One of the tools of Open Doors to track and measure the extent of persecution of Christians in the world is the World Watch List (WWL). The WWL is based on the research and comparison of expert opinions (Open Doors’ field researchers, external experts, academics) and publicly available research documents. It is a qualitative instrument based on these expert opinions and through the examination of different opinions seeks objectivity. In 2012, the methodology of the WWL was comprehensively revised in order to provide greater credibility, transparency, objectivity and scientific quality.
For this reason, the WWL 2013 cannot be compared with the WWLs of previous years. This document will present the main changes in the methodology of the WWL and its consequences for the ranking of the countries on this list.
If you have specific questions about the WWL methodology, please send an email to Frans Veerman (email@example.com), director World Watch List Unit of Open Doors International.
Why does the methodology need development?
Primarily to track the effects of more varied sources of persecution and simply to gather more data than before, so the newer version is twice the size in terms of questions asked. We must stress though, this is not a new questionnaire – it is primarily a revised questionnaire, enhancing the positive points of the original questionnaire. There is continuity with the older version.
There are two big myths about persecution we would like to dispel:
- The more incidents of persecution there are, the more persecution there must be!
While this seems incontrovertible, it is not quite correct. To know this, one has to understand the difference between squeeze (pressure) and smash (plain violence).Take for example the Christians of the Maldives. They are surrounded on every side with massive pressure from friends, neighbors, family, and the government, which means they can hardly express their faith. Because they are so persecuted, they are virtually unable to witness. In other words, they are being squeezed to death by their persecutors. But if you were looking for a list of incidents where Christians were beaten, put in jail or deported, there would be very few. Sometimes the degree of persecution is so intense, and so all-pervasive, it actually results in fewer incidents of persecution, since acts of public witness and defiance are rare. While there is no evidence of smashing the church through violence and imprisonment, the squeeze is what is killing the church. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that many persecutors prefer to squeeze the church, rather than smash it, in the belief that it is a more successful form of persecution.
- The most violent persecutors of the church are its main persecutors
Please consider Christians in Northern Nigeria. Their most violent persecutor in recent years is the Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram, who have bombed churches and shot pastors. It’s an unsubtle attempt to smash the church. The greatest threat for most Christians comes from a creeping cultural Islamization which has been stealthily progressing since the 1980’s. Christians suddenly realized they were second class citizens in a culture that was once hospitable to them, and is now hostile to them. Our point is, you can’t track that squeeze trend through incidents. You must discern how the act of Christian life and witness itself is being squeezed in all the different areas of life. Only with this level of understanding can assistance and intervention be beneficial.
How is the academic quality of the WWL ensured? Who fills in the questionnaires?
With an improvement of the questionnaire and a diversification in the presentation of its results, Open Doors is now striving to make the WWL the strongest, the most well-known and the most authoritative research instrument to track and measure the extent of persecution of Christians in the world today.
The network of Open Doors (presence in about 40 countries; numerous expert contacts) and the resources produced by Open Doors’ World Watch List Unit (including persecution hard facts media research) are the primary sources for the creation of the WWL. Both field reports and expert findings are systematically verified and compared with literature review and publicly available statistical databases and indexes.
Respondents to the questionnaire are carefully selected Open Doors staff and scholars. All respondents have complementary expertise about specific countries and monitor these countries, recording incidents and observations, throughout the year.
Open Doors workers in all field regions receive and fill in questionnaires about each country in their region.The WWL team assesses them and ascertains the ranking. Three types of specialist fill out the questionnaires: persecution analysts of the WWL Unit, researchers and specialists from Field Operations in Open Doors, and, external experts on the country in question. External experts include academics and policy makers, researchers and people actively working in a country. Some of these experts work for Christian agencies, some for news services, and others for academic institutions. All three sources are then aggregated together to complete the final score for the rankings.
How many countries do we monitor and how do we derive a top 50?
In order to know which countries to include in our survey, the WWL Unit uses a Rapid Appraisal Tool (RAPT) which combines information from additional sources and internet search. This tool, developed by the WWL Unit, is a simple instrument to give us a quick overview of the situation in most countries of the world. It also provides justification for the countries that are included in the World Watch List. The RAPT combines information from sources like Freedom House, Pew Forum and the U.S. State Department (world level think tanks and academic research institutions) with the results of “hard facts” internet search by the WWL Unit (murders, arrests, church burnings etc.). Countries that score the highest on the RAPT are the ones for which we distribute our questionnaire. We have chosen to use this tool because we do not have the capacity to apply the questionnaire to all countries in the world. The RAPT will be made public in 2013.
