We live in a time in which many people who wear the name “Christian” are being killed. Various groups who keep track of Christian martyr data have wildly different counts of how many have died for their faith.
The Center for the Study of Global Christianity says that 90,000 Christians were martyred in 2019. The International Society for Human Rights says that 10,000 were martyred. Open Doors puts the number at 4,305. The problem here is that the definition of a “martyr” is not the same for everyone.
The Nazis killed Dietrich Bonhoeffer in World War II because he was involved in a plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler. His Christian faith was the reason he became involved in the plot. Does that make him a martyr? Christians were killed in civil wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan. Should they be classified as martyrs? There is a monument in Bicknell Park in Montebello, California, in memory of one of the worst genocides of the 20th century. Between 1915 and 1921, the Turkish government killed 1,500,000 Armenian Christians. Does that make all of them martyrs?
Martyrs have always been held up as examples of faithfulness. In today’s world, there are many countries where converting to Christianity is a sure way to be executed. The early Roman persecution of Christians is undeniable and uncontested. Determining Christian martyr data in our modern world varies by how we define “martyr.”
Those of us who live in the United States should be thankful that, so far, we don’t have to be worried about being singled out or killed by the government because of our worship. That may change, but we should thank God for the freedom Christians enjoy now in the U.S. and other countries.
— John N. Clayton © 2020
Data from Christianity Today, March 2020, page 23-24.