Christian advocacy group releases 'persecutors of the year awards,' urges Christians in the West to wake up
“My biggest struggle is that the church is largely asleep,” ICC President Jeff King tells ALL ISRAEL NEWS
Persecution of Christians goes beyond simple statistics – it is a massive violation of human rights that in some cases approaches genocide – and will find its way to the West if the church doesn’t wake up.
This was the premise of a report released by International Christian Concern (ICC) on Wednesday and the message ICC President Jeff King shared in an interview with ALL ISRAEL NEWS.
“My biggest struggle is that the church is largely asleep,” King told us. “For the most part, 'religious freedom' is an arcane, complicated subject – and people don't get it.”
“Religious freedom is such a potent set of rights, because it encompasses freedom of speech, assembly and conscience. And that's why it is so tied to democracy and so important to hold up. And we've got to have religious freedom for everybody. It can't be for any one sector or group,” King said. “It is such a potent force for democracy. It must be defended.”
Intended to be a wake-up call for the church, the annual report was released along with the “Persecutor of the Year Awards” at the International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington D.C. The 150-page report named Afghanistan, Nigeria’s Fulani militants and Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the three “winners” in their respective categories.
Nigeria, the report says, is one of the most deadly places on earth to be a Christian. Afghanistan, North Korea and Iran are right up there as well. In other countries, persecution can be indirect coming in the form of systematic discrimination.
Detailing tortures and executions committed by regimes and radical groups around the world against Christians, the report breaks down persecution by countries, entities and individuals who are responsible for rampant persecution. The carefully documented information was compiled by ICC staff who interviewed victims and witnesses on the frontlines.
The five countries “with significant histories of Christian persecution which have seen expanded activities and enacted policies to prevent the growth of Christian populations” were China, Algeria, Egypt, Pakistan and Nigeria.
Turkish President Recep Erdoğan, North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un, Nigeria’s Nasir El-Rufai and Khamenei (again) were recognized as the top leaders who perpetuate persecution of Christians in their countries.
ICC recommends specific actions that readers can take in order to turn the tide against persecution, including lobbying government officials.
“This report isn’t a list of sad, small statistics happening somewhere in the world, far-removed from us,” King said. “Many of these are mass human rights violations, with some approaching genocide. Religious freedom is an issue that affects people of all faiths and is a key driver in political freedom. Our report documents actual, ongoing religious persecution that is consistently ignored by major media, and barely touched by our comfortable churches in the United States.” (The full report can be downloaded here.)
In an interview with ALL ISRAEL NEWS, King explained that persecution can come in different forms – from a government, radical religious groups and from a culture itself. And they all manifest in different ways.
“I don't know which one is worse,” King said. “It's one thing if it's individuals, but if it's the power of the state that is behind persecution, then you've got a fairly toxic mix and it's very bad for faith actors.”
But the Church, King warned, must understand that these mindsets are already parked on their doorstep. With COVID restrictions that shuttered churches and cancel culture, the West is experiencing movements that are highly reminiscent of totalitarian, Marxist regimes which persecute minority groups.
“How can the local liquor store remain open, the Home Depot and on and on – there's lots of other examples – and yet we can close down churches?” King warned.
“We do this all over the world – we watch dictators and despots and it's always the same. They say, 'Oh, you have religious freedom, but please get out of the public square,” King said. “So you can't say anything publicly. You can't have a stance. You get shut down publicly. I mean, you see the same thing happening. That's what dictators do.”
Here is the interview in full, edited lightly for clarity.
Nicole Jansezian: This is quite a sardonic title for an award ceremony – “Persecutor of the Year Awards!” I would love to hear more about that.
Jeff King: (Laughing) It was purposeful. Religious freedom and persecution is, unfortunately, a growth industry. Persecution of Christians and as well, anti-Semitism is sustained. So I say, unfortunately, it's a growth industry. And yet it's somewhat of an arcane subject. Religious freedom for most people – even the Church, is not that well aware of persecution. So, yeah, it's a tongue-in-cheek, sardonic way to bring attention and to give “awards,” to some very bad actors who are doing quite horrible things out there.
Jansezian: Let me ask you more about that. I read a little bit of the report that you’re releasing today. I was wondering, where does persecution come from more – Is it more from governments? Is it from religious systems? Where do you feel that the persecution is coming from more?
King: I would say it's probably very similar to what Jews experience, the same deal with anti-Semitism. In the end, it's a human dynamic. There's a cultural aspect: We fear that which is different. If we fear, we attack and we see through a lens. So there's that cultural aspect.
There's a religious aspect too. So, with Islam – a major player same with the Jews. The fundamentalists are very bad actors and are motivated by hate on the fundamentalist radical side.
And then you've got government, you've got the Marxists – the old Marxist regimes or others, its also cultural, but it's more anti-government control as well. So – government, cultural and religious.
Jansezian: Are there differences that you see between whether it's government or cultural versus religious persecution?
King: They can all be so terrible on their own. I mean, look at North Korea, the top of the heap. And there it is absolutely Marxist, but it's absolutely political too, so they've come up with an alternative theology – purposely copied Christianity and made it their religion of the state. And so that's a mix of Marxism, it's political canniness and it’s even a cultural thing.
Then you've got Iran, and again, you've got a Marxist government and they're the worst of the worst. Again, they're strangling, beating and torturing for decades now.
But then you've got India. And India is purely a cultural thing. And where you've got the leadership of the government and the political party that is in power and (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi and the BJP are, they're just hateful people. And they have a nationalist ideology. They think India should be pure Hinduism, they have a Hindutva mindset (an extreme nationalist ideology). Hinduism and India are inextricably linked. They would call Christianity a virus even though it has been here for 2,000 years.
