December 23rd, 2010
02:10 PM ET

Christians face rising persecution, experts say

By Richard Allen Greene, CNN

A pastor sits on death row in Iran. His crime? Renouncing Islam  for Christianity.

A Christian mother of two faces execution in Pakistan - and a preacher  has put a price on her head in case the president pardons her. Her crime?  Insulting the Prophet Mohammed.

In Iraq, dozens of Christians lie in fresh graves. Their fatal mistake?  Going to church.

And these are not simply isolated incidents, but part of a broader  pattern, experts say.

"There does appear to be an upsurge in violence directed against  Christians," said Leonard Leo, the chairman of the U.S. Commission on  International Religious Freedom.

He says part of the problem is that "governments are not cracking down on  sectarian violence the way they should."

"We've got to have governments taking ownership of these problems and  enforcing the laws that exist," he said. Whether it's "Christians in Iraq or  Afghanistan, or Copts in Egypt, the government has to prosecute (people) and  put them in jail for killing people on account of their religion."

The problems are worst in the countries with the greatest amount of  division, he said. Anti-blasphemy and apostasy laws also are problems in some  countries, he said.

Asia Bibi, a Christian, is facing a death sentence for blasphemy in Pakistan.

The commission is particularly worried about Egypt, where plans to build  a church near Cairo sparked riots in November. A Christian was killed in  clashes with police.

That violence came on the heels of attacks on the homes and businesses of  Coptic Christians, Egypt's local Christian community, the commission said. The  burning and looting in Qena province, in southern Egypt, was sparked by rumors  of romantic relationship between a Christian man and a Muslim woman, a  commission statement said.

Bad as that violence was, "the worst place of all undoubtedly is Iraq,  where there was a recent church bombing," said Nina Shea, who also sits on the  religious freedom commission.

At least 70 people died in the attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church in  Baghdad on October 31. Fifty-three of them were Christians.

Iraq's al Qaeda affiliate, "the Islamic State of Iraq, vowed to kill  Christians wherever they find them," Shea said.

"As the (overall) violence has decreased in Iraq, it has gone up against  the Christians," she said.

Six weeks after the church attack, the United Nations High Commission for  Refugees said it was tracking a "slow but steady exodus" of Christians from  Baghdad and Mosul, two of Iraq's major cities.

Even relatively moderate Morocco has taken action against Christians this  year, Shea says.

"Morocco expelled foreign Christians who had long been in Morocco - the  head of the George Washington  School in Casablanca, the director of an orphanage, educators - about  100 people," she said.

"That followed a petition by Muslim leaders to stop the Christian influence in Morocco," she said. "There may be some pressure from more  conservative Muslims."

"I would not say that Christians are the only target," she added. "We are  seeing it against other groups as well, Shias and Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan, and  Baha'is in Iran."

But, she said, "this has been a very bad year for Christians worldwide."

Christians are one the largest religious minorities in the broader Middle East, she said, and they are a target "because they are there."

"Many of them want to stay. They have been in this region for two  millennia. They are indigenous. This religion started there," she said.

And they have a unique culture, she said.

The Chaldean Christians of Iraq still speak Aramaic, for example.

"If the Chaldeans are scattered to the four corners of the globe, the  language of Jesus will not be preserved," Shea warned. "It will die out."

CNN's Joe Sterling contributed to this report.

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: Christianity • Coptic • Egypt • Iran • Iraq • Middle East • Persecution • Religious violence • Violence

soundoff (477 Responses)
  1. Michele

    While I don't wish violence to anyone regardless of who they are, I'd say karma works. How about all the people Christians have and still persecute? Boo-hoo, people. Waaa.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:05 pm |
  2. Richxx

    All religions based on the god of Abraham promote violence. christians and jews tend to forget the millions they have killed over the years. But what do you expect when the bible and koran both are full of so much violence against those who believe differently. Until christianity, Islam and the Jewish religion are given up as false religions created by man, this type of violence will continue.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:05 pm |
    • a

      buddhism for all!

