Early every year, Open Doors presents its updated World Watch List: "The top 50 countries where it's most difficult to follow Jesus." The 2022 list was introduced at a press conference on January 19, hosted by David Curry, Open Doors CEO. This year Curry's presentation included exceptionally worrisome information about new dangers globally, and deadly shifts in the free world's responses.
We should be prayerfully troubled by what we've learned.
Tony Perkins hosted David Curry on "Washington Watch" to discuss the new report. He began by pointing out that the 2022 Open Doors list includes one large and alarming shake-up -- "like nothing that's been seen in recent years."
Curry explained, "For twenty years North Korea has been at the top of the World Watch List because there you have a communist system led by a dictator. They control all the means that make life possible -- your economy, your food, the borders, the police, neighborhood watches. It's an old school Soviet communist system, but enforced with all the modern tools available. But now, all of a sudden -- and for the first time -- we have a new player on the scene at the top of our list: Afghanistan."
Afghanistan is now officially the world's #1 worst persecutor of Christians. It remained in second place for many years, although many Christians were unaware of its offenses due to the largely silent and invisible Christians there, comprised of converts from Islam. But now, since the United States' abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, the Taliban has made a concerted effort to track down underground Christian leaders and to uncover the country's secret network of Christians.
Curry explained, "Some Christians have fled. We all know that story and are thankful for those who have helped make that happen. But some Christians choose to remain, bravely staying to bring salt and light to their community. They're being tracked. And we believe that every Christian who's still in Afghanistan -- and there are thousands of them -- are either in hiding or on the run. That's what has raised Afghanistan to #1 on the World Watch List."
Afghanistan certainly provides a clear example of a country in which flawed U.S. foreign policy directly stifles religious freedom and ignites the persecution of Christians.
Curry went on to say, "This is what happens when the free world allows countries like Afghanistan to fall into chaos. If you look at the top of the World Watch list, you'll see Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Eritrea. These are all largely failed states, which are totally in chaos, and they are the launching grounds of terrorism around the world. Our Open Doors study focuses on religious freedom, particularly for Christians, but that issue has implications for everybody else as well."
In recent years, FRC has written a great deal about the escalation of violence against Christians in another distressed location - Nigeria and in the adjoining Sahel region of West Africa. David Curry provided his perspective.
"There's a clash of civilizations going on there, and its epicenter in the north of Nigeria, where there are 13 Sharia law states. This is looking very familiar to us -- like ISIS when they took over Iraq and Syria. You have Boko Haram, which is ISIS related. You have Fulani extremists. Both are targeting Christians. You'll sometimes hear people say, 'Well, the Fulani herdsmen, they're just ancient farmers.' This is not the case. They have an ideology. They're targeting Christians in villages and towns; they're burning these down, they're kidnaping women and children. In fact, a thousand Christian children in Nigeria were kidnapped last year by Boko Haram or the Fulani.
"This is a major issue, and it's now bleeding over into a massive regional disaster that is going to continue to grow unless Nigeria and these central governments quickly get ahold and try to find a way to protect churches and Christian villages which are being attacked. Why doesn't the Nigerian government step up and protect these victims with their military and police? It's a question that demands answers."
FRC has actively and adamantly opposed the Biden administration's unexplained and reckless removal of Nigeria from the State Department's listing as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) less than a year after former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo officially designated it. "And now," Perkins points out, "since that removal, Nigeria's unconstrained violence has the potential to spill over well beyond Nigeria. And since Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa what effect could this eventually have on the African continent?"
Meanwhile another country that has been increasingly dangerous to its religious minorities is, of course, China. Although it does not appear among the top 10 World Watch List persecutors, As the U.S. proudly invests in China and applauds its Olympics, the regime's present course of oppression and intrusion is of serious concern to all people of faith including Uighurs, Falun Gong, and Buddhists.
David Curry explains, "China is number 17 on our list [of persecutors of Christians], and that's not because their threat is to be diminished. The outward violence is not the same as you might see in Nigeria, but they have the world's most sophisticated system of persecution. I describe it as a high-tech noose. And it has been slowly choking people of faith since President Xi consolidated his power. They shrink the churches. They force them to break up into small groups, then they force them to go online, then they monitor them online. Then they shut down their online experiences. Xi uses hi-tach surveillance. Every year they continue to add new layers to it, and it's just choking and choking and choking..."
To sum up, last year, 5,898 Christians were killed for their faith. 5,110 churches and other Christian buildings were attacked. 3,829 Christians were abducted. 6,175 believers were detained without trial, arrested, sentenced or imprisoned. And over 360 million Christians lived in places where they experienced high levels of persecution and discrimination.
As for those of us who live in safety, let's never forget to pray for our endangered brothers and sisters around the world. And let's also continue to demand action from our U.S. government, which bears mounting responsibility for their suffering.