Dictators are the worst persecutors of believers.
This perhaps uncontroversial finding was verified for the first time in the Pew Research Center’s 11th annual study surveying restrictions on freedom of religion in 198 nations.
The median level of government violations reached an all-time high in 2018, as 56 nations (28%) suffer “high” or “very high” levels of official restriction.
The number of nations suffering “high” or “very high” levels of social hostilities toward religion dropped slightly to 53 (27%). However, the prior year the median level recorded an all-time high.
Considered together, 40 percent of the world faces significant hindrance in worshiping God freely.
And the trend continues to be negative.
Since 2007, when Pew began its groundbreaking survey, the median level of government restrictions has risen 65 percent. The level for social hostilities has doubled.
Over the past two weeks, Christians prayed for their persecuted brethren around the world.
Launched in 1996 by the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), the International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church is held annually the first two Sundays in November.
This year’s campaign was called One With Them.
“Them” is the 260 million Christians worldwide who face persecution, according to Godfrey Yogarajah, executive director of the WEA Religious Liberty Commission. Eight Christians are martyred for their faith each day.
But Christians are not the only ones who suffer.
Ahmed Shaheed, UN special rapporteur for freedom of religion and belief, said that of the 178 nations that require religious groups to register, almost 40 percent apply it with bias.
“The failure to eliminate discrimination, combined with political marginalization and nationalist attacks on identities,” he said, “can propel trajectories of violence and even atrocity crimes.”
In addition, 21 nations criminalize apostasy.
“Faith has to be voluntary,” Shaheed told CT in an interview conducted in April. “There is no value in faith if it is not free.”
The worst offenders are familiar.
Among the world’s 25 largest nations, India, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Russia had the highest overall levels of both government restrictions and social hostilities.
But while not all of these are autocracies, Pew noted that authoritarian governments lead the way.
Using terminology from the Democracy Index, of the 26 nations ranked as “very high” in government restrictions, 65 percent are authoritarian. And of the 30 nations ranked as “high,” 40 percent are authoritarian, while 37 percent are a hybrid regime with some democratic tendencies.
“Persecution does not thwart the purposes of God,” stated the IDOP study.
“Instead it can serve in establishing it, through the obedience and witness of the believing community.”
“While persecution brings disaster, it is nevertheless a phenomenon that lies within the sovereignty of God,” stated an IDOP study on Acts 8.
“Persecution does not define the destiny of the church. God does.”