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New reports on religious freedom

Religious liberty, a cornerstone of American life since the founding of this country, is showing some disturbing cracks in light of increasing conflicts over the definition of marriage.

Yet as worrisome as these trends are in America they pale in comparison with the struggles many of our brothers and sisters around the world face each and every day.

For example, in the most recent report from Open Doors USA is the following story.

“North Korean secret agents have martyred a Korean Chinese pastor who lived in Chiangbai, a town on the Chinese side of the Sino-Korean border. Han Choong Yeol was active in helping North Korean refugees by giving them food, medicine, clothing and other goods they needed for survival back in North Korea.

“[On] April 30th, pastor Han left his home just after noon and was supposed to return before 5 p.m. When he didn’t come back, a search was set up. Around 8 p.m., his lifeless body was found, visibly maimed by stab and axe wounds.

“… Han was 49 and leaves behind a wife, a son and a daughter as well as the local Three Self-Church …that he pastored.”

And of course there was the Easter suicide bombing targeting Christians in Lahore, Pakistan, at a public park. The attack left 72 people dead and 341 wounded. At least 24 children were among those who died. An offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban, Jamat-ul-Ahrar, has claimed responsibility.

And now yet another report is confirming the grimness of the situation around the globe. The 2016 report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which is chaired by our friend and Wilberforce Award winner Robert George, warns that conditions are worsening in many places. “By any measure,” the 276-page report says, “ religious freedom abroad has been under serious and sustained assault since. . . 2015.”. “From the plight of new and longstanding prisoners of conscience, to the dramatic rise in the numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons, to the continued acts of bigotry against Jews and Muslims in Europe, …there was no shortage of suffering.”

The report recommends that nine countries be re-designated as “countries of particular concern,” or CPCs, by the U.S. State Department. In most of them, Islam is the main religion and religious freedom has never existed. According to the report, in Pakistan, the scene of the Easter massacre, “More people are on death row or serving life sentences for blasphemy in Pakistan than in any other country in the world. Aggressive enforcement of these [blasphemy] laws emboldens the Pakistani Taliban and individual vigilantes, triggering horrific violence against religious communities and individuals perceived as transgressors.”

Like North Korea, communist countries also receive their fair share of blame in the report. “Over the past year, the Chinese government has stepped up its persecution of religious groups deemed a threat to the state’s supremacy and maintenance of a “‘socialist society,’” the USCIRF says. “Christian communities have borne a significant brunt of the oppression, with numerous churches bulldozed and crosses torn down.”

As Pope Francis has said, “It is the duty of everyone to defend religious freedom.” My colleague Stan Guthrie has written a great book called “Missions in the Third Millennium” that shows how the global church is doing amidst the persecution. And of course you can learn about the upcoming International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.

Remember, whatever country we’re in, we all have a stake in religious freedom.

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— by John Stonestreet

Stonestreet is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and is heard on Breakpoint. Copyright© 2016 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.

2016 Annual Report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom

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