The normally diplomatic Pope Francis recently asserted: “The persecution of Christians today is even greater than in the first centuries of the Church, and there are more Christian martyrs today than in that era.”
To those familiar with the history of early persecution — when Christians were habitually tortured to death, set on fire, fed to lions and dismembered to cheering audiences — his statement may seem exaggerated. But even today, as in the past, Christians are indeed being persecuted for their faith and even tortured and executed.
A January, 2014, Pew Research Center study on religious discrimination across the world found that harassment of Christians was reported in more countries (110) than any other faith.
Open Doors, a nondenominational Christian rights watchdog group, ranked the 50 most dangerous nations for Christians in its World Watch List. The No. 1 ranked nation is North Korea, followed by a host of Muslim countries. (Disturbing indeed is the fact that three of these countries — Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya — were “liberated” in part thanks to U.S. forces, while in the fourth, Syria, the U.S. is actively sponsoring the “rebels,” many of whom are responsible for attacks and kidnappings of Christians.)
Nothing integral to the fabric of these societies makes them intrinsically anti-Christian. Something as simple as overthrowing the North Korean regime could possibly end persecution there — just as the fall of Communist Soviet Union saw religious persecution come to a quick close in nations like Russia.
To influence these situations, Western nations must make foreign aid contingent on the rights and freedoms of minorities. After all, if we are willing to give billions in foreign aid, often on humanitarian grounds, surely the very least that recipient governments can do is provide humanitarian rights, including religious freedom.
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