The 2020 World Watch List has been released. And the numbers are staggering:
More than 260 million Christians live in places where they experience high levels of persecution. That is one in eight believers worldwide, many of whom are targeted, just because they follow Jesus.
But behind all of the stats and facts, research for the World Watch List reveals some significant trends that show us what’s happening today to God’s people around the world. Here are the four most important trends from the 2020 World Watch List:
In some of the most populated countries on earth, Christians live under technology threat.
Case in point, Surveillance cameras on the streets of China are always watching—who you are, where you’re going and who you worship.
In China where there are an estimated 97 million Christians, persecution against Christians has taken a technological turn. A recent report cited by CNBC estimates there are approximately 415 million surveillance cameras in China, a number only expected to grow in coming years. Some estimates suggest that eventually there may be more cameras than people in China—quite a feat for a country with a population of 1.2 billion.
China has developed widespread facial recognition software and established laws requiring facial scans to purchase a phone. When taken together, these two technological advances means the government can track individuals across cities, public places and even churches where cameras are installed.
“Christian faith is under attack and the methods of that persecution are becoming more sophisticated, and thus pose a greater threat,” says Open Doors CEO David Curry, “because they have the ability to oppress on a massive scale now, and I think it’s a blueprint for others.”
The technology will not be reserved to China or Asia.
“Clearly Iran (ranked 9 in Christian Persecution), is interested in this technology,” Curry says, “and you can imagine how, in the hands of an Islamic regime, this could be a massive tragedy for religious minorities.”
China is also rolling out a country-wide Social Credit System (SCS) by which authorities plan to reward “good” citizenship and punish “bad.” Already, one community has reportedly decided to add penalties for those who “illegally spread Christianity.” It’s easy to see how surveillance technology could be used in tandem with the SCS to make everyday life very difficult for anyone the Chinese government deems insufficiently “Chinese”—including Christians.
Similarly, in India (Ranked 10 in Christian Persecution), the government plans to introduce a national facial recognition system. Christians already live under the governance of a strict Hindu nationalist party—a party that has allowed, and in many cases accelerated, the growth of the belief that to be Indian is to be Hindu. Such new moves to implement surveillance technology has many Christians alarmed.
Facial tracking could lead to increased pressure and persecution of Christians who are already deeply impacted by violence—there were at least 447 verified incidents of violence and hate crimes against Christians in India in the 2020 World Watch List reporting period. There is fear that more tracking could increase these attacks.
But Christians in these affected Countries are bold in their resolve to follow Christ in spite of the level and amount of pressure the government and extremists put them under. Their resolve, they say, cannot be compromised.