Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 February 2016
This paper presents estimates of the number of Christians facing persecution around the world from 1970 to 2020. The purpose of this analysis is to provide a religious demographic context for discussions about Christianity and religious freedom in the twenty-first century. The paper includes demographic analysis of both the Christians living under persecution and the persecutors.
Paul Marshall's taxonomy of persecution is used to produce estimates of the numbers of Christians living under various kinds of restrictions. Persecution is viewed in the context of the five different kinds of states (Self-Professing Communist States, National Security States, South Asian Religious Nationalist States, Muslim-Majority States, and Western Secularist States), divided into key persecuting countries. Tables track the religious demographics of these states over time (1970–2020) with a special focus on Christian demographics, including blocs and movements (e.g., Roman Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, Renewalists) and Christian traditions (e.g., Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists).
If one excludes Western secularism as a special but not comparable kind of persecution, then it can be said that about 500 million Christians (22 percent of the global total in 2010) are living in states in which they are subject to persecution. An additional 208 million live in Western Secularist States, where they might face discrimination. Altogether 708 million Christians (31 percent of the global total in 2010) live in the fifty-four countries identified in Marshall's taxonomy. The number of Christians living under persecution appears to be increasing. It should be noted that in 1970 more than 152 million Christians lived in the forty-six states where they were subject to persecution. This represented more than 26 percent of all Christians at the time, a higher percentage than that of 2000, when 405 million living in these states represented just above 20 percent of all Christians. By 2020 this is expected to rise to 600 million, or 23.5 percent of all Christians. This shows that persecution, measured by the countries in the taxonomy, is affecting an increasing proportion of the Christian community in the period 2000 to 2020.
Orthodox Christians have experienced a disproportionate amount of persecution. This was especially true for much of the twentieth century, when the rise of communism in the former Soviet Union subjected millions of Orthodox believers to severe persecution.