Christianity 2011: Martyrs and the Resurgence of Religion

By Johnson, Todd M.; Barrett, David B. et al. | International Bulletin of Missionary Research, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Christianity 2011: Martyrs and the Resurgence of Religion


Johnson, Todd M., Barrett, David B., Crossing, Peter F., International Bulletin of Missionary Research


This two-page report is the twenty-seventh in an annual series in the IBMR. The series began shortly after the publication of the first edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia (Oxford University Press, 1982). Its purpose was to lay out, in summary form on a single page, an annual update of the most significant global and regional statistics presented in the WCE. The WCE itself was expanded into a second edition in 2001 and accompanied by an analytic volume, World Christian Trends (William Carey Library, 2001). In 2003 an online database, World Christian Database (later published by Brill), was launched, updating most of the statistics in the WCE and WCT. At the end of 2009 these data were featured in the Atlas of Global Christianity (Edinburgh University Press).

Updating Martyrs Worldwide, 2000-2010

One of the most widely quoted statistics in our annual table is the average number of Christian martyrs per year (line 28). The documentation for both the methodology and the data behind this figure is found in part 4, "Martyrology," in World Christian Trends. A PDF of this chapter is available at www.globalchristianity.org.

While most of us probably think of martyrdom as an individual phenomenon (such as the 2008 killing of Iraqi Chaldean bishop Paulos Faraj Rahho), our basic method for counting martyrs in Christian history is to list "martyrdom situations" at particular points in time. A martyrdom situation is defined as "mass or multiple martyrdoms at one point in Christian history." It is then determined how many of the people killed in that situation fit the definition of martyr--"believers in Christ who have lost their lives, prematurely, in situations of witness, as a result of human hostility." (This definition is explained in more detail in World Christian Trends.) Note that in any situation of mass deaths or killing of Christians, one does not automatically or necessarily define the entire total who have been killed as martyrs, but only that fraction whose deaths resulted from some form of Christian witness, individual or collective. For example, our analysis does not equate "Crusaders" with "martyrs" but simply states that during the Crusades a number of zealous and overzealous Christians were in fact martyred. Likewise we do not count as martyrs all Christians who became victims of political killings in Latin America in the 1980s, but only those whose situations involved Christian witness. Typical illustrations of the latter include the many cases of an entire congregation singing hymns inside their church building as soldiers outside locked all the doors and proceeded to burn it to the ground, leaving no survivors.

At the end of the twentieth century, two martyrdom situations stood above all the rest both in intensity and in sheer size: the massacre of Christians in southern Sudan and the genocide in Rwanda. While the Rwandan genocide was short-lived, the persecution of Christians during the civil war in Sudan was spread over two decades. Additional ongoing killings of Christians took place in Indonesia, India, China, Nigeria, and Mexico, to name a few better known situations.

The average number of Christian martyrs is calculated by summing the estimates of martyrs in martyrdom situations over the past ten years and dividing this number by ten. Therefore our estimate of 160,000 martyrs in the year 2000 was based on our formula of adding all the martyrs in martyrdom situations in the past ten years (1990-2000) and dividing this number by ten. Given the major situations in Rwanda and Sudan (as well as dozens of other smaller situations around the world), we estimated that there were approximately 1.6 million martyrs in the final decade of the twentieth century.

But what about the current ten-year period (2000-2010)? The Rwandan genocide was over by the mid-1990s, and the persecution of Christians in Sudan subsided after the peace agreement in early 2005. …

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