It starts as harassment in some countries.
It can quickly escalate to more overt forms of hostility, church burnings and imprisonment, torture, death.
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In many countries, especially in the Middle East and Africa, the threat comes from an Islamic government or from Islamic zealots given free rein by the government.
But whatever form it takes, the problem of Christian persecution, while getting more media attention of late, is still being ignored by the most powerful government on earth -- the one residing in Washington, D.C.
Christian author Jonathan Cahn, known for his two books about the future of America, "The Harbinger" and "The Mystery of the Shemitah," will bring the issue to the United Nations in New York on April 17, hoping to shine a brighter light on the atrocities being committed in the name of Allah.
Cahn will be joined on the conference panel by WND board member Lt. Gen. (Ret.) William "Jerry" Boykin, Brigitte Gabriel, founder of ACT! For America, WND columnist William Federer, and others.
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The execution of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya in February brought the issue of Christian persecution into the public spotlight for the first time in many years. The beheadings carried out with systematic precision on a beach in North Africa resulted in a flurry of reports by mainstream media. CBS 60 Minutes was the latest to take notice, making Christian persecution its cover story on March 22.
All 21 of the Coptic men were given the option of converting to Islam to save their lives. They all refused, using their last breaths to praise the name of Jesus Christ.
But President Obama could not bring himself to refer to the 21 men as Christians. His spokesman, Josh Earnest, referred to them as "Egyptian citizens."
"I will be sharing on the persecution of Christians around the world – appealing to those at the U.N. to not sit by as it happens," Cahn told WND.
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Hotspots include the Islamic State and Nigeria. ISIS has beheaded, shot or crucified thousands of Christians in Iraq and Syria. Boko Horam has kidnapped hundreds of Nigerian school girls and last month killed as many as 2,000 Christians in a single village in its drive to establish shariah law.
The title of the conference is "Not Peace But a Sword: The Persecution of Christians in the Middle East as a Threat to International Peace and Security." It is sponsored by Engr. Aja Eze Foundation, a group that advocates for women and children in war-torn areas of the world.
Many Christian leaders such as Cahn and Franklin Graham have warned that worse persecution is on the horizon, and perhaps coming to America, if the attacks are not stopped in the Middle East and Africa.
In fact it's already happening. A Christian woman was beheaded by a Muslim in Oklahoma last year solely because she refused to respond to her killer's religious overtures. Obama classified that incident as "work place violence."
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Open Doors last month released its 2015 World Watch List, an annual survey of the most dangerous places in the world to be a Christian. In every region of the globe — Africa, Asia and even in the Americas — persecution of Christians is intensifying, the report said.
Bad omen for the future?
David Curry, president of Open Doors, said persecution of Christians has historically been an indicator of future world chaos.
"With nearly twice the number of Christians persecuted over the previous year, it's clear why Christians should be very concerned," Curry wrote in an op-ed for Fox News. "After 13 years of creating the World Watch List in its modern form, Open Doors has observed that the persecution of Christians is a lead harbinger for discord in the wider society. If history teaches us anything, it is to pay attention to the signs that warn of geopolitical upheaval; in particular, the restriction of religious minority groups. When religious minorities are first marginalized within a society, then targeted for attacks without notice from the free societies around the world, a purge is the next logical step in the mind of extremists."
Cahn agrees that what's happening to Christians should be a wake-up call for the rest of the world.
"The persecution of believers is a measure of a civilization and a harbinger of things to come," Cahn told WND. "Believers, like the Jewish people, are, in many cases, the white canary of civilization."
What happens first to Christians is "often a sign of an evil that will affect the many," he said. "The evil that caused Christians to be persecuted in the Soviet Union never stopped with Christians, but affected the world. The evil that caused Christians to be persecuted in Nazi Germany never stopped with German Christians, but caused devastation around the world. We thus have no reason to assume that the evil that causes believers to be persecuted in our day will stop with the believers – but will affect the rest of the world."
Cahn says it's one of God's great mysteries that the end of the age parallels the beginning of the age.
"At the beginning of the age you had an Israel in the world. So Israel is back. At the beginning of the age, you had Jewish believers in the world. Jewish believers are back," he said. "And at the beginning of the age you had a massive persecution of believers. That too is coming back. The persecution of Christians across the world is now reaching unprecedented levels."
