WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Hundreds of millions of Christians have suffered discrimination or even persecution in lands as diverse as China and India, but mostly in countries where Islam is the top religion.
Despite this, persecution of Christians is one topic the American public doesn't hear much about. One possible reason: an anti-Christian bias among Western elites.
These Western elites often control the media and educational institutions that spread information to the general public.
But they rarely cover or discuss the reality that Christians may well be the most persecuted religious group on the planet. It has been estimated that Christians number some 2.2 billion people. Harassment of them can range from loss of life to loss of livelihood.
From Communists to Muslim Extremists
Paul Marshall of the Hudson Institute has authored seven books on Christian persecution and discrimination.
"Including discrimination, you're talking 600, 700 million Christians," Marshall told CBN News.
"In about two-thirds of the world, Christians of one stripe or another face some sort of harassment," said Brian Grim, senior researcher at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Persecution of Christians dates back to the time of Jesus and his disciples, but it is increasing rapidly in the new century. Christian journalist and author David Aikman touches upon this fact frequently in his work.
"Christians in innumerable countries are under huge amounts of pressure, either from the government or from the societies in which they find themselves," Aikman said.
Throughout the 20th century, communist countries caused the most problems for Christians. Today, however, the fear and harassment has shifted to the Muslim world.
Open Doors USA tracks persecution around the world and publishes a watch list every January of the worst offenders.
"In this year's top 10, eight of those worst offenders are Islamic countries," Dr. Carl Moeller, Open Doors president and chief executive officer, told CBN News
Iraq made the top 10 list of offending countries because of the recent brutal attacks on Christians, including the massacre of 58 Christians in a Baghdad Catholic Church in October 2010.
"The level of brutality is almost unbelievable," Marshall said.
"We're actually labelling it as 'religicide,' as extremists there want to exterminate all Christians from the country of Iraq," Moeller added.
In parts of Afghanistan, Christians can face death or long imprisonment for even small acts, such as simply handing a Bible out, according to Moeller.
Muslim extremists in Pakistan have been killing Christians at an increasing rate for "blasphemy."
"Christians are being accused of blaspheming against Islam by converting from Islam to Christianity," Moeller said.
Christians = Infidels
The violence against Christians is also breaking out in Muslim countries once considered more secular and less radical.
"Christians are starting to be killed on religious grounds in Turkey," Marshall explained. "That's new."
How do Muslims justify their hatred of Christians? Marshall explained to CBN News how Islamic radicals see it.
"They're infidels. They're unbelievers in what's a Muslim land," he said.
There's also plenty of persecution outside the Muslim world, including China and India. For good reason, North Korea has topped Open Doors' watch list for nine years in a row.
"If you're caught as a Christian in North Korea, say simply leading a Bible study or even owning a Bible, you can be thrown into a labor camp that is exactly like the old Soviet Union's gulag where people are literally worked to death," Moeller described.
Christians as 'Persecutors,' Not Victims
Despite all this, information about Christian persecution worldwide is not often heard of in the very countries founded as Christian nations and that contain huge Christian majorities.
Some blame the lack of information on the elites that control the media and academics that imagine Christians as persecutors, not victims.
"We've had elite universities basically teaching their undergraduates that the only villains in history who oppressed others for religious reasons were the Christians," Aikman explained.
Marshall pointed out these elites, both in the U.S. and Europe, are often openly hostile toward the Christian faith and its followers.
"Europeans who can otherwise be laid back, they get very angry about Christians," he said.
"There's really an unwillingness to accept the fact that Christians have become an endangered species in some countries of the world," Aikman added.
Moeller said members of the Western media are overwhelmingly secular, so they often have a hard time even perceiving the religious root of persecution.
"They fail to see religion as a primary motive for the violence that Christians are experiencing," he said.
For many elites and secular types in the media, it's a nuisance, Marshall explained.
"Religion touches on areas they're uncomfortable with, so they just want it to go away. For them, it's like the fingernails on the blackboard."
Aikman said he worries the Obama administration isn't attentive enough to the religious persecution and discrimination overseas.
"At least Obama himself has not been nearly as articulate and forceful on religious freedom issues as President Bush," Aikman said.
The problem can have real and deadly consequences.
"Many countries that were contemplating some kind of crackdown on Christians think, 'Well, it doesn't really matter,'" Aikman continued. "'The U.S. is not going to say anything. They're not going to complain. So let's go ahead and make life harder for our Christian minorities.'"
Moeller said such inattention by the West "can result in imprisonment, torture, and even martyrdom for the cause of Jesus Christ."
*Original broadcast January 8, 2011.