Why Is It So Hard to Study Persecution?

If you want to find out about the extent persecution is affecting Christians around the world, you certainly can. There are a number of ministries and agencies tracking persecution around the world.  But the research varies dramatically from one source to the next. Accurate research on persecution is not easy to obtain for several reasons. First, those committing persecution are, obviously, not interested in reporting it, and those who suffer oftentimes have neither the means nor the time to report what has happened to them. Consider, for instance, this testimony from North Korea:

INTERVIEWEE 37: “…A person caught carrying the Bible is doomed.  When a person is caught [worshipping], he will be sent to kwanliso [prison camp]…and the whole family may disappear.”[1]

Disappearing people are notoriously difficult to count. So, the nature of the persecution dynamic agitates against accurate reporting.

Christian Persecution StudyAccurate research is also difficult to obtain because of a general confusion of categories. So, second, category confusion leads to skewed numbers relating to persecution statistics.  What counts as persecution, and what is political oppression? When the Muslim Sudanese government in the North attacks and razes Christian and animist villages in the South, is the government guilty of persecuting Christians?  True, hundreds of thousands of Christians were slaughtered in the Sudanese Civil War. However, thousands of animists and other non-Christians were killed at the same time. Their villages were targeted, too. In what category do the dead Christians of Sudan fit—victims of political oppression or victims of persecution?

There are many other such questions related to categories of suffering. What is legitimate criminal punishment and what is an abuse of the law for the purpose of persecuting an evangelist? Stories abound which describe successful evangelists being arrested and charged with gun smuggling, spying, or stealing—often evidence is planted in their homes or in their vehicles to substantiate the charges. Even more to the point, what happens when Christians actually defy the law and proselytize their neighbors or smuggle Bibles into forbidden places. When is the arrest an act of justice, and when is it systemic persecution?

The Apostle Peter warns against suffering as a criminal or an evildoer. Peter makes plain that Christ’s blessing is for those who suffer on account of Christ—not those who suffer for being criminals. Where exactly is that line drawn? One may be imprisoned, tortured, or killed for a principle or a cause, but that suffering may not necessarily be the suffering of a martyr. There are countless examples of people suffering and dying on principle (think about the Civil Rights movement, the pro-life movement, or the actions of Dietrich Bonhoeffer). Such suffering may or may not have been the result of Christian persecution.  Clear-cut categories are definitely needed in order to guarantee accurate figures concerning the size and scope of the Christian persecution problem.

So, the numbers are affected by the lack of reporting and by the confusion of categories. Third, the numbers are also affected by the lack of attention in general toward persecution. Relatively speaking, very few outlets are paying attention to Christian persecution.  One need not be overly critical to notice the barrenness of reporting by secular media on behalf of Christians.  John Allen explains that there is “a reflexive hostility to institutional religion, especially Christianity, in some sectors of secular opinion. People conditioned by such views are inclined to see Christianity as the agent of repression, not its victim.”[2]  Secular media, it seems, have a hard time tracking what they don’t believe can exist.


[1] Marshall, Gilbert, and Shea, Persecuted, 54.

[2] John Allen, The Global War, 15.

Living Up to My Name

The website (like my email) refers to me as “Doc” Cochran.  The reason I picked this name is that I have known for some time that the Lord was calling me to further study, including study to the point of earning the PhD.  I believe I have now accomplished that task.  I must only complete the formatting corrections related to my dissertation, and I should graduate in May with a PhD.

Now, the task is to live up to the title.  So, I am prayerfully considering how to continue to study and what to continue to study.  I am leaving in the morning for the Philippines, where I will be serving for 2 weeks.  I hope you will pray for me during that period, as I am seeking from the Lord direction for further study and for putting into usefulness what I have learned thus far.  I am not seeking a position, a different pastorate, or anything like that.  I am seeking to be a useful servant for Christ’s sake.  Thank you for praying for me.

Honor Explaining the Fear

I thought I would offer a brief biography of the men who served as my supervisory committee for the Ph.D.  I post this information as a way of honoring these men and explaining why I was so afraid of them!  I hold them in very high esteem, and I am still having trouble believing they have approved of my work.

My Supervisor, E. David Cook

Dr. E. David Cook is a Fellow of Green College, Oxford and the first Holmes Professor of Faith and Learning at Wheaton College. He is also a visiting Professor of Christian Ethics at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky and is a Senior Fellow of the Trinity Forum.

He received his B.A. (Summa cum laude) at Arizona State University in 1968 in Philosophy of Religion/Philosophy. In 1970, he received M.A. (First Class Honours), Edinburgh University, Mental Philosophy. In 1973, he received Ph.D., New College, Edinburgh University. In 1984, he received M.A., Oxford University. In 1999, he received D. Litt., Honorary Degree, Gordon College, Wenham, Massachusetts.

Dr. Cook has broadcast widely especially with the BBC on ethical and medical issues and has had his own radio and television series. His books include The Moral Maze, Blind Alley Beliefs, Dilemmas of Life, Patients’ Rights, Question Time, Contraception, Not Just Science, and others as well as a wide range of chapters and articles. His latest published writing is on transplantation and resource allocation. He is working on a new Christian ethics. He advises the Archbishops and the British Government and is a member of the UK Xenotransplantation Interim Regulatory Authority. He lectures internationally and preaches in a wide variety of denominations.

Mark A. Seifrid

B.S., University of Illinois;

M.A., M.Div., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School;

Ph.D., Princeton Theological Seminary;

Additional Studies: Universität Tübingen

Before joining the Southern faculty, Dr. Seifrid served as Visiting Lecturer at Wheaton College and at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Along with several articles, he is the author of Justification by Faith; Christ Our Righteousness; and Pauline Writings: An Annotated Bibliography, as well as an editor of the important two-volume collection on Justification and Variegated Nomism. He is a member of the Society of New Testament Studies and the Society of Biblical Literature. He previously served as a campus minister with the Navigators at the University of Michigan and the University of Illinois.

Gregg Allison

B.S., Northern Illinois University;

M.Div., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School;

Ph.D., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Dr. Allison came to Southern Seminary in 2003 from Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon, where he had taught theology and church history for nine years. He has also served as adjunct faculty at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL; Elgin Community College, Elgin, IL; Judson College, Elgin, IL; Institute of Biblical Studies, Western Europe and the United States; and the Resurgence Training Center (Mars Hill Church/Acts 29).

Dr. Allison has 18 years of ministry experience as a staff member of Campus Crusade, where he worked in campus ministry as well as a missionary to Italy and Switzerland. He also co-pastored a church in Lugano, Switzerland.

He is author of Getting Deep: Understand What You Believe About God and Why; Jesusology: Understand What You Believe About Jesus and Why; A Theology for Christian Education (with James Estep and Michael Anthony); “The Bible in Christianity: Roman Catholicism,” in the ESV Study Bible; and he has five articles in The Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions. He is currently the book review editor for theological, historical, and philosophical studies, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, a position in which he has served for over ten years.

Dr. Allison is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society in which he serves as secretary and on the editorial committee and regularly presents papers at its national meetings.

In addition to these fine men, there was also a 4th reader for my dissertation, Dr. Chris Morgan of California Baptist University.  His profile is available here