According to end-time prophecy, the Bible predicts that the last days will bring a great apostasy, a great falling away from the faith, Cahn said.
"We are watching that happen. In nations and cultures where the Gospel once held sway, we are watching an accelerating departure from the faith," he told WND. "The flip side of that is that the same civilization that calls evil 'good' will always end up calling good 'evil.' So, watching the growing apostasy around us, we must be aware that for every step away from the ways of God, there will be an equal step of persecution against the people of God."
Glorious, yet tortured history
Christians have suffered persecution since the beginning. Roman emperors threw them into the arenas for the entertainment of the masses. That practice didn't end until the rise of Emperor Constantine in 325 A.D. Some say the church is purest when it comes under the most intense persecution, as this is when the "fair weather Christians" drop out and the seriously devout double down on their faith.
After nearly 400 years of relative calm, the storm clouds regathered in the 7th century in the form of an Arabian warlord named Muhammad.
Christians were forced to convert to his new religion, to flee or be killed. Christians and Jews who stayed were ordered to pay jizya, a head tax paid to their Islamic conquerors in exchange for "protection."
Living under the protection of an Islamic state means living under "dhimmitude" or second-class status. Subjugated peoples or "dhimmis" cannot hold government jobs or positions of authority, are not allowed to share their faith with non-Christians, cannot build churches, Christian symbols such as crosses are often banned from public display, and Christians inevitably find themselves targeted for violence because Muslims who attack or kill the dhimmi are rarely prosecuted in shariah courts.
While many Christians converted to Islam rather than face life as dhimmi, many others clung to their faith.
At the beginning of the 8th century Christians made up more than 90 percent of the total Middle East population. After more than 1,000 years of Islamic jihad, at the dawn of the 20th century, their numbers were reduced to 20 percent. With the breakup of the Ottoman Empire and the continued pressure on Christians to convert to Islam or flee, the population of Christians in the Middle East has shrunk to 4 percent.
Annual studies by Open Doors reveals that Christians are the world's most persecuted religious group today, with Islam being the most-likely persecutor. The political upheaval touched off by the so-called Arab Spring set the table for the emergence of ISIS and other factions seeking to impose shariah law.
A majority of Christians in Syria and Iraq belong to the ancient Assyrian or Chaldean churches. These indigenous peoples trace their faith to the prophet Jonah and the Apostle Thomas, both of whom preached in Nineveh, which is present-day Mosul in Iraq. ISIS attacked Mosul last June and the city was virtually emptied of all Christians, its ancient churches destroyed or turned into mosques.
So history has not been kind to followers of Jesus in the Middle East, not under the Ottoman Empire, which butchered more than 3 million Armenian Christians, Syriac and Greek Orthodox and Protestant Christians. And not since the Western powers carved up the Ottoman Empire after World War I. In 1933 the new nation of Iraq launched a vicious attack against Assyrian Christians in which 3,000 were killed and many more forced to flee.
After World War II, most of the emerging Arab States started persecuting and driving out the indigenous Christian people.
"We see this from every historical period," Dr. Andrew Bostom, author of "Legacy of Jihad," told WND.
The Iraqi Christians were pushed towards Syria, who did not want them and pushed them back to Iraq where they were murdered. History repeated itself in 2003 with the U.S. invasion of Iraq. A direct result of the U.S. invasion was the emergence of a new jihad against the "Crusader West."
Jihadists looking to vent their anger at the U.S. invasion found native Christians an easy target. And the U.S. did not do a very good job of protecting the Christian minorities of Iraq.
Christians were given an ultimatum by al-Qaida to pay the jizya tax. Churches were bombed when they refused to pay the tax. The Islamist extremists made it clear that their goals were to drive all Christians out of Iraq. Running for their lives, many have ended up in refugee camps in Lebanon or in the semi-autonomous area of Kurdistan.
An excerpt from the book "Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians," by Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert and Nina Ghea:
"This mass exodus accelerated after the October 31, 2010, Baghdad church bombing.
