayer vigils in front of the embassies and consulates of oppressive governments.

* Organize letter writing parties much like Amnesty International does on college campuses -- either at your home (for friends and neighbors) or in your parish.

* Write letters of protest to oppressive governments (joining a human rights group first will aid this, since they send information to their members that aids in writing such letters).

* Write your legislators. If you are a European, write your European Parliament representative as well as your national representative.

* Join a human rights group (e.g., Amnesty International, International Christian Concern, Christian Solidarity International).

* Talk about the persecution of Christians to those you come into contact with at work and church.

* Display information about the persecution in your work area, on university kiosks, in Laundromats, etc.

* Boycott the products of guilty countries and companies that are too cozy with them.

* Encourage children to write reports about these matters for school. Make human rights the topic of oratorical and essay contests. If you can get youth involved, they will energize everyone else -- and young people are particularly sensitive to injustice, so it is often easier to interest them than adults. Click here for some kid-oriented suggestions...

* Acquire resources about persecution that will help people feel the sufferings that others endure. Alexander Ogorodnikov's tape "Our Suffering Church" on his sufferings in the Soviet Gulag which is available from St. Herman of Alaska Bookstore, 1315 7th Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94122, 415) 664-8161. An interview with him is posted on the Orthodox Peace Fellowship web site -- . Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago (long) and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch (short) give a great deal of information about the sufferings of the Gulag. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch can also be acquired as a book-on-tape and in movie format.

* Arrange a showing of a movie about the persecution of Christians. Having a letter writing party immediately after the movie might be particularly effective.

* Write letters to those suffering for their faith. This has the dual benefit of encouraging them by letting them know that they are not forgotten and of making the governments realize that people are watching their treatment of the recipient. Include appropriate Bible verses in your letters as prisoners are often denied access to a Bible.

* Give to help the suffering. For instance, Christian Solidarity International redeems slaves from captivity -- an action considered by the early church to be one of the greatest acts of almsgiving.


1) A. M. Rosenthal, "Persecuting the Christians, New York Times, Editorial Page, February 14, 1997.

Let me add that I am not blaming Islam per se, but the actions of many who hide their foul deeds behind the cloak of religion. One cannot square the Koranic injunction of "no compulsion in matters of religion" with what is happening in Sudan. The previous government, overthrown by the current thuggish regime, was a Muslim government as well. However, it did not attempt to enforce Shariah law on the South -- something not traditionally done in Muslim empires in the past by the way where Christians were a state within a state.

Furthermore, it is not only Christians who suffer. Muslims who are more moderate are also suffering -- in fact, the Muslims of the Nuba mountains in the Sudan undergo essentially the same kinds of brutality as the Christians and the animists. It is Christian groups who have identified a Muslim people that is being ignored by rest of the world including the Muslim world.

Sincere Muslims ought be outraged by what is done in the name of their religion by gangsters, enslavers, and rapists. It is the thugs who blacken the name of Islam, not those who decry the evil being committed in the name of Islam.

2) International Christian Concern, Top Ten Offenders.

3) International Christian Concern. "Sorrow and Shame: Brutal North African Slave Trade Ignored and Denied," The City Sun (New York City weekly).

4) International Christian Concern. Economic pressure was frequently used by Soviet authorities too. A particularly poignant story is told of a bishop who was "broken" by the threat that the authorities would take the work permit of a priest away from him, so that the man and his family would starve. (It was illegal to help such a person. It is also illegal to help such people in China.)

Reader Daniel Lieuwen

(c) 2000 by Daniel Lieuwen and the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. Permission is given to circulate this text in any media (e.g., print, electronic, voice) provided the article is reproduced in full, the web URL is incuded, and this copyright notice is included in the copy.

page updated June 2, 2000