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Mainline Protestants PDF Print E-mail

Mark Sigmon
Mission Network News

delivered at the
International Coalition for Religious Freedom Conference on 
"Religious Freedom and the New Millenium"
Berlin, Germany, May 29-31, 1998

It is my privilege today to speak for those of the Protestant and Evangelical Christian faith who suffer at this hour. In addition to the discrimination and persecution taking place among Christians in Europe and the former Soviet Union, I have also been asked to summarize the global state of persecuted Christians. As time permits, I will go from the global to the specific, and give further examples of what has already been shared over this weekend from Europe and the CIS.

From a global perspective, as persecution is applied to the Christian mainline Protestant and Evangelical faiths, I would like to address my remarks to that which has been identified as Category I and Category II persecution. These are the highest levels of persecution, involving such things as: forced conversion to other religions, severe economic hardship, social neglect, torture, unpunished mob violence, rape, imprisonment, forced relocation, separation of families, slavery, and even death. This is not to downplay the discrimination, and the many egregious and unconscionable acts that we have already heard about this weekend, but when we talk of Christian persecution worldwide, we must consider persecution at this level.

Here are a few of the sobering facts. Of the 2.1 billion people worldwide who claim the Christian faith, 200 million of them living in 60 countries are the members of the “persecuted church” who actually or in reality suffer all of the things that I have mentioned above in Category I and II. Only one percent of those who live in these essentially controlled societies are able to emigrate and escape the persecution that they face. On average, 150,000 Christians are martyred each year for their faith. This is a conservative estimate. By the way, by conservative estimate, 100 million people from all faiths have been martyred this century. That is more than the previous 19 centuries combined, and more than all the deaths from all the wars in this century.

In the Sudan alone, which is perhaps the most egregious of all countries in regard to Christian persecution and suffering, over one million have been martyred in the last 15 years. To bring this home just a bit more, if we were to average out the number of deaths over the course of a year, since our first meeting on Friday, 675 Christians have died for their faith.

United States Senator Joseph Lieberman says that Christians are the most persecuted group today. Michael Horowitz, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, says that it appears that Christians will be the Jews of the twenty-first century. He says,

I see eerie parallels between the treatment of Christians in much of the third world, and the treatment of Jews during the period that led to the Holocaust.

This is quite a statement from one who is himself a Jew.

The US House of Representatives Resolution 515 states this,

Oppression and persecution of religious believers around the world has emerged as one of the most compelling human rights issues of the day.

In particular, the worldwide persecution and martyrdom of Christians persists at alarming levels. This is an affront to the international community, and to all people of conscience.

From whence comes this persecution, this venomous hatred, and why? I would suggest to you that, from a human standpoint, there is one common denominator to the persecution that takes place on this level around the world. That is that Christians are perceived as a primary threat to someone’s agenda. This perceived threat has been taken up by four groups primarily. I will mention them briefly in the order of severity.

First, Christians are seen as a threat to totalitarian regimes, especially the hard-line communists. Examples of these are China, North Korea, and most of southeast Asia. Often in these countries, Christians are labeled public enemy number one, and the government seeks control over their lives and practices. It has also been documented that this is a method they use to send a message to other supposed dissidents within their society.

Second, Christians are also perceived as a threat in the more radical Islamic states. I cite as examples: Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iran, Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, and Yemen. A religion that has been historically tolerant of other religions now contains factions that have gone so far as to declare a jihad, a holy war, against Christians. Laws on many of their books allow them to punish these so-called outlaws, even with death.

Third, Christians are perceived as a threat to misguided nationalists, who reside among certain ethnic peoples and nations. Indonesia, where at this time riots are taking place, is one example. The Chinese, who make up the vast majority of the Christian Church in Indonesia, are the primary targets of the mob violence taking place there. I cite also the Karen peoples of Myanmar, who have been displaced into Thailand, and are still attacked, beaten, and killed. Included here would be some African countries, most notably Sudan and Somalia. In addition, we have already heard of cases in the former Soviet Union of those individuals and states that are out to either ethnically cleanse, or are engaged in some sort of religious apartheid.

Fourth, persecution being experienced by Christians has come from a number of state churches, often in an unholy alliance with the government. Examples of these have been given in Europe. The level, severity, and results of such persecution rise as we move from Europe into the former Soviet Union.

Now, I shall give a few specifics regarding Europe and the former Soviet Union. When we speak of Category I or Category II persecution of Protestant Christians in Europe and the former Soviet Union, we find this level of persecution exists only in the central Asian portion of the former Soviet Union. In the World Watch list of the top 50 violators of religious freedom in the world, published 19 April 1998, there were no European countries mentioned. There were, however, six countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Afghanistan is number 10; Uzbekistan is number 24; Dagestan is number 30; Turkmenistan is number 33; Azerbaijan is number 35; and Chechnya is number 36. By the way, the countries that I mentioned in earlier examples make up the top ten on this list, and other lists that have come out rating countries that are the most intolerant.

I will give just a few more examples of what is taking place. In Uzbekistan, on May 1, 1998, a law was passed to regulate all religious groups. It outlaws any missionary activity, bans religious meetings in private homes, and labels all non-Orthodox Christian faiths as sects. In Azerbaijan, on May 22, the head of the Spiritual Department called on local authorities to inform him of any “illegal activities” in church settings. On May 23, in Tajikistan, the Tajik parliament banned all political parties having any religious orientation. Interestingly enough, only the current president’s party is now legal.

To summarize what we have already heard over the weekend, there have been a number of political and legislative attempts to restrict religious freedom. We have had cited for us laws in such places as Russia, Greece, and elsewhere. There have been commissions established to study and monitor “dangerous sects.” These commissions and laws have been enacted, or proposed, in such countries as Austria, Belgium, France, and Germany.

In conclusion, as we look at Christian persecution around the world, we understand the paranoid nature that manifests itself throughout the world. These are some examples from the world, and specifically from Europe and the former Soviet Union.