It's time to talk about Christian persecution

Lamentation   , ca. 1582, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Lamentation, ca. 1582, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Last week, during the holy holiday of Easter, the most important in the western tradition, 253 Christians (including children) were killed in a targeted series of coordinated terrorist suicide bombings in Sri Lanka. This barbaric act, like all other terrorist attacks, made me think about religious persecution and the silent harassment Christians suffer around the world and how little this topic is discussed publicly and by the media. So, I read the 125 pages report made by the good people of the Pew Research Center to find out, what is the current situation worldwide of religious persecution and harassment.

The study conducted by the Pew Research Center published in 2018, shows that religious persecution is on the rise and more importantly, Christianity is the most harassed religion in the world since the report was created ten years ago. This is the ninth in a series of reports by Pew Research Center analyzing the extent to which governments and societies around the world impinge on religious beliefs and practices. The studies are part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, which analyzes religious change and its impact on societies around the world.

First, it is important to define “harassment” according to the research and conceptually it means that members of religious groups has been harassed in many forms, including physical assaults, arrests and detentions, desecration of holy sites, and discrimination against religious groups in employment, education and housing. Harassment and intimidation also include things like verbal assaults on members of one religious group by other groups or individuals.


The research concluded that the share of countries with “high” or “very high” levels of government restrictions – that is, laws, policies and actions by officials that restrict religious beliefs and practices – rose from 25% in 2015 to 28% in 2016. This is the largest percentage of countries to have high or very high levels of government restrictions since 2013, and falls just below the 10-year peak of 29% in 2012. In many countries, restrictions on religion resulted from actions taken by government officials, social groups or individuals espousing nationalist positions. Typically, these nationalist groups or individuals were seeking to curtail immigration of religious and ethnic minorities, or were calling for efforts to suppress or even eliminate a particular religious group, in the name of defending a dominant ethnic or religious group they described as threatened or under attack.

More specifically, the analysis also finds that among the world’s 25 most populous countries, Egypt, Russia, India, Indonesia and Turkey had the highest overall levels of government restrictions and social hostilities in 2016. China had the highest score on the Government Restrictions Index, while India had the highest score on the Social Hostilities Index.

Looking at religious groups, harassment of members of the world’s two largest groups – Christians and Muslims – by governments and social groups continued to be widespread around the world, with both experiencing sharp increases in the number of countries where they were harassed in 2016. However, Muslims harassment was predominantly in Europe, while Christian harassment was widespread in North Africa, Middle East and Asia, the highest populated areas in the world with roughly 3/4 of the world’s population, whether from government forces or social groups. Three-in-ten countries where Christians were harassed by governments were in the Asia-Pacific region, while a similar share – 27% – of countries where they were harassed by social groups were also located in the region.

It is important also to notice that not all religious groups are targeted equally by governments and social groups. At times, a group may be the victim of government harassment while not facing any harassment by social groups, or vice versa. For example, since 2007, Jews have consistently been harassed by social groups or individuals in more countries than they have been harassed by governments (66 vs. 56 in 2016). Christians, on the other hand, are harassed in more countries by governments (114 countries) than by social groups (107 countries).

In conclusion the report tries to be very diplomatic about religious harassment in the world, always showing opposite and contrasting data that induces the reader to think that the harassment is somehow balanced. However, the truth is that, for the last 10 years we have seen a systematic and increasing persecution of Christians in the most populated regions, not only from individuals but also from governments imposing restrictions. I included the full report in the beginning of this post, and you’re free to read and make your own conclusions from the research.