North Korea and ‘failed’ Muslim states top Open Doors’ Christian persecution list. So what?

A new report from Christian advocacy group Open Doors cites Islamic extremism and organized corruption as main drivers of Christian persecution in its annual list of worst offenders. Should non-Christians care?

The worst states for Christian persecution are those with some of the strongest and weakest governments, according to a new report from Christian rights group Open Doors.

Children in North Korea

Children in North Korea

Topping the group’s World Watch List for the 12th consecutive year is totalitarian North Korea. Other heavy-handed governments near the summit are Saudi Arabia (No. 6) and Iran (No. 9).

States “commonly regarded as ‘Failed’” round out the top 10. These include Somalia (No. 2), Syria (No. 3), Iraq (No. 4), Afghanistan (No. 5), Pakistan (No. 8) and Yemen (No. 10), which the report describe as states where “social and political structures have collapsed to the point where government has little or no control.”

Open Doors is an evangelical ministry that supports Christians around the world. According to a press release announcing the World Watch List:

For almost 60 years, Open Doors has worked in the world’s most oppressive and restrictive countries, strengthening Christians to stand strong in the face of persecution and equipping them to shine Christ’s light in these places. Open Doors empowers persecuted Christians by supplying Bibles and Christian literature, training Christian leaders, facilitating social/economic projects and uniting believers in the West in prayer and advocacy for Christians, who are the most persecuted faith group in the world.

Open Doors’ report is no doubt self-serving. So why should non-Christians care?

In the countries cited above and in many more, people are harassed, tortured or jailed on the basis of one component of their actual or assumed identities. Attacks against these individuals and groups are sometimes motivated by faith, more often by politics. They represent a clear violation of internationally recognized human rights.

Is North Korea a terrible place to be a Christian? Absolutely. But it’s also a terrible place to be a Buddhist, a Confucianist, a journalist, a dissident or a homosexual. In short, North Korea is a terrible place to be a human being.

Open Doors highlights where Christians’ fundamental freedoms are restricted or violated, but Christians are far from alone in being persecuted for aspects of their identities or beliefs in these countries. Research and advocacy groups that focus on different faiths and human rights make this abundantly clear:

  • The Anti-Defamation League documents anti-Semitism and hate crimes around the world.
  • The International Humanist and Ethical Union identifies 13 countries where humanists, atheists and non-religious people face the death penalty.
  • The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission produces country reports documenting discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation.
  • Freedom House ranks the worst states for press freedom, women’s rights, Internet freedom and overall freedoms, documenting the level of political rights and civil liberties in each country.

Does Open Doors’ Christian agenda detract from the importance of its annual list? I’d argue not. Self-interested groups monitoring the situations of their communities and compiling such reports makes it easier for objective onlookers to map trends and commonalities in human rights violations. The fact that a group has a particular agenda or focuses on the rights of a particular community might skew results. More often it motivates the group to raise awareness of persecution against its members. When serial offenders, like North Korea and Iran, crop up on list after list, the world takes notice.

To understand the true nature and scope of a country’s human rights violations, we shouldn’t consider the situation of one particular community in isolation. I encourage you to read Open Doors’ latest report, along with those related to other communities and rights that I link to above. Post similar examples in the comments section below.