What about regions or parts of countries where there is persecution of Christians? Are they included in the World Watch List?
In the 2012World Watch List, only whole countries are scored. For example, Chechnya will not be included on the list as a separate country as in previous reporting, but is included in Russia. Also, Northern Nigeria – where persecution of Christians is rampant – will be included in Nigeria. To account for regional differences, the WWL scoring grid enables us to indicate which part of a country is affected by persecution. This is taken into account in the weighting of the questionnaire.
Many of the countries in the World Watch List are Muslim majority countries. How is this possible?
The World Watch List seeks to objectively measure hostilities against Christians. This is the case in a number of Muslim majority countries. However, the World Watch List methodology has no prejudice towards countries with Muslim populations.
Background on the methodology and definitions of the World Watch List
Important definitions being used for the World Watch List:
A Christian is ‘anyone who self-identifies as a Christian and/or someone belonging to a Christian community as defined by the church’s historic creeds’.This definition is partially theological and partially sociological. We include all groups who self-identify as Christians and/or who define themselves according to the theological creeds of church history such as Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants. We also include self-identified Christians that do not belong to a group that defines itself according to the theological creeds of church history We have to opt for the broader definition though for two reasons. The first is statistical. It simply becomes too difficult to decide who adheres to which type of Christianity and who does not. The norms in gathering statistics about Christianity all opt for the broader, sociological definition. For example, the long-time editor of Operation World, Patrick Johnstone, opts for this definition: “people who profess to be Christians…embracing all traditions and confessions of Christianity and does not indicate the degree of commitment or theological orthodoxy. “ It is important for OD to reflect this broader definition in order for the WWL data to become part of the World Christian Database. The second is tactical. A common pattern in persecution is that less orthodox or even fringe Christians are persecuted first, and then more mainstream or orthodox Christians are persecuted later. It is tactically helpful then to cover this trend, as it is often predictive of imminent persecution on the kind of churches Open Doors seeks to strengthen.
Persecution is ‘any hostility, experienced from the world, as a result of one’s identification with Christ. This can include hostile attitudes, words and actions towards Christians both from within and outside Christianity’.Here we have opted for a biblical rather than a sociological definition. While the definition has its challenges due to its inclusiveness, we feel it best covers the full range of hostility that is experienced by Christians as a result of their Christian life. We believe this is better than limiting the term persecution to purely deliberate or extreme forms of suffering. We believe this because it is very difficult in practice to define what is, extreme. Often losing a job can be far worse in its effects than a beating in prison. At times, being shunned by one’s parents can be more psychologically scarring than being part of a skirmish in the street. Also, to say that persecution has to be deliberate underestimates the implicit and indirect power of culture which has built up over decades a society or situation that squeezes Christians out of normal life.
That said, we do accept that there are degrees of persecution, and this is reflected by grades of persecution which you will see color-coded on the final list.
- Sparse persecution. Between 26-40.
- Moderate persecution. Between 41-55.
- Severe persecution. Between 56-70.
- Extreme persecution. Between 71-85.
- Absolute persecution: Between 86-100.
How is the questionnaire set up?
There are two main instruments. The first is the five spheres concept which seeks to better track the contexts of persecution. These five spheres express the squeeze (pressure) in each sphere of life. There is also a sixth block, which expresses the smash (overt violence). The sixth block potentially cuts across all five spheres of life. The second is the scoring grid which seeks to distinguish the communities of persecution.
- Measuring the contexts of persecution: The five spheres.
The questionnaire assumes that a Christian lives their life before God in five distinct yet overlapping spheres.
Sphere one: Private Life. Every person has a private, interior life that is lived in their own space. The issue is, does the persecutor seek to dominate that space? In human rights language this area is called “freedom of thought and conscience” (also called forum internum). Focusing on this gives a real indication of the strategy and intensity of persecution. For example in China today, you are largely able to believe what you like in private; the issue is how you manifest that in public. Many persecutors make their aim the absolute privatisation of faith. But in countries such as North Korea, the state seeks to deprive the Christian of the right to center even their interior spiritual life on Christ, and bans all expression of that even in a home. For Christians living in some Muslim-majority countries, there is no freedom in this area either, more often due to a hostile family culture.
