January: a month for religious freedom

International (MNN) – January was a remarkable month for religious freedom. From the announcement of January 16th as Religious Freedom Day to the release of Open Doors’ annual World Watch List, persecution of Christians has been at the forefront of the news. Here are a few of the top events.
Countries of Particular Concern
Early in January the State Department released their list of Countries of Particular Concern regarding religious freedom. Since 1998 the Secretary of State has designated governments and special groups that engage in severe, sponsored, and continual religious freedom violations.

This year the list includes 16 first tier countries of particular concern as well as another 12 tier two countries. For the first time ever, the Secretary also included a Special Watch List.

The announcement recognized many of the countries Christian organizations like Open Doors have called out as intolerant for years. While the list itself does not designate what actions to take against countries with severe religious freedom violations, it does encourage believers that those outside the Christian community are taking note.
Open Doors’ World Watch List
Closely following this list was Open Doors’ World Watch List. Since the 1970s Open Doors has been documenting persecution of Christians around the world.

2018 World Watch List naming the top 50 countries where it is most dangerous to be a Christian. (Image courtesy of Open Doors)

David Curry, President and CEO of Open Doors USA says, “Open Doors monitors the intensity faced by Christians around the world, and the World Watch List quantifies what we see. This year, as incidents of violence related to persecution have increased—especially those related to women, it is imperative we continue to advocate and call leaders to prioritize issues of religious freedom.”

Unsurprisingly for 2018 North Korea topped the list again (as it has for the last 16 years). However, Afghanistan was only one point behind North Korea, which marked an increase in levels of persecution from 2017.

The numbers are sobering. But this list provides a way for Christians to pray for their brothers and sisters around the world and find organizations that support Christians in persecuted areas.
Demolition of the Golden Lampstand Church
On the heels of the Watch List debut, the Chinese government demolished the Golden Lampstand Church in the Shanxi Province. While not out of keeping with government policies, it highlighted again the lack of religious freedom for Christians in China. The government-run church is considered okay, but non-registered churches are not.

(Image screenshot courtesy of ChinaAid)

Curry recognizes an interesting pattern in the government’s actions. “This is a pattern that has developed where the Chinese church has essentially come to understand that Christians are good for society. They’re lawful people. They have strong family structures. They want to keep the Christian movement intact, but they want it to come to heel to the government, and their Communist, albeit a managed economy, Communist agenda.”
Religious Freedom Day
Just four days after the Golden Lampstand Church was blown up President Trump declared Religious Freedom Day. On the heels of Christmas, when many Christians face increased persecution for their faith, this announcement was welcome.

Curry remarked, “Particularly the Vice President has been very articulate on the rights of Christians around the world. How much pressure the Christians are facing and danger in many parts of the world. He has an interest in what’s going on in Egypt with Christians and other places around the world. So I don’t think it’s by accident that they’re trying to raise attention to religious liberty.”
Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom
At the end of the month, the current administration once again drew attention to religious freedom. President Trump appointed Governor Sam Brownback as the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.

The person in this office is responsible for monitoring religious persecution worldwide and recommending courses of action to promote freedom.
Freedom to remember
(Photo courtesy of Open Doors USA)

While religious freedom has dominated the news in January, it is an evergreen issue. In the West, people can read about these events and move on, but our Christian brothers and sisters around the world do not have the same luxury.

Curry says, “We just are so inundated with freedoms. We decide to go to church, we decide not to go to church. We want to read a Bible; we decide not to read a Bible. We can do and read and say pretty much anything we want. And so we assume everybody has that freedom. But that’s not the case. 215 million Christians live in an area or region of the world where they are persecuted or harassed for their faith.”
Where do we go from here?
Today stop and remember the millions of Christians persecuted on a daily basis for believing in Jesus Christ. Take heart that you can practice Christianity without fear, but do not place hope in earthly governments. Praise God that His Word transcends politics, even reaching those places that try to force God out.

Curry stated this well, “This is not a political movement. It’s a movement to understand the words and the message of Jesus. To live that in our daily lives. So we have to resist any sort of nationalization. Whether it’s in Myanmar or China or anywhere else of the Christian movement. It’s not God and country. It’s God. And whether that will make us good citizens of whatever country, we’re first citizens of heaven.”

Pray with those who face persecution that they would walk boldly in the wisdom of Christ and that those who worship freely would keep their hope and confidence in God, both now and in the future.

Curry also reminds Christians that there are many organizations where you can get involved practically through volunteer work or financial giving to support religious freedom for persecuted Christians around the world.