“It is estimated worldwide that, based on populations, over two hundred million Christians face a high level of persecution, with the threat of violence for their beliefs labeled as significant.”
Another December 25th has passed, and the world celebrated another Christmas—for some merely another “hallmark” occasion as an excuse to exchange gifts and merrily wine and dine until they’re too full to function. But for followers of Christ, it’s a day that marks the birth of their savior. And many of those who hold steadfast to that belief, particularly in the Middle East, met this year’s holiday under the grasp of persecution and living in fear.
2017 will end for Christians in the region as a year of tumultuous uncertainty and living under the constant threat of backlash, arrest, or worse, all being the case even before the United States via President Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as the Jewish nation of Israel’s capital.
This year saw new lows in the number of reported Christians in Arab nations like Iraq, where less than 300,000 people identify as Christian. Compare that to 1,500,000 in 2003, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity. With new lows also came increases in attacks on individuals identifying with the faith and churches that provide them an outlet to worship. Nearly 1,400 Christian worship centers were attacked, according to the same group.
This year saw new lows in the number of reported Christians in Arab nations like Iraq, where less than 300,000 people identify as Christian. Compare that to 1,500,000 in 2003, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity
It is estimated worldwide that, based on populations, over two hundred million Christians face a high level of persecution, with the threat of violence for their beliefs labeled as significant. Over one hundred million of those people live on the Asian continent on which the Arab nations reside. Civil wars in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen that have engaged the likes of Western nations have been a key contributor. And authoritarian rules of Muslim law in nations such as Saudi Arabia and Lebanon have further heightened tensions.
As such, 2017 may be considered to be the year when a Christian presence in the region is for all intents and purposes none. It is a sobering reality when one considers that the Middle East is the birthplace of Christianity. Modern day Mosul in Iraq, for example, was home to one of the Christian Bible’s most beloved heroes: Abraham. But today, Christians will constitute less than 5% of the population in the territory. That number was twenty percent a hundred years ago.
The culmination of it all this year finds the threat among its highest at the place where it all began for Christian believers—in the little town of Bethlehem, whose place in history has brought it to be the focus of holiday carols and one of the most recognized scenes associated with the holiday. But today, people do not gather in the town to witness the birth of the prophesied messiah in a manger. Rather, they gather to incite violence and sow even more division.
The Iraq war and Arab Spring may have been the pins that left the clock ticking in the grenade. Each brought with it added sectarian tensions and political factions ruled by Sharia law, therefore all but eliminating room for collaboration with other religions and acceptance of violence as a means to solve disagreements.
These conflicts pitted the dominating religion of Islam’s two lead factions of Sunni and Shia against each other in a new wave of violence. But the one thing they could agree on is that there is no room for Christians. Clothed in their iron grasp of politics are matters such as blasphemy laws, which leave non-Muslims with absolutely no protection.
As Iraq and Saudi Arabia lead the pack in discrimination against Christians, their neighbor to the western part of the region, Lebanon, reflects the largest Christian population in the area. And with a government who shares their neighbors’ desire to rid the world of Israel, the escalating tensions that have emboldened anti-Christians and Jews surrounding the controversy of Jerusalem’s status does not bode well for Christians remaining in the area.
Though officials representing the various denominations of Christianity in the region have steered away from support of the recognition of Jerusalem as solidly Israeli territory, with some publicly admonishing the United States’ decision, even tacit support for their Jewish brethren will further alienate Christ’s followers.
And now, as the over two billion followers of Christ who represent over a third of the world’s population gathered this year to celebrate his birth, the town where that event took place finds itself ground zero in the war against the single largest faith on the planet.