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Persecution in top 10 religion news stories of 2017

Colin Hansen. Credit: The Gospel Coalition

America’s leading publications and online news services ranked religious persecution amongst its top stories in 2017.
Collin Hansen’s “top theology stories of 2017” on The Gospel Coalition website, ranked Ancient Christian Communities Liberated from ISIS as its No.1 story.
“The Islamic State forced the people living in the Nineveh Plains to flee their ancient Christian communities. But over the last year, areas of Iraq and Syria have been liberated from the Islamic State’s ruthless control, allowing some Christians to return home to celebrate Christmas,” he wrote.
A New York Times headline read, “Christmas Returns to A City Liberated From ISIS.” The article examined the recovering city of Qaraqosh, Iraq’s largest Christian community. According to the Times article, nearly half of Qaraqosh citizens had returned by last August and this Christmas was the first time the city’s main church will be filled with worshipers since its liberation. The Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD’s) Religious Liberty Director Faith McDonnell noted that in some cases people returned home to liberated areas to celebrate Christmas but they were not able to stay permanently.
Hansen ranked as No. 10 the continuing persecution of Christians in China even as the gospel spreads. The Atlantic magazine ran a piece titled, “In China, Unregistered Churches Are Driving a Religious Revolution.” The article attests to Chinese Christians’ devotion and evangelism, despite setbacks and challenges under a controlling government.
There are reports that as many as 100 million people in the People’s Republic of China follow Jesus Christ. “At current rates of increase, there could be 250 million Christians in China by 2030, predominantly Evangelicals, according to Purdue sociologist Fenggang Yang as reported by the Washington Post,” wrote IRD’s Research Assistant Joseph Rossell. “If this projection holds true, China would contain more Christians than any other country in the world.”
Terry Mattingly, nationally syndicated columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service, author and professor, ranked Myanmar troops forcing half a million Muslim Rohingya into Bangladesh, with reports of children being beheaded and people burned alive, as a leading top 10 story.
The year was dominated by Donald Trump and armies of evangelicals who, in myriad mainstream news reports, marched in lockstep support behind his political agenda.
Trump was named Religion Newsmaker of the Year, after “his inauguration triggered upheaval across a number of religious fronts, among them the role of evangelical support of his administration; fierce debates over Islam, race and religious liberty; the appointment of conservative Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch; and executive orders relating to immigration and terrorism,” said the RNA announcement.
Mattingly ranked as No. 3 a U.S. travel ban on several majority-Muslim nations inspiring protests, before courts delayed it. Trump vowed to fight “radical Islamic terrorism,” a term avoided by his predecessors.
Christianity Today, a leading Evangelical publication, declared amongst its top 20 stories that it was the ‘Worst Year Yet’ and revealed the top 50 countries where
it’s hardest to be a Christian.
Islamic extremism now has a rival, according to 2017 World Watch List. Jeremy Weber noted for the third year in a row, the modern persecution of Christians worldwide had hit another record high. The primary cause, Islamic extremism, now has a rival: ethnic nationalism, he said.
Christianity Today’s coverage of recent WWL rankings noted how North Korea was getting competition, as well as how the annual list aims for effective anger and shows persecuted believers that they are not forgotten.
In 25 years of “chronicling and ranking” the political and societal restrictions on religious freedom experienced by Christians worldwide, Open Doors researchers identified 2016 as the “worst year yet.”
“Persecution rose globally again for the third year in a row, indicating how volatile the situation has become,” stated Open Doors. “Countries in South and Southeast Asia rapidly rose to unprecedented levels and now rank among such violent areas as the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa.”
The findings and trends noted by Open Doors are stark:
Approximately 215 million Christians experience high, very high, or extreme persecution. North Korea remains the most dangerous place to be a Christian (for 14 straight years).
Islamic extremism remains the global dominant driver of persecution, responsible for initiating oppression and conflict in 35 out of the 50 countries on the 2017 list.
Ethnic nationalism is fast becoming a major driver of persecution. “While this took an anti-establishment form in the West, in Asia it took an anti-minorities form, fueled by dramatic religious nationalism and government insecurity. It is common—and easy—for tottering governments to gain quick support by scapegoating Christians.”
The total number of persecution incidents in the top 50 most dangerous countries increased, revealing the persecution of Christians worldwide as a rising trend.
The most violent: Pakistan, which rose to No. 4 on the list for a level of violence “exceeding even northern Nigeria.”
The killings of Christians in Nigeria saw an increase of more than 62 percent.
The killings of Christians were more geographically dispersed than in most time periods studied. “Hitting closer to home, 23 Christian leaders in Mexico and four in Colombia were killed specifically for their faith,” said Open Doors of the “rare” event.
The worst increase: Mali, which moved up the most places on the list from No. 44 to No. 32.
Asia is a new center of concern, with persecution rising sharply in Bangladesh, Laos, and Bhutan, and Sri Lanka joining the list for the first time.
India rose to its highest rank ever, No. 15, amid the continued rise of Hindu nationalism. “An average of 40 incidents were reported per month, including pastors beaten, churches burned and Christians harassed,” stated Open Doors. “Of the 64 million Christians in India, approximately 39 million experience direct persecution.”
In Central Asia, persecution spread due to both Islamic extremism and government attempts to restrict it. “In many countries, governmental raids of suspected Christian households increased, certain Christian books have been banned,” stated Open Doors, “and the membership requirement to remain a legal church doubled, resulting in many churches to be deemed illegal overnight.”
The top 10 nations where it is most dangerous and difficult to practice the Christian faith are: North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, Iraq
Iran, Yemen and Eritrea. Yemen was the only new country in the top 10, replacing Libya.
Finally, a U.S. travel ban on several majority-Muslim nations inspired protests, before courts delay it. Trump vowed to fight “radical Islamic terrorism,” a term avoided by his predecessors.