Apple Beliefs Clergy & Congregations Columns Culture Doctrine & Practice Ethics Faith Gender & Sexuality International Jonathan Merritt: On Faith and Culture Leaders & Institutions News Opinion Politics RNS Olympic Coverage Social Issues

‘Double persecution’: The untold plight of Christian women worldwide

A Christian woman devotes her prayers to the Virgin Mary outside a Coptic Church in Asmara - Image courtesy of Andrea Moroni via Flickr Creative Commons (

America is currently experiencing a reckoning in terms of gender violence and harassment. Countless women have begun speaking out about the abuse they’ve endured from powerful men, and the #metoo movement has sparked an awareness of a prevalent problem that has often gone unreported or been willfully ignored. As Oprah Winfrey stated in her Golden Globes speech, “a new day is on the horizon.”

But while America may be showing signs of hope in this area, the situation for tens of millions of Christian women around the world remains bleak and often tragic.

According to a a new report by Open Doors USA, a watchdog organization that monitors global religious persecution, Christian women often face “double persecution” due to their faith and gender. Every day, six Christian women are reportedly raped, sexually harassed or forced to marry under threat of execution due to their faith. Open Doors has documented more than 2,200 such incidents.

READ ALSO: “The 12 Most Dangerous Countries for Christians in 2018”

The plight of Christian women is a global crisis that has gone unseen for too long. I talked with Open Doors CEO David Curry about the issue and how America’s #metoo reckoning can spread to women worldwide.

RS: You report that Christian women, in particular, are the most vulnerable to religious persecution worldwide. This seems intuitive, of course, but can you expand on why women face particular persecution? Where do you see this most acutely? How does the church in these areas work to try and protect women and why is it difficult for them to do so?

DC: With Islamic extremists, and also Hindu extremists in India and Nepal, women are particularly vulnerable pawns in their religious wars. Raping, sexual harassment, and forced marriages are not uncommon tactics for extremists to use. Some sex traffickers, for instance, have reported to Open Doors that they are given financial incentives to abduct women who are related to Christian pastors. We have also learned of specific plots to lure Christian women to marry under false pretenses for the purpose of drawing them away from the Christian faith.

Islamic extremists also have an agenda to impose Muslim dominance and Sharia law on culture. This creates conditions that are highly restrictive for women and intolerant of Christians. Christian women, then, live at the crossroads of the two. They face a sort of double discrimination as a result of both their faith and their gender. They are mistreated because they are women and persecuted because they are Christians.

With this year’s World Watch List, Open Doors is calling the world to protect the dignity of all women, but especially the Christian women living in these hostile regions. Christians in these communities are overwhelmed, and—in areas where extremists wield power—police forces and governments can’t be relied upon to protect individual Christian women in these communities.

RS:  The bravery of women who’ve endured abuse and the #metoo movement is engendering true concern and exposure for gender violence and harassment in America. Does this movement in America give you hope for persecuted women worldwide? 

DC: The movement that is happening in America, and around the world, to bring equality and justice to women provides perspective as we work against holistic pressures on Christian minority women in extremist cultures. I’ve got to stand for women’s rights, but it’s got to be universal, and not just based on western morals, but on an understanding of human dignity and human rights for everyone everywhere.

As America rallies around women in the workplace and other sectors, we’re raising awareness about Christians, who are the largest religious minority in the world, and advocating for an end to the sexual harassment, rape and forced marriage our data reveals is happening.

RS: While women can be strong advocates for other women, true change is going to take both genders fighting for women’s equality and respect. How would you encourage men—particularly men in spiritual leadership—to engage with advocacy for women and against gender violence, harassment and persecution?

DC: Sometimes it seems like the world mocks Christian values, but then a conversation like this emerges and it almost seems like what people really want are men who live out the values of Christ. Who don’t objectify women, but treat them as equals among the children of God. The teachings of Jesus are the only of the major religions of the world that look on women as equals, so Christian men should see the mistreatment of women as being in direct contradiction to Jesus himself.

We should take it personally when women are exploited and assaulted. And we, as men, should work toward a world that refuses to dehumanize women in these ways.

Roxanne Stone is editor in chief of Barna Group, a premier social research company focused on religion and culture. Her forthcoming book explores healthy relationships between men and women and is set to be released in 2019.

