International (MNN) — Religious hostilities have reached a six-year high.
No surprise, really, if you follow the persecuted Church. Open Doors USA released the annual World Watch List 08 January.
However, a new study by the Pew Research Center last week may bring the issue to the forefront. The Center has been tracking religious restrictions and hostilities around the world since 2007. This year, 198 countries and territories were included in the study. A third of the countries surveyed had what the report termed as high religious hostilities in 2012, many of them caught up in the Arab Spring.
Todd Nettleton, a spokesman with the Voice of the Martyrs USA, says there were two trends Pew noted: “Restricted nations are where the government is doing the persecution. In a hostile area, the government maybe says it’s okay to be a Christian, but within that country there are segments of the population that persecute Christians.”
Pakistan had the highest level of social hostilities involving religion, while Egypt had the highest level of government infringement. Nettleton observes, “It’s interesting to see that their figures and what they’re tracking matches, very closely, with what we’ve been tracking for years at the Voice of the Martyrs.” He went on to say, “That obviously raises significant questions about what religious freedom exists in Islam and what religious freedom exists in heavily Islamic countries.”
However, there is one notable absence on the list: North Korea.
Nettleton explains why. “The Pew folks say they don’t list North Korea because of a lack of data.” The notoriously reclusive country makes gathering data risky. He adds, “If someone went to North Korea and started poking around and asking about religious freedom and asking about churches, they would likely end up in a concentration camp, or at the very least, in jail.”
However, the World Watch List a ranking of the 50 countries where persecution of Christians for religious reasons is most severe) has featured North Korea as the world’s worst persecutor of Christians for 12 years running.
VOM has its own sources connected to the North Korean Church. According to them, private, non-state-sanctioned religious activity is prohibited. Anyone discovered engaging in clandestine religious activity is subject to arrest, torture, or even public execution. Under the ideology of Juche, the only acceptable religion is the worship of the current dictator.
As a result, as many as 100,000 believers are thought to worship secretly. Experts estimate that of the hundreds of thousands incarcerated in labor and concentration camps, about 30,000 are Christians. Possessing a Bible, saying the words God or Jesus, and meeting together are all offenses punishable by death. VOM supports radio broadcasts into North Korea and participates in balloon launches that carry the Gospel message and Christian literature into the country.
One good thing about the report: “This report puts it on the radar of our nation. It raises the topic for discussion in circles here in the United States because we want Christians here in the United States to know what’s happening.” It’s a call to action, says Nettleton. “I think the first thing the report points out is: we’ve got a lot of work to do. If you want to come alongside persecuted Christians, there are a lot of places where they are and where they need our assistance and need our help.”