New Report Finds 80 Percent of Persecuted Religious Believers Around the World Are Christians

BAGHDAD, IRAQ – JULY 24: An Iraqi Christian woman touches a picture of Jesus before a Sunday service at St. Joseph Chaldean Church on July 24, 2011 in Baghdad, Iraq. Forming one of the oldest Christian communities of the Middle East, Iraqi Christians have been targeted for attack since 2003, with numerous abductions, murders and threats for them to leave Iraq. In 1980 Iraqi Christians made up over 7% of the population and have now declined to below 3%. St Joseph, which was established in 1959 and which once had as many as 1,200 families in its parish, now has only 150 to 200 families left. Christians across the Middle East have been experiencing similar threats to their communities and businesses as the Arab Spring unleashes pent-up hostilities and economic uncertainty. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Eighty percent of religious believers who are being persecuted around the world are Christians, and in some regions the scale and nature of the persecution approaches the international definition of genocide, according to a new report commissioned by Britain’s foreign office.

“The main impact of such genocidal acts against Christians is exodus,” says the report’s author, the Anglican Bishop of Truro in southwest England, Philip Mountstephen.

“Christianity now faces the possibility of being wiped out in parts of the Middle East where its roots go back furthest.”

The report released Thursday says the proportion of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa – a predominantly Muslim region – has dropped from around 20 percent of the total population a century ago to some four percent today. In Iraq, the number of Christians has plummeted from 1.5 million early this century to less than 120,000 today.

It examines the treatment of Christians across parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and turns a spotlight on many governments, among them Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, Iraq, Nigeria, and Algeria.

The report found that “high levels of persecution” were taking place in 50 countries, affecting some 245 million Christians. That’s more than ten percent of the world’s estimated 2.3 billion Christians.

Among the many problems identified:

State policies including clampdowns on public worship, a political climate in which extremism thrives, a trend towards religious conservatism in some Muslim-majority countries, the teaching of religious hatred in school textbooks, legal and social discrimination, hate speech targeting believers, arrests and intimidation, the destruction of churches and Christian symbols, and the abduction and killing of clergy.

“In some regions, the level and nature of persecution is arguably coming close to meeting the international definition of genocide, according to that adopted by the U.N.,” Mountstephen wrote.

(The U.N. Convention on Genocide defines genocide as actions including killing and seriously harming people “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”)

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who commissioned the independent study focused on Christian persecution early this year, told reporters in Ethiopia on Thursday, “I think we’ve all been asleep on the watch when it comes to the persecution of Christians.”

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SOURCE: CNS News, Patrick Goodenough