The 2017 Press Freedom Index, published by Reporters without Borders, shows that the countries where Barnabas Aid helps suffering Christians are also those which most restrict journalists from reporting what is happening there. The index categorises press freedom in each country as good (white), satisfactory (yellow), problematic (orange), bad (red), or very bad (black). This map illustrates the point very clearly.
The index also indirectly illustrates the influence of a country’s Christian heritage on developing freedom. All of the 49 countries in the first two categories, except for Burkino Faso (42nd) and Comoros (44th), have a predominantly Christian heritage. Conversely, all of the countries in the “very bad” category, except Burundi which only just falls into that category, are either Muslim-majority countries or Communist/former Communist countries.
That is not a coincidence. The Reformation, the 500th anniversary of which we celebrate this month, allowed ordinary people to read and interpret the Bible themselves. A century later, this led to the first stirrings of democracy in Protestant countries, such as England. That is not simply something of historical or academic interest. In 2012 the American Political Science Review published a major academic study of democracy and human rights in 142 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Oceania. This showed that the presence of what it termed “conversionary Protestant missionary activity” was the only one of 52 different factors that was consistently correlated with the presence of democracy and respect for individual rights in those countries today.
The Press Freedom Index also shows how important Barnabas Aid’s work is, not simply in providing practical help to persecuted Christians, but also in publicising their situation. The difficulty of getting any news out of many countries means that a great many instances of persecution simply go unreported. In countries such as Eritrea, North Korea or Saudi Arabia, we do not even have a clear idea of how many Christians are being killed for their faith each year. That is why Barnabas Aid has also tried not simply to report individual incidents but also to address the underlying ideology which drives that persecution.