      December 23, 2010 at 9:39 pm |
  3. HonLincoln

    Christians are persecuted by Muslims

    December 23, 2010 at 6:05 pm |
    • JimmyCracksCapriCorns

      Christians persecute themselves.....that's why there are like, what, 15 different kinds???!!!

      December 23, 2010 at 6:11 pm |
    • a

      "Christianity" was built on persecution, guilt, power, greed, ignorance and self-righteousness!!

      December 23, 2010 at 9:35 pm |
  4. Michael Wong

    Self-fulfilling prophecy. American Christians have been saying this was happening for years, even when it wasn't actually happening, and justifying their own behaviour on that basis.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:03 pm |
  5. edeboh anthony

    well well well,much have been said but the truth cant be hidden.I pray for strenght for all that face persecution in their home land, the grace is enough.am out

    December 23, 2010 at 6:03 pm |
  6. enid

    and people say islam is a "peaceful" religion. THis is cult! SICK PEOPLE!

    December 23, 2010 at 6:01 pm |
  7. cellblock131

    Wasn't it during WWII that the leaders were in shock over the death of over 6 million Jews? Did they not say that this would never happen again. Never again. Well, how many have died of the Republic of Congo? I am afraid we have let it happen again and have done nothing to stop it.

    December 23, 2010 at 6:00 pm |
  8. Corbijn

    Let's as Christian's move into areas where other people of other faiths have lived for generations with the intention of converting them or killing them! Lets start a 21st century Crusade than balk at the word Jihad! Let's call people of other religions fanatical while we pull our own children out of public schools so they can learn creationism! Let's lie about the truth when someone wants to build a Mosque a few blocks away from ground zero! Lets even accuse our own President of being a Muslim! Let's keep marching forth like good Christian solders then wonder why the rest of the world cannot stand us!

    December 23, 2010 at 6:00 pm |
    • KBinMN

      "Let's as Christian's move into areas where other people of other faiths have lived for generations with the intention of converting them or killing them!" You mean like Muslim's have done all through out their history and continue to do today? What land was originally Muslim before being Jewish, Christian or any other faith?

      December 23, 2010 at 6:03 pm |
  9. sparky

    Christians persecuted in Iraq???? Nonsense! Meester Boosh brought them Democracy

    December 23, 2010 at 5:59 pm |
  10. John Steel

    Islam is an evil cult and must be eradicated for the world to know peace and equality.

    December 23, 2010 at 5:57 pm |
    • sparky

      If you took a dirt nap the world would definately be smarter John Plastic

      December 23, 2010 at 6:01 pm |
    • 3M TA3

      ALL religions are cults. All are violent.

      December 23, 2010 at 6:06 pm |
  11. 3M TA3

    Such a peaceful religion. Freaks. Abolish all religion and we will see peace.

    At 8 years old I questioned the existence of God. My mom said to not do that. After a reality check I realized then that God does not exist. I wondered if she also lied about Santa Claus. Turns out...

    Hey, I'm not knocking religion. More power to you. But once you start blowing sh!t up over it, then I have an issue with it.

    December 23, 2010 at 5:57 pm |
    • a

      Same here...

      8 yrs old... arguing with my sunday school teachers and questioning my parents. I must be possessed by the devil.
      15 years old... questioning/arguing with my bible group leader on why she would suggest we have the audacity to "witness" to non (christian) believers who most likely hold just as strong albeit different beliefs as we did...
      19 years old-took my first anthropology/science /history (university level) courses. bingo!!!!! I'm an atheist.

      December 23, 2010 at 10:39 pm |
  12. HILIFE808

    And they want to build a mosque in NY... Can we blow that up? isn't that fair?

    December 23, 2010 at 5:56 pm |
  13. Franklin Bank

    Remember, the new purpose of NASA is to make Muslims feel good about themselves. So don't worry about Christian persecution.

    December 23, 2010 at 5:55 pm |
  14. william gray

    Arabs cut people's heads off on internet video. Does this crap really surprise anyone.

