Asia is “the new hotbed of persecution for Christians,” with an estimated 139 million people – or one in three – found to live under “high persecution,” a persecution watchdog has revealed.
This week, Christian persecution watchdog Open Doors released its annual World Watch List of 50 countries where believers face the most persecution.
The group found that in the past five years, there has been a sharp increase in the persecution of Christians in Asia driven by the likes of a rise in Hindu ultra-nationalism in India, radical Islamism in Indonesia and tougher religious regulations in China.
North Korea continues to top the List for the 18th year in a row, with Pakistan and India marked as having “extreme” levels of Christian persecution, and the Maldives, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam rounding out Asian countries in the top 20.
Two countries in the top 30, China and Indonesia, were both identified as areas of particular concern due to their large populations: “Each of these countries is home to more than a billion people, so these trends are distressing,” says Open Doors.
This year, China jumped 16 spots, from 43 in 2018 to 27 in 2019. The report found that more than 20 million Christians experienced persecution last year in China, and it forecasts that number to increase to 50 million in 2019.
Over the last four months, Chinese officials have shuttered three large, well-known churches: Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, Ronguilli Church, and Beijing’s largest house church, Zion Church.
“The management of religious affairs lies with the Communist Party now, not just with the government, and Christians are feeling this strongly,” says the report. “Crackdowns against Christians happen country-wide and in both state-approved and non-registered churches. The youth are increasingly being removed from church life, worship is monitored via CCTV and spies, and teachers and medical workers are told they are not allowed to have any religious affiliation.”
In seven out of the top 10 World Watch List countries, the primary cause of persecution is Islamic oppression.
“This means, for millions of Christians-particularly those who grew up Muslim or were born into Muslim families-openly following Jesus can have painful consequences,” says Open Doors. “They can be treated as second-class citizens, discriminated against for jobs or even violently attacked.”
Additionally, the study found that Christian women are especially targeted around the world: “In many places, they experience a ‘double persecution’- one for being a Christian and one for being a woman,” notes the report. “Even in the most restricted circumstances, gender-specific persecution is a key means of destroying the minority Christian community. This kind of persecution is difficult to assess because it is complex, violent and hidden-in many cultures where women are specifically targeted, it is difficult if not impossible to report accurate numbers.”
In a statement, Open Doors President David Curry said that the point of the World Watch List “is to shine a light on the strength and the suffering of the family of God around the world-to drive all of us to our knees in prayer and then to our feet to stand with our brothers and sisters.”
“The World Watch List also helps us understand and see where God is at work,” he said. “Because in every country, no matter how challenging, there are Christians seeking after God. They are preaching about and living for Him, no matter what. What a powerful testimony! So please, join us in prayer that the World Watch List 2019 would mobilize believers to stand in unity with their persecuted family all around the world.”
Irish Bishop Against Practicing Yoga in Christian Schools
An Irish bishop has written to Catholic schools urging them to ban yoga as it is ‘not of Christian origin’ and the children should spend their time ‘in adoration of Jesus’ instead.
Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan, wrote to principals, teachers and school staff members in Waterford City and County, Ireland, on October 10.
In his letter, he said: ‘Yoga is not of Christian origin and is not suitable for our parish school setting and especially not during religious education time.
‘I have been asked by several people to say a word on yoga and mindfulness. My question is, ‘Will they bring us closer to God or replace him?’
The bishop claimed that Christian Mindfulness is ‘meditation on Christ’ which empties the mind of ‘everything unnecessary’ in order to become ‘aware of the presence and love of Christ’.
While he also quoted Pope Francis that practices like yoga are ‘not capable of opening our hearts up to God’.
The bishop added how people can ‘take a million courses in spirituality’ but this activity ‘will never be able to give you freedom’, echoing Pope Francis’s speech in 2015.
He said Pope Francis’s philosophy was in keeping with Ireland’s Grow In Love programme. This touches on Christian doctrine, Scripture, morality and prayer.
Teacher’s were reminded that October is the ‘month of the Rosary’ and they should each pray in a bid to get closer to Jesus, in the letter.
But the primary school curriculum allows a degree of flexibility about how its implemented, according to the Irish National Teachers Organisation, who hit-back at his view.
John Stokes, a yoga instructor in Waterford, said the practice of yoga, meditation and mindfulness should be ’embraced’ in ‘an age where children are really suffering from anxiety and stress’.
‘There is no dogma taught in our classes and Yoga in it’s truest sense is a movement and breath awareness practice for health and wellbeing.
They said ‘here’s to tolerance, love and unity’ and invited him to a one-to-one yoga session or class of his choice’ at their Wellness Centre in Youghal, Ireland.
The Irish National Teachers Organisation said the primary school curriculum allows schools a certain amount of flexibility and autonomy with regard to its implementation.
They said the schools ‘are best placed’ to make the decisions about how the subjects are taught, taking into consideration the ‘school culture, ethos and needs of the pupils’.
This is not the first time Bishop Cullinan has received backlash for his views as he said he was to establish a ‘delivery ministry’ group to rid people of the devil through exorcism, last year.
He also claimed the cervical cancer vaccine could lead to promiscuity in 2017.
The bishop said the vaccine ‘lulls girls into false sense of security’ and encourages sexual activity, adding: ‘Prevention, the number one and most effective protection, is abstinence. A good old traditional value.’
He later apologised and admitted he was not fully informed about the vaccination programme. Cullinan’s ‘intention was solely motivated to protect people from HPV’.
China Demolishes 3,000-Seat Megachurch during Worship Service
The People’s Republic of China destroyed a church that reportedly could seat 3,000 people and detained its pastors, according to a human rights organization.
An international nonprofit Christian human rights group based in Texas, reported the incident in a statement released Saturday. According to the group, Chinese authorities provided no legal papers to justify the demolition.
The church was located in Funan, Anhui province. Its pastors, Geng Yimin and Sun Yongyao, were detained under suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disturb social order.”
China Aid President Bob Fu said in a statement that the incident was “yet another clear example showing the escalation of religious persecution today by the Chinese Communist regime.”
“The total disregard of religious freedom’s protection as enshrined in the Communist Party’s own Constitution tells the whole world President Xi is determined to continue his war against the peaceful Christian faithful. This campaign will surely fail in the end.”
While China’s persecution of religious groups has existed for many years, recently under President Xi Jinping a wave of crackdowns on religious practices in China has taken place.
The Communist government has destroyed or damaged several churches, reflecting concerns about the increasing Christian population of the country.
In the summer, True Jesus Church in Henan province was razed to the ground, according to persecution watchdog Bitter Winter. Police officers reportedly dragged out all believers from the church before they demolished the property.
Bitter Winter also reported last month that the Ten Commandments have been removed from nearly every Three-Self church and meeting venue in a county of Luoyang city and replaced with the President Xi Jinping’s quotes as part of the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to “sinicize” Christianity.
In addition to cracking down on its Christian minority, China has engaged in violent persecution of its Uighur Muslim and Falun Gong communities.
The China Tribunal, a human rights group, told the United Nations Human Rights Council last month that the Chinese government is harvesting organs from religious minorities, with possibly hundreds of thousands of victims.
“Forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience, including the religious minorities of Falun Gong and Uighurs, has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale, and that it continues today. This involves hundreds of thousands of victims.”
“Victim for victim and death for death, cutting out the hearts and other organs from living, blameless, harmless, peaceable people constitutes one of the worst mass atrocities of this century.”
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