A global Church bound by chains

A global Church bound by chains
Christians are being persecuted at a worryingly unprecedented level, writes Colm Fitzpatrick


Since the emergence of Christianity, those who have spiritually identified with Jesus have been ostracised, jeered and persecuted. We learn in the New Testament that St Paul was imprisoned in Rome for preaching and according to Church tradition, the apostles all lay down their lives for the transmission of the Faith.

This pattern only intensified during the early Christian period, and we can still hear the stories of saints such as Polycarp who in the 2nd Century was burned at the stake for refusing to burn incense to the Roman Emperor. Indeed, the Church Father Tertullian only a few decades later would write: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” – an affirmation that sacrifice is a constitutive part of what it means to be Christian.

And while there may be about 2.2 billion Christians world-wide, it is still the case that Tertullian’s words ring home, given the ongoing persecution Christians continue to encounter today.

Indeed, new research by the Irish charity group ‘Church in Chains’ has revealed that the persecution of Christians worldwide is only getting worse, and that intervention politically and spiritually is needed in order to combat this. Launching the third edition of the Church in Chains Global Guide in Dun Laoghaire on September 27, the charity revealed that millions of Christians in 60 countries are persecuted, threatened, and fear for their lives weekly or daily.


For David Turner, Director of Church in Chains, and author of the document, more Irish awareness of Christian persecution worldwide is needed so that real action can be taken to fight against and eradicate it.

“The persecution of Christians rarely makes the headlines but is a weekly if not daily lived experience for millions of Christians worldwide – we estimate that over 200 million Christians are at constant risk of persecution,” David said.

“The situation is noticeably worsening in the two most populous nations on earth, as Hindu extremists across India attack churches in rural areas every week with impunity, while in China the authorities close churches every week as President Xi’s religious clampdown gathers momentum.”

In order to highlight the varying degrees of Christian persecution from place to place, the Global Guide divides the 60 countries into three colour-coded categories to give the reader a visual aid of how this persecution is dispersed.

Severe – Many or all Christians face persecution. State persecution includes the use of blasphemy laws and apostasy laws, arrests, fines, imprisonment, torture and execution. Persecution by society includes abduction, murder and violent mob attacks (including bombings, shootings and arson).

Significant – Some, but not all, Christians face many restrictions on practicing their Faith. Persecution by the state may include arrests, fines, imprisonment, restrictions on church registration and prohibitions on meetings and possessing Bibles. Persecution by society includes attacks of pastors and churches.

Limited – Most Christians are permitted to meet but some churches or individuals face restriction of discrimination. Some of this persecution is by the state (such as discrimination and restrictions on church registration) and some by society (opposition from neighbours and ostracism).


Although the extent to which Christian persecution is taking place today may seem outlandish and archaic given how rapidly the world has changed and modernised, the booklet suggests that upholding religious freedom is often not a priority for governments.

“Many observers wonder how religious persecution can continue when the world seems more interdependent than ever through trade and aid, when international travel is widespread, when every country’s human rights record is regularly examined at the United Nations and when the internet enables immediate reporting of persecution incidents,” it says.

“However, the insatiable global desire for goods and services often leads to blind eyes being turned to persecution in favour of trading with draconian regimes, while the principle of upholding religious freedom as an international human rights standard is frequently ignored if there are fears that to do so will offend certain nations or religions.”


Readers of the second edition published in 2014 will notice in this edition that Cameroon, Rwanda and Uganda have been listed for the first time and reflects the continuing spread of Muslim extremism in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Each country has a majority Christian population that is beginning to come under threat. However, three countries in the second edition have been omitted (Belarus, Lebanon and Chad), in recognition that religious freedom in these countries has improved.

In some countries there have been notable changes, resulting in recategorisation. The situation in Egypt, Malaysia, Nepal and Tajikistan has deteriorated, while improvements have been noted in Colombia, Cuba, Kuwait, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkmenistan and Vietnam.

According to Rev. Trevor Sargent, recently ordained Church of Ireland minister and former Green Party leader, who launched the Guide, countries like these are also facing a multitude of resource problems and our own Government needs to step up to address this.

“Well it’s very disturbing to see from the Global Guide from Church in Chains that there are at least 60 countries where there is serious persecution to one degree or another of Christians. Many of those countries are in Africa, but also south America, Asia and Europe and they are countries that also have other problems so we need to address the governments of those countries,” he told this paper.

“There’s advice on writing letters and various other actions but we also need to address the resources issues in those countries and our own Government that is reluctant to take action because it might not be in our national interest. We have to make sure respect for human rights is in everybody’s interest.”

At least one hopeful sign in the Muslim world is the engagement of some key religious and political leaders on the issue of religious freedom – most notably in agreeing the Marrakesh Declaration in 2016, which defends the rights of religious minorities in Muslim countries. However, the Declaration does not deal with the crucial religious freedom issue of conversion from Islam and it is not yet clear what practical effect the Declaration will have throughout the Muslim World.

In light of these findings, the Guide intends to inform readers about what is happening to Christians in these 60 countries and motivate readers to respond. Indeed, this has been an ongoing focus of the charity, which beginning with a different name in mid-1970’s (Christian Concern for Freedom of Conscience), has raised awareness of the plight of persecuted Christians, encouraged prayer and action on their behalf, advocates before governments and ambassadors and sent aid to help Christian victims of conflict (including those who have been forced from their homes by extremists), to support prisoners’ families and to supply Bibles where they cannot otherwise be obtained.

David has been involved with the charity since 1981, first as a volunteer, then in 2002 as part-time national co-ordinator, and full-time director since 2007. His role includes developing and maintaining links with overseas partners; advocacy with TDs, Senators, the Department of Foreign Affairs and foreign embassies; and editing Church in Chains magazine.

Stressing the importance of the troubling situations that Christians are facing globally daily, he said that it’s “time for people in Ireland to wake up to what is happening around the world and for the Irish government to put flesh on the bones of its oft-repeated commitment to prioritising freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in its foreign policy by raising the issue of violations of religious freedom directly with the governments that are actively persecuting Christians or facilitating the persecution of Christians.”

In this way, there is real hope that Christians don’t become a minority, but that persecution of them does.