So I don't know which one is worse. If you've got power – you know, it's one thing if it's individuals – but if it's the power of the state that is behind persecution, then you've got a fairly toxic mix and it's very bad for faith actors.
Jansezian: With COVID and with restrictions, I understand that a lot of countries use that as an excuse to further suppress Christians and other religious minorities. But have you seen in democratic countries that perhaps there was also some kind of overreach by governments that somehow marginalized religious communities?
King: Look, in the United States and Canada, it was pretty clear. So on the one hand, only Home Depot can remain open, but no churches can. You know, people don't have the right to assemble now. And on the one hand, you weigh that out and you say, “Well, gosh, the government has to be involved with health measures.” But it was absolutely overreach. The government leaders knew it was overreach. And they said, ‘To heck with it, we don't care.’ And as soon as it got to the court, those restrictions were thrown out in California. The church challenged California and said this is unconstitutional and the court said, “It is absolutely.” And so they had to drop that. It is absolutely ludicrous. How can the local liquor store remain open, the Home Depot and on and on – there's lots of other examples – and yet we can close down churches. And there was a lot of hostility depending on where you were intellectually. In Canada it was especially motivated by hostility. I think it was used as a dual purpose in some places.
Jansezian: Based on the countries that you're looking at that are Marxist, totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, are you concerned that this could be the future for the West? If the public allows this, what's going to happen in America and in Canada? How far do you think it could go?
King: I think it's the same with anti-Semitism – who could imagine what could happen? On the one hand, I don't want to be too alarmist, but at the same time, I've been doing this for 20 years and for 15 years I’ve been saying, “There's a storm coming, there's a storm coming. I can see the clouds.” You can see what's brewing – and now it's here. Now, what we're experiencing in the States or some of the other Western democracies, what we're experiencing is like a persecution. It is political and it’s driven by a lot of hate. And so it just depends politically what happens, how far it can go. So we don't really know.
Again, it's not as heavy as overseas, but it's unprecedented what we're seeing. From our perspective – we do this all over the world – we watch dictators and despots and it's always the same, “Oh, you have religious freedom, but please get out of the public square.” So you can't say anything publicly. You can't have a stance. You get shut down publicly. I mean, you see the same thing happening. That's what dictators do. That's what Russia did. “We have religious freedom,” but in the end it was only in your own mind – you couldn't even assemble.
That's why religious freedom is such a potent set of rights, because it encompasses freedom of speech, assembly and conscience. And that's why it is so tied to democracy and so important to hold up. And we've got to have religious freedom for everybody. It can't be for any one sector or group.
It is such a potent force for democracy. It must be defended. And it's worrying when you see social actors or government leaders, then say, “You can't express opinion here. You've got to take your religion out of public square.” That was never the founders’ intent. And so it's interesting what we see in the courts – there's some interesting developments and some worrying developments. But we'll see. We're watching closely.
Jansezian: Being that I'm calling from Jerusalem, I did want to ask you – I see that, thankfully, Israel and I didn't see Palestinian Authority appearing in your report. So that's good. But I don't know if you came across anything positive or negative in your research and in the awards for this year regarding Israel or the Palestinian Authority.
King: Well, honestly, maybe we should take a closer look at that. And there's the matter of how it's always tricky weighing these subjects out, because it's like when we decide who to focus on, because it also depends on how many people are being harmed. So in Israel, you have a situation, probably a situation where it’s Messianic Jews versus the Orthodox, but it hasn't become probably big enough. Or maybe it's not enough on our radar. And with the Palestinian situation, there's a pretty strong hatred of Christians, or at least a balance there. But again, not enough of a scale where enough people are being hurt – it hasn't caused us to speak out yet.
Jansezian: I want to know how our readers and well, even me – I want to know for myself – what can we do? How can we help raise awareness, pray? What is it that we can do on a practical level to to help these persecuted Christians?
King: First of all, it's to spread the word and to wake people. I mean, that's probably my biggest struggle is that the Church is largely asleep. And for the most part, religious freedom is an arcane, complicated subject. And people don't get it. In America, we were founded by the pilgrims and others. That really shaped our early years, and yet it doesn't always translate.
The Church is largely asleep. So on the one hand, it's just the first people to become aware. They need to start watching and understanding it and reading. So go read our stuff, persecution.org or Voice of the Martyrs or Open Doors and start following what's going on.
And call your representatives and express frustration that we are dealing with some regimes like Nigeria. Nigeria for the last 20 years, their government somehow can't come up with a response to a slow-moving genocide against Christians. You have 50,000 to 100,000 persons murdered. You have 3 million Christian farmers thrown off their land. So it's all purposeful and it is aided and abetted by fundamentalist Muslims in the state. In the state, the whole security apparatus is controlled by Muslims.
But what's happening in Washington, for the most part, is they are swallowing and regurgitating the message coming out from the administration in Nigeria where it's like, “Oh, it's a complicated subject. We're doing our best. It's herders versus farmers, blah, blah, blah.” And then we're too easily hoodwinked again. When people wake up and they start calling their representatives and say, “We, as a country, need to stand up for people who are incredibly oppressed and our leaders need to talk to their leaders.” That's the biggest thing. And then to publicly tie these people – like Modi or the Nigerian government – to what's going on and say, “It's unacceptable.” And expose it. Bring it into the light.
Nicole Jansezian was the news editor and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS.