Study shows Christian ‘martyrs’ doubled worldwide

Minority report: Can the religious only feel safe in countries where their faith dominates?

At least two thousand Christians were killed for their faith last year, double the number in 2012. Why does ‘medieval’ religious slaughter still happen in the the modern world?

On Christmas Day, a car bomb near a church in Baghdad killed at least 15 people, thought to be mainly Iraqi Christians. The incident was shocking, but only the latest bloody contribution to a year notable for a terrible Christian death toll.

When we think of religious persecution, we think of the Holocaust, or of the Muslim Sunni and Shia conflict. A study just released, however, shows that Christians are currently the most persecuted religious group worldwide. The report from Open Doors, a group that offers support to the victims of religious hatred, shows the total number of martyrs doubled to two thousand in the past year when compared to the previous year.

The Archbishop of Canterbury used his seasonal message to highlight this slaughter across the world’s troublespots.

‘We see injustice in the ever more seriously threatened Christian communities of the Middle East,’ Archbishop Welby said. ‘They are attacked, massacred and driven into exile.’

Britain’s foreign office minister Baroness Warsi, herself a Muslim, has also raised the alarm, warning: ‘A mass exodus is taking place, on a biblical scale. In some places, there is a real danger that Christianity will become extinct.’

The Open Doors report names North Korea as the worst place to be a Christian, with between 50,000 and 70,000 held in political detention camps, and religious observance outlawed. But Somalia, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are also very dangerous, with ‘purges’ in some areas. Other nations where the Arab Spring overthrew secular dictatorships have also seen a rise in attacks on Christians, notably in Egypt.

In particular, the report identifies ‘Islamist extremism’ as ‘the worst persecutor of the worldwide church’. Sadly, rival religious groups are the greatest perpetrators of violence once they themselves have gained the political upper hand.

2013 or 213 AD?

We usually believe that human civilisation has come a long way since the times of the Ancient Romans feeding Christians to the lions. Certainly the Colosseum could not be used for such a purpose today. And many people of faith who share their lives with people from different religious backgrounds see violence arising from intolerance as unacceptable: this new report should shock us into action, they say.

Yet it seems the cheek-by-jowl modern world, in which people from all faiths live alongside each other, can also serve to fuel religious hatred, particularly when a country goes through a period of upheaval or conflict. Improved mobility and communication means people who would not have previously encountered each other now live in close quarters despite not sharing values. So perhaps we should be less surprised that 2013 was so deadly for Christians?

You Decide

  1. Do you have any beliefs you would defend to the death? Is this a good measure of commitment or not?
  2. ‘History shows us intolerance is inherent in religious belief, the only solution is to abolish religion altogether.’ Do you agree?


  1. Role play: one of you is a Christian cleric on trial for allowing a Saudi man to convert from Islam, instead of reporting him to the authorities for breaking the law. The rest of the group are a jury.
  2. Research the numbers of the various religions in the Middle East and where they live. What patterns do you identify?

Some People Say...

“Let us all be brave enough to die the death of a martyr, but let no one lust for martyrdom.’Mahatma Gandhi”

What do you think?

Q & A

Countries at war are dangerous for anyone.
Yes, but some people are being specifically targeted due to their beliefs. In some countries, violence committed on religious grounds is not forbidden, meaning its victims receive no protection from politicians or the law. For example, in Saudi Arabia practising any religion other than Islam is illegal, and conversion of Muslims is punishable by death.
Don’t Christians persecute non-Christians?
Adherents of particular faiths have suffered more at particular times in history and in particular places. Sadly it seems there’s no group able totally to escape judgment or opposition. But this could provide all of us with motivation to do what we can to tackle this violence.

Word Watch

A person who is killed because of their religious beliefs. In Christianity, many of the saints are martyrs. Often these can become important historical figures, such as Joan of Arc who was famously burned at the stake for heresy. Martyrdom is also a central concept for Islamic ‘holy warriors’ or Jihadis.
Open Doors emphasised that killings are only the most extreme example of persecution. Christians also face attacks on their places of worship and study, as well as being the victims of continued violence and discrimination across the world, sometimes culminating in expulsion from their native country.
The government in some states officially promotes atheism. This is a common policy in Communist states where worshipping God tends to be forbidden, but North Korea is even more extreme and there, says the report, ‘the God-like worship of the rulers leaves no room for any other religion’.
Islamist extremism
This term refers to groups of Muslims who are perceived to be particularly strict and conservative with their faith, often holding very negative views of non-Muslims, or other, less conservative, Muslims. Not all extremists are violent, and many fundamentalist groups abhor violence committed in the name of religious struggle.

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