"On the night of November 22, 2010, thirty-five-year-old Diana Gorgiz heard screams and saw that her neighbor's garden had been set aflame. When the Iraqi army arrived, they told Diana's family they were no longer safe. "When the army comes and says, "We cannot protect you,'" Diana explained, "what else can you believe?" The following day, three generations of the Gorgiz family – fifteen in total – fled to a monastery in Qosh where they crowded into a single room."
Another Christian woman, Jabir Hikmet Al Sammak, told the authors, "Baghdad has too many evils." The jihadists had beheaded both her parents.
While the U.S. under President George W. Bush did a poor job of protecting Iraq's Christians, the U.S. under President Obama has abandoned them.
Clare Lopez, a former intelligence analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency for two decades, told WND last August she sees a pattern in Obama's actions, or inaction, that reveals his blueprint for the Middle East and northern Africa. It is to let the warring jihadi factions, the Sunnis and the Shiites, divide the region into two spheres of influence, and for the U.S. to withdraw.
"The administration's plan, I believe, is to remove American power and influence, including military forces, from Islamic lands," Lopez said.
That has unleashed hell's fury on religious minorities. Starting with an uprising in Tunisia in December 2010, the movement of Islamic fundamentalists violently asserting themselves was at first hailed as the "Arab Spring." It quickly became obvious that "democracy" in the Middle East meant the empowerment of jihadist theology as they stepped into the vacuum left by old-line secular Muslim dictators like Saddam in Iraq, Mubarak in Egypt and Assad in Syria. Yemen has been the most recent American-backed government to fall.
A new and deadly threat
As secular dictators were ousted from power, radical Islamists stepped into the void and unleashed their hatred towards vulnerable Christian communities. They burned and bombed churches, abducted and raped Christian women and forced them to marry Muslim men. Imams provoked pogroms against Christian neighborhoods. ISIS has marked the homes of Christians with the ubiquitous red "N" in Arabic, signifying followers of the "Nazarene."
This red letter guarantees the Christian home will receive a visit from ISIS thugs who will grant them the choice of conversion to Islam, payment of the jizya, leaving their homes and all their possessions, or death.
ISIS poses an existential threat to a number of countries including Israel and above all represents a growing menace to Jews, Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities in the Middle East and North Africa.
ISIS has brought a new wave of persecution and violence to Jews and Christians that is "genocidal in scope and intent," said a statement from the founder of Eng. Aja Eze Foundation, sponsor of next month's conference at the U.N.
"ISIS is brutal beyond imagination to anyone who is not aligned with its jihadist form of Sunni Islam - Christians, Jews, Yazidis and even Shiite Muslims," reads a statement from Ugoji Eze, president and founder of the New Jersey-based foundation.
ISIS views all four of these groups as "infidels without human rights." The ISIS threat will eventually come to the United States if it is left unchecked, the group said.
Goals and objectives of conference
1. To understand the Jihadist threat to Christians and Jews in the Middle East.2. To understand the magnitude of the security implications of the emergence of ISIS to International Peace and Security.3. To comprehend the wave of persecution and violence that ISIS poses to Jews and Christians in the Middle East.4. To realize and underscore the threat that ISIS poses to the United States, a threat, if left unchecked, eventually will come to the United States.5. To understand the mass genocide that is taking place in the Middle East against Christians.6. To examine in depth the emerging relationships between Jews and Christians in the Middle East and the dynamic impact this will have on the region.7. To determine the roles of Judaism and Christianity in halting the emergence of ISIS and the Islamist threat to International Peace and Security.8. To focus on the hate and cruelty that motivates ISIS.10. To question why the United Nations has remained silent on this pressing issue.11. To examine why the media has failed to cover the plight of Christians in the Middle East.
1. To bring to the attention of the international Community the plight of the Christians in the Middle East.2. To bring together the Jewish and Christian Churches globally.
From Afghanistan to the Central African Republic to Kenya to Lebanon to Nigeria to Sudan to Somalia to Turkey to Uganda to the United Kingdom, radical Muslim attacks on Christians and dhimmitude are on the increase. Such persecutions are not random but systematic, Eze said. "The international community must take a concerted stand against the persecutions of Christians."
As for the church in America, Cahn said they should recall the biblical admonishment of Hebrews 13:3: "Remember those who are in bonds, as bound with them; and those who suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body."