Sphere two: Family Life. Every person lives in a family. The interference of persecutors against Christians in the sphere of their families is, next to their rights as individuals, the closest sphere in which a believer can be affected. This is where the state, extended family, sometimes even members of the nuclear family, or others try to stop the transmission of the faith. Particularly for those in the MBB community, this can be the toughest sphere of persecution they face.
Sphere three: Community life. Every person lives in a neighbourhood. This can have distinct characteristics, especially for those in countries where areas are organized according to tribe and race. In Pakistan for example, most Christians would be in trouble with local agents of persecution in their neighborhoods. The persecutors could be local police, tribal figures, or the local extremist Imam who is raising a mob around the corner.
Sphere four: National life. Every person lives in a state. This category concerns Christians in the sphere of their nation and tracks the invasiveness of the central government in each country. The questionnaire determines the freedom of Christians to participate in civil society and more generally in public life. In Iran it is interesting to notice that the primary persecution Christians experience often comes from the state, and less from the family or community.
Sphere five: Church Life. Every Christian is usually part of a church – even a very secret one, and we in this sphere we measure the extent of freedom believers have to express their faith as a group without interference. In this respect, it is important to underline the emphasis in human rights debates on the collective dimension of freedom of religion.
There is a sixth block on the questionnaire, simply entitled “physical violence.” This block separately groups all related questions, which obviously cut across all five spheres of life. Within this block faith related killings and serious damage/destruction of communal Christian buildings each have one third of the weight. The last third is allocated to matters such as imprisonment, abduction and physical harm. Scoring this block separately gives us the advantage of ensuring that physical incidents do not skew the totals and prevent us properly measuring the squeeze.
Though each block has a different number of questions, they all have the same weight.
Block seven presents additional questions that are not scored but allow respondents to provide background information. In block seven, respondents are given the opportunity to describe general trends related to persecution dynamics, the main actors that are responsible for persecution, evolution of the church, and predictions for the future. The contents of this block are used for the interpretative narrative that accompanies each WWL score.
- Distinguishing the communities of persecution: the scoring grid.
The WWL covers the persecution of Christians in political states, but within its borders there may be different communities of Christians who experience sharply contrasting amounts of persecution. This is difficult especially in supersized states such as India, where the Christians of Orissa face very different conditions than, say, the Christians in Bombay. Or in many Middle Eastern countries, Christians from historic traditions, e.g. Armenian Orthodox, face less and different kinds of persecution as a group than their counterparts who are MBB’s.
To cover this we have three categories of “yes” when we ask a question about persecution. Yes, absolutely; yes, significantly, and yes, but rarely.
The answer to each question in blocks one to five is an average of the three elements: (1) Types of Christianity concerned, (2) Part of country involved, and (3) Degree of persistence of the persecution pressure.
The first element, “Types of Christianity”, needs some explanation. The various types of Christianity in the country could include:
(a) Expatriate or migrant Christians;
(b) Members of historical Christian communities (like Catholics, Orthodox, traditional Protestants) and/or government controlled churches;
(c) Converts to Christianity from ‘persecutor background’ (majority religion or ideology, traditional religion, mafia, etc.) and/or house churches;
(d) Members of non-traditional Protestant Christian Communities (like Evangelicals, Pentecostals) and other Christians not yet included.
Putting together these three answer elements, with the three grades of “yes” enables us to get the greatest amount of specificity on which kind of Christian is persecuted where and with what intensity in any given country.
Most significantly, this provides a new data stream that we will convert in the course of 2013 into a mini-WWL that ranks the top 15 persecuted “communities” in the world, and frees us from the constraints of always having to profile the general situation in the entire state.
Will there be more changes in the presentations of the WWL?
Since we have gathered much more data than in previous years there will be at least three additional lists. The main publication of the top 50 ranking will remain, but in addition we would like to publish:
- A list ranking the top 10 most violent places in which to live as a Christian
- A list ranking the top 15 most persecuted Christian communities in the world.
- A list of global persecution engines, which are mentioned in the non-scoring part of the questionnaire.