    December 23, 2010 at 5:55 pm |
    • Corbijn

      Those wacky Muslims; let's just launch cruise missiles at them because of their barbarian ways!

      December 23, 2010 at 6:03 pm |
    • 3M TA3

      @ Corbijn. That was actually pretty funny!

      December 23, 2010 at 6:42 pm |
  15. KBinMN

    Please keep in mind that Islam is a peaceful religion that is marred by the actions of a few extremists. (or so we're told time and time again)

    December 23, 2010 at 5:54 pm |
  16. Mr Manny

    Religion is the world's biggest LIE!

    December 23, 2010 at 5:53 pm |
  17. Greg

    Crusade Karma? perhaps.

    December 23, 2010 at 5:38 pm |
    • Jon

      I would like to point out to the people blaming current Muslim violence on the Crusades that the reason they were started in the first place was because of the 450 years of Muslim conquests that preceded it. That like saying Pearl Harbor was caused by the bombing of Hiroshima. Furthermore, there have been more people murdered by Jihadists in the last year than 150 years of the Inquisition.

      Just Google "The religion of peace games Muslims play" for more on crusades..

      December 23, 2010 at 5:52 pm |
    • KBinMN

      That's like saying we should blame todays Chinese for the bubonic plague that devastated Europe back in the 1300's.

      December 23, 2010 at 5:56 pm |
  18. Reality

    Saving Christians is just as easy:

    From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul reasoned, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."

    Even now Catholic/Christian professors of theology are questioning the bodily resurrection of the simple, preacher man aka Jesus.

    To wit;

    From a major Catholic university's theology grad school white-board notes:

    "Heaven is a Spirit state or spiritual reality of union with God in love, without earthly – earth bound distractions.
    Jesus and Mary's bodies are therefore not in Heaven.

    Most believe that it to mean that the personal spiritual self that survives death is in continuity with the self we were while living on earth as an embodied person.

    Again, the physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus' crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary's corpse) into heaven did not take place.

    The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus' earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church.

    Only Luke's Gospel records it. The Assumption ties Jesus' mission to Pentecost and missionary activity of Jesus' followers The Assumption has multiple layers of symbolism, some are related to Mary's special role as "Christ bearer" (theotokos). It does not seem fitting that Mary, the body of Jesus' Virgin-Mother (another biblically based symbol found in Luke 1) would be derived by worms upon her death. Mary's assumption also shows God's positive regard, not only for Christ's male body, but also for female bodies." "

    "In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal order in which this world and we exist. In this he is applying the philosophical categories used by the Church in her theology and saying what St. Thomas Aquinas said long before him."

    The Vatican quickly embellished this story with a lot CYAP.

    Of course, we all know that angels are really mythical "pretty wingie talking thingies".

    With respect to rising from the dead, we also have this account:

    An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue, ( Professors Crossan and Wright are On Faith panelists).

    "Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God's hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus' failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing."

    So where are the bones? As per Professor Crossan's analyses in his many books, the body of Jesus would have ended up in the mass graves of the crucified, eaten by wild dogs, with lime in a shallow grave, or under a pile of stones.

    December 23, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
  19. Reality

    Saving Muslims is quite easy!!!

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:

    ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

    "1. Belief in Allah"

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your cleansing neurons.

    "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

    "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

    "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

    "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) alone."

    Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

    Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

    December 23, 2010 at 5:32 pm |
  20. jl

    Oh, noes! Those poor, poor Christians. How EVERYONE persecutes them, how EVERYONE hates them. A history of killing and subjugating others in the name of Jesus. A history of twisting Gods word into hatred and violence - I mean GAYS, kill 'em all! How DARE people persecute those poor victims.

    Please save your crocodile tears for someone who cares.

    December 23, 2010 at 5:24 pm |
    • Jon

      @jl Ok. Let us ask who actually executes Gays publicly? Which countries come to your mind? Are they Christian? If you really can't answer the question just google "Public execution of gays".

      December 23, 2010 at 5:35 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.