Persecution of Christians Is Approaching Genocide Levels, Report Finds: Christianity 'Is at Risk of Disappearing'

persecution christians sri lanka church attacks
Sri Lankan officials inspect St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, north of Colombo, after multiple explosions targeting churches and hotels across Sri Lanka on April 21, 2019. Stringer/Getty Images

A new report says that the persecution of Christians across the world is fast becoming genocide and that the faith will soon disappear in some areas of the world, even in locations where its presence dates back to antiquity.

The crisis was made apparent recently by the Sri Lanka attacks on Easter, when Islamic extremists targeted three churches and three hotels in Colombo in a series of bombings. The attacks killed 253 people and injured hundreds more.

The British government commissioned Bishop of Truro Philip Mounstephen to lead a review of persecution of Christians and to recommend how the U.K. Foreign Office should respond to it. That review has now published an interim report detailing its findings so far.

"Evidence shows not only the geographic spread of anti-Christian persecution, but also its increasing severity," the report states. "In some regions, the level and nature of persecution is arguably coming close to meeting the international definition of genocide, according to that adopted by the UN."

The review found that eradicating Christians and other minorities through violence was the explicit objective of extremist groups in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, northeast Nigeria and the Philippines.

These groups are not only murdering Christians for their faith but also whitewashing all evidence of their existence by destroying churches and removing religious symbols such as crosses. Clergy are also being targeted for kidnapping and killing.

"Where these and other incidents meet the tests of genocide, governments will be required to bring perpetrators to justice, aid victims and take preventative measures for the future," the report said.

"The main impact of such genocidal acts against Christians is exodus. Christianity now faces the possibility of being wiped out in parts of the Middle East where its roots go back furthest…. Christianity is at risk of disappearing, representing a massive setback for plurality in the region," the report continued.

The Christian population is now below 1.5 percent in Palestine, according to the report. In war-torn Syria, which has been occupied by extremists such as the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), the Christian population dropped from 1.7 million in 2011 to below 450,000.

In Iraq, where ISIS and smaller extremist groups also have a strong foothold, including control of some areas, the number of Christians has fallen from 1.5 million before 2003—the year the second Gulf war started—to below 120,000 today.

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2016 Christians were harassed in 144 countries, up from 128 the year before. This makes them the most persecuted religious group in the world.

The group Open Doors USA, which advocates for persecuted Christians, said in a recent report that approximately 245 million Christians are at risk of "high," "very high" or "extreme" levels of persecution in 2019, up from 215 million the year before.

Mounstephen's report said: "Given the scale of persecution of Christians today, indications that it is getting worse and that its impact involves the decimation of some of the faith group's oldest and most enduring communities, the need for governments to give increasing priority and specific targeted support to this faith community is not only necessary but increasingly urgent."