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.


Click here to post a comment

  • Hi Roxanne,
    Thank you for you article. Your voice is important and it is certainly timely. As you eloquently point out, cultural biases exist worldwide. The recent outcry of stories shows that this includes micro cultures, our places of employment, church communities, neighborhoods, schools and even within our own families.

    The recent article about Jules Woodson is another horrific example. When will we learn? She was Doubly Abused once when she was 17, sexually assaulted by her youth minister and silenced by her church, and now she is being Doubly Abused again. While the perpetrator is applauded at his church for an apology, she was ignored entirely. No one asked her what she needed or wanted, nor did they give her place in the experience. Hypocrisy and image management seems more the motivation.

    It is that secondary layer of abuse that exacerbates a victim’s trauma. This is why victims remain silent. They are already traumatized and instinctively know that by coming forward they risk even greater harm, being interrogated, minimized, blamed and ultimately ostracized. What happens to women world wide is harmful. It is damaging. When we exacerbate a women’s trauma she will likely develop Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition that with proper interventions takes five years to heal. When this happens to girls it can develop into something much worse, Developmental Trauma Disorder.

    As you noted, we are finally engaged in important conversations. If we continue to fail at properly responding to issues here at home how can we effectively address these issues abroad. We will be fooling ourselves. Please visit our website for solutions.

    Thank you.

    Annette Oltmans
    Principal Founder

  • over reaction.
    The young girl put herself in a position that she should not have. She should have gotten out of the car or said no to be pressured into sex on the claims of “love”. She made the choice, it was not taken from her – as repugnant as being pressured into sex is, and it is.
    That said, she a not raped, sexually abused. This was by consent as repugnant as it is.
    Do I endorse it; no. Is it worth turning her into a witless victim? No. If that’s all it causes for Traumatic Stress Disorder, she must be a snowflake who needs a safe space after the president she does not want is elected.
    You are overdramatizing. She made her choice whether she wants to assume responsibility for it or not..

    As harsh as it sounds, she needs to assume responsibility for what she allowed and move on.My understanding from Christian Post is that he pressured her into sex telling her that he loved her, etc. until she gave in.
    He then immediately realized, was convicted – who knows – that it was wrong and begged forgiveness.
    He then went to her parents and apologized.
    He then went to his church and apologized, and resigned his position.
    Now, there is some law in Texas where a clergy member cannot have sex….I don’t remember how it works, and am too lazy to look back, but he pressured her by telling her how much he loved her, according to him.
    Now, twenty years later, he has a book out, a full time job and this has brought the pain back?
    Being pressured into sex is not nice, but, it is not rape. He, allegedly, did so claiming love, so she made her choice on that premise.
    The age of consent is 17 and she was 17, if I remember correctly.
    I think the hoopla is a bunch of baloney. I think with everyone being a victim of something these days, that it takes away from those who actually are victims, and there are some real victims in this world.
    My understanding is she consented. The responsibility is hers.
    This is her statement on the incident: “Do you remember that night that you were supposed to drive me home from church and instead drove me to a deserted back road and sexually assaulted me?” she wrote, according to The Wartburg Watch. “Do you remember how you acted like you loved me and cared about me in order for me to cooperate in such acts, only to run out of the vehicle later and fall to your knees begging for forgiveness and for me not to tell anyone what had just happened?”
    She’s out looking for money.

    Annette, you are enabling victimization, taking all “power” and accomplishment from these women hampering them standing strong on their own without a crutch.

  • He was a minister, she was underaged. Religion sure helped him be moral, didn’t it?

    Slut shaming at its finest. Blaming the victim. Your compassion for others is, as always, Duly noted.

    “The woman gave me of the fruit of the tree, and I did eat.” So take it out on her, not on me.

  • Good you not how rather than empowering women to be assertive – something that probably frightens you – they want them to be wilting victims. An adult assumes responsibility for their actions, Ben – especially when they consented.
    Are wilting females less intimidating for you Ben?

  • As always, you are spectacular at missing the point entirely, in favor of your own highly warped perceptions.

