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Focusing on Global Religious Persecution: ‘Not to Act Is to Act’

Nina Shea

The growing severity of religious persecution against Christians internationally has been observed over the past year by sources as diverse as the Pew Research Center, The Economist, Newsweek, Commentary, and the Vatican. Identifying exactly who it believes are the 50 worst such persecutors, Open Doors, a California-based Christian group that distributes Bibles and other assistance overseas, released its annual World Watch list this month. The list only includes persecution for reasons of faith and encompasses persecution against all Christian denominations in a country.

North Korea tops the sub-category of “extreme” persecution, followed by nine Muslim countries (Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Maldives, Mali, Iran, Yemen, and Syria), and Eritrea as number eleven. Other categories include “severe,” “moderate,” and “sparse” persecution, with persecuting countries ranked in descending order of severity. While the list takes into account the whole world, no European or North American country is identified for “persecution,” and only one South American country, Columbia, makes the list, ranked, among the “moderate” persecutors.

Separately, Representative Frank Wolf (R., Va.) recently issued a letter to 300 Protestant and Catholic leaders in the West, calling on them to use their influence to speak out on behalf of the persecuted Church around the globe. In his letter, the congressman appealed for support of the bill he introduced today with Representative Anna Eshoo (D., Calif.) to create a special envoy position within the State Department that would advocate on behalf of vulnerable religious minorities both Christian and non-Christian in the Middle East and South Central Asia. (Last term, a similar bill backed by Wolf passed overwhelmingly in the House but was blocked in the Senate by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, now the presumptive secretary of state.)

The envoy post is modeled on that of the special envoy for Sudan, which Wolf had also initiated in Congress in 2001. The first envoy to fill that position, former senator John Danforth, succeeded in obtaining a peace agreement that ended Sudan’s North-South conflict, and which led, a decade later, to the creation of the new country of South Sudan.

In his letter to the clergy, Wolf quoted the World War II-era German Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed for his efforts to resist the Nazis, who famously said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

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