Karen A. Ellis is passionate about human rights, religious freedom, and the persecuted church. She currently serves as an ambassador for International Christian Response, a nonprofit that aids Christians living in countries hostile to their faith. She also founded the Makazi Institute along with husband Dr. Carl F. Ellis, Jr. to train emerging thought leaders to engage global culture through a biblical framework. Ellis is a Ph.D. candidate in Church History at Oxford Center for Mission Studies in Oxford, England, and holds degrees from Westminster Theological Seminary and the Yale School of Drama. She blogs about the intersection of identity, religious freedom, and theology at karenangelaellis.com.
How do you define “persecution?” I ask because we see different examples or levels of persecution. How do we know that what’s being called “persecution” in some contexts isn’t just “inconvenience?”
Religious freedom abuses aren’t static; often a situation moves from “inconvenience” to “persecution,” while most of the world is oblivious. Three factors make persecution look different from region to region: history, culture, and politics. In other words, the way religious persecution plays out in Pakistan is different from North Korea, or Saudi Arabia, and so on. Sometimes persecution varies from region to region within a country. Since there are so many factors, most humanitarian organizations have tools administered by independent agencies to assess if a people group is undergoing persecution. We can also take into account documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a particular country’s constitution, Scripture, and historical records to make note of the places where Christianity is illegal, forbidden, or punished.