  • Apparently the church he was the youth minister for also did not want females to be assertive. She may be guilty of being naive or gullible but she was the victim of a sexual predator. – a male who abused his position of authority and leadership and intentionally drove her down a lonely road. He had plenty of time to turn the car around and drive her home without anything happening. Whatever she did or did not do, she was the victim, not him. Instead of blaming women for not being assertive, quit making them culpable for the sexual misconduct of men.

  • It is not intuitive at all why Christian women are the most vulnerable to religious persecution. Where are these women who are raped, sexually harassed or forced to marry under threat of execution due to their faith? Sources please. The Bible has more calls to violence and bigotry than the Koran, like the bit where the father offers up his daughters to be raped. It encourages genocide, the killing of people for minor crimes, and the beating of children. That is fact. So you are not being truthful. You are just inciting hatred of your own, something that Christians have always been prone to.

  • So you are an apologist for rapists too. Is there a morally repugnant position you don’t ascribe to? As the Magic 8 Ball says, “All signs point to No”.

  • You support sincere, heartfelt apologies, but You don’t applaud them. You support reconciliation, you can applaud it if honors both parties.
    When pastor says- “Until now, I did not know there was unfinished business with Jules. So today, I say, ‘Jules, I am deeply sorry for my actions 20 years ago. I remain committed to cooperate with you toward forgiveness and healing. And I mean that.'”-maybe after receiving a standing ovation for an apology he will understand that the “unfinished business” is undoing a culture that produced twenty years of backslapping and standing ovations, vs. twenty years of finger pointing and whispers. This kind of culture produces two kinds of losers, the victims of it and the supporters of it.

  • lol……..if he were a rapist you would have a point, but so far for today, that point is only on top of your head Spud.

  • He was. He covered it up and used shaming tactics on the victim. God can forgive him, but nobody else should.

  • Nobody covered it up – lol – Spud, they told a complete church. If you can get more than 5 people, let alone 75 or more people – to keep a secret, you’re doing pretty good.
    Poor excuse Spud.
    Yes, he used bad judgment – no one denies that, but, so did she . Did she get out of the car and walk away? No. Did she say “no, take me home”? Doesn’t say such and the end result suggests otherwise.
    If she trusted him enough to take her for a ride in his car, she couldn’t trust him enough to say “no” when he is pleading with her that he loves her?
    “If you love me, take me home”. Period. It’s over.
    This gets sillier and sillier as it goes along…….lol

  • Ever notice how the folks you can count on in threads here to claim that they exclusively own “God” and “Christ” and “the truth” and “love” — the folks for whom the Christian message is a weaponized distortion of what Jesus said and did, a weapon used to bludgeon LGBTQ folks, immigrants, women, etc. — constantly cite as their news sources outfits like Fox News, Breitbart, or Lifesite News?

    Makes you think, doesn’t it? About why they’re commenting here and what they hope to accomplish as they claim that they and they alone own “God,” “Christ,” “the truth,” and “love” . . . .

  • Thanks, floydlee.

    But the link you offered was, as is easily seen below, to Fox News.

    The story about the Christmas nativity display in the Vatican was in newspapers all over the world.

    The link you chose to offer about it here was to Lifesite News.

    Those links speak volumes about where you get your “news,” don’t they?

  • no honey. I would say that you then don’t know the joy of having someone you can lean on and trust and who’s decisions you can trust. I would say you have never experienced knowing that someone else is in control and trusting them, the situation, or the security of that.
    Honey, men were/are to be in control and the protectors.
    1 Corinthians 11:13 – New International Version
    But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.

  • So, you acknowledge that “newspapers all over the world” carried the Vatican Nativity Scandal.

    And now you are forced to acknowledge that multiple news sources are carrying the Oprah Scandal.

    But it doesn’t really matter which link gets used here. For with both the Vatican and with Oprah, it’s the photos that do all the talking.

  • So you acknowledge that you linked ONLY to Fox News and Lifesite News for these stories?

    No, I’m giving you too much credit in saying that, am I not?

    You’re not into the acknowledging or self-examining business, quite obviously.

    You’re here for other reasons, quite clearly.

    Those reasons involve trying to spin Fox News and Lifesite News as bona fide news sites, when they are anything but.

    Just as the spin is anything but an accurate assessment of the “Christianity” both sites claim to peddle — which is as far removed from any meaningful or real representation of Jesus and the gospels as night is