Wednesday, 25 December 2019

The Saviour of the World Versus the Dragon

Rejoice and Weep

It is appropriate this year to link two realities.  Firstly, today we remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem.  Secondly, we acknowledge that more Christians around the world are being persecuted than ever before.  

The "tidings of great joy" that rang out over Bethlehem over two thousand years ago continue.  All over the world individuals, families, and congregations are today responding to the pronouncement of the angels: 
Luke 2:8-14 English Standard Version (ESV)

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
Good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  This is the essence of what is represented and accomplished as a result of the coming of the Son of Man to the world. 

At this time, it is particularly appropriate that we remember the suffering of so many Christians at the hands of wicked. 

At least 327 million Christians face persecution according to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which released its biannual report on Religious Freedom in the World in November, 2018. That is 7 percent of the world’s 2.3 billion Christians estimated by Pew Research Center in 2015. 245 million Christians in the top 50 countries on Open Doors USA’s 2019 World Watch List experience high levels of persecution (i.e.: torture, rape, sex-slavery, forced conversion, murder and genocide), an increase of 14 percent from 2018. Sixty percent of those enduring persecution are children; women and girls are most violated. Release International, a UK-based human rights watchdog in operation for the past 50 years who partners with U.S.-based Voice of the Martyrs said they expect global anti-Christian persecution is set to rise ‘sharply’ in 2019.

Open Doors estimates 1 in 9 of the world’s Christians experience high levels of persecution in the top 50 countries where it is most dangerous to be a Christian, and that every month: 345 Christians are killed – often in public and without regard to gender or age; 219 Christians are abducted and imprisoned indefinitely without trial; 180 women and girls are raped, sexually assaulted or forced into marriage; and 106 churches are demolished.

Drivers of persecution include: religious nationalism, in places like India and Burma; authoritarian regimes like China and North Korea; lawlessness and secularism, for instance in Mexico where more than 22 priests have been kidnapped and killed in the past three years. For at least 68% of Christians being persecuted, the driving factor is adherence to Sharia – authoritative Islam’s brutally repressive and supremacist Islamic law. This is true in 8 of the top 10 countries on the Open Door’s list, 4 of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, and in 34 of their top 50.

Of the communities persecuted for their faith, Christians are the most oppressed. The U.S. State Department office of International Religious Freedom reports that “a majority of the global population (83%) lives in places with “high” or “very high” religious restrictions, mostly targeting religious minorities.” ACN reports a half billion people worldwide are persecuted for their faith and of those, 65 percent (327 million) are Christians. The U.K. reports in 2019 that 1/3 of the world’s believers are persecuted-80 percent are Christian. Pew Research reports in July 2018 that Christians experienced harassment for their faith in 144 countries—a record number—and an increase of 34 percent from 107 in 2007. Gordon-Conwell’s Center for the Study of Global Christianity’s annual report on the persecution of Christians say nearly 1 million Christians were martyred from 2005 to 2015. More Christians have died for their faith over the last 100 years than in all prior centuries since Jesus’ time combined.  Global Strategic Alliance reports the universal persecuted church had more than 26 million documented cases of martyrdom in the 20th century alone, more than in the previous 1,900 years combined.  [Christian Persecution News]

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