Gordon-Conwell’s Center for the Study of Global Christianity recently released its annual report on the persecution of Christians, which found that as many as 90,000 Christians died for their faith in the last year.
Although the study was released this month, the finding that 90,000 Christians--or one Christian every six minutes--were killed in 2016 was leaked by a prominent Italian sociologist named Massimo Introvigne during an interview with Vatican Radio in December and the report received much media attention before it was even released.
Even though 90,000 Christian martyrs might seem like a lot in one year, the think tank maintains that 90,000 Christians have died each year on average from 2005 to 2015.
“In the last week, several news organizations reported on the persecution of Christians around the world and cited our figure of 90,000 Christian martyrs in 2016,” the organization said in an email to supporters. “The Center for the Study of Global Christianity has done extensive research on Christian martyrdom, both historical and contemporary. We estimate that between 2005 and 2015 there were 900,000 Christian martyrs worldwide--an average of 90,000 per year.”
It should be noted that 90,000 Christian martyrs per year is a very liberal estimate. In fact, the organization notes that only 30 percent of the 90,000 Christians were killed because of terrorism. Seventy-percent of the 90,000 Christians were actually killed in tribal conflicts in Africa, which raises the question of whether or not 70 percent of 90,000 Christians were actually killed over their faith or just victims of violent conflicts.
In the email, the center explained the definition of “martyr” it used for its study. Two of the qualifying factors for “martyr” is that the slain Christians must have been in a “situation of witness” and have been killed “as a result of hostility.”
“‘Witness’ in this definition is not restricted to public testimony concerning belief in Jesus,” the email explains. “It refers to the individual’s entire lifestyle, regardless of whether or not he or she was actively proclaiming at the time of death.”
The email adds that the definition “as a result of hostility” takes “a variety of forms including war, conflict, random killing, and genocide, and includes acts by both individuals or groups (such as governments). This excludes deaths through accidents, crashes, illness, or acts of nature.”
Last week, the Christian persecution watchdog group Open Doors USA released its 2017 World Watch List of top 50 countries where Christians face the most persecution.
Open Doors estimates that a little over 1,200 Christians were killed for their faith around the globe from Nov. 1, 2015 to Oct. 31, 2016. However, that is a conservative estimate since it only includes documented cases and doesn’t include statistics from North Korea and areas of Iraq and Syria, where the Islamic State has killed thousands of people over the last two years.
According to Open Doors, Christian persecution across the world has steadily increased over the last three years and 2016 was “the worst year of persecution on record.”
Center for the Study of Global Christianity also found that Christians are the most persecuted religious group throughout the world.