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Threat of religious persecution isn’t as far from home as we might think

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Every year, 200 million Christians across the world suffer some level of persecution. It’s an issue on which the press is mostly silent, and the Western Church is largely asleep.

Religious persecution can come in different forms — from government, radical religious groups, and culture itself. They all manifest in various ways. Sadly, as this year’s Persecutor of the Year Awards Report proves, the persecution of Christians is more prevalent and geographically dispersed now than at any other time in history.

In America, with COVID restrictions having closed churches and cancel culture becoming widespread, the West is experiencing a level of government overreach and religious discrimination that is reminiscent of the totalitarian, Marxist regimes which persecute minority groups. The Western Church needs to wake up and recognize that these mindsets are already parked on its doorstep and persecution is not far behind.

We live in a country where the Christian faith is no longer automatically respected and religious discrimination is common. Take, for example, Coach Kennedy vs. Bremerton School District, the recent case brought to the United States Supreme Court in which the former’s constitutional right to pray in public was challenged. And, not so long ago, the government imposed ultra-strict regulations on churches in the name of COVID-19, while deeming other institutions essential.

An attack on our religious freedom has been brewing for a long time — and now it's here. What we're experiencing in America and in some of the other Western democracies is persecution. It’s political and driven by a lot of hate. Throughout the country, outspoken Christians are regularly demeaned and targeted for their beliefs. Academics and social groups ridicule Christians, calling them hateful, bigoted, privileged, and other labels.

Religious freedom is a potent set of rights because it encompasses freedom of speech, assembly and conscience — and that's why it’s tied to democracy and is so important to hold up. But defending spiritual liberty should not be viewed as only the government’s domain. People of all faiths should act and organize to expose and shame oppressors both in the U.S. and around the world.

The problem in America, where we don't see as much blatant Christian suffering, is that most don't realize how bad it is in many places around the world — nor do they know what to do about it. Yet we cannot let our fear cause us to do nothing.

International Christian Concern (ICC) just released its 2022 Persecutor of the Year Awards Report, which highlights the countries, entities and individuals with the worst records of religious persecution through 2021. The report is developed by ICC’s team of in-house analysts and overseas staff who provide the organization with first-hand accounts of persecution and increasingly dangerous conditions around the world.

The 2022 report reveals that Nigeria is one of the deadliest places on earth to be a Christian. It was just a few weeks ago that gunmen fired weapons and detonated explosives inside of a Catholic Church, resulting in the death of 22 people and leaving 50 people injured. Since 2000, exposure to Islamic fundamentalist ideologies has seen the rise of Fulani militias, which have killed tens of thousands of Christians and left many more homeless.

Afghanistan, North Korea and Iran have also experienced significant increases in acts of persecution committed against Christian populations. In these countries, it can come in the form of executions and beheadings or indirectly, in the form of systematic discrimination. Violence is on the rise, as is government regulation of religion, assault on houses of worship and blasphemy laws.

While Christians around the world are suffering so brutally, religious persecution is not taken seriously by our comfortable churches in the United States. Christians in the West must wake up, take advantage of the liberty that remains in America, be deeply rooted in their faith and get their networks in place to prepare for an inevitable upswing in religious persecution. The threat isn’t as “far away from home” as we might think.

Jeff King is President of International Christian Concern (ICC) and one of the world's top experts on religious persecution. ICC works with senators, representatives and State Department leaders to push back countries that persecute Christians and to free those imprisoned for their faith. King has traveled to 70+ countries and been interviewed or quoted by most major media including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox, BBC, Washington Post, CBN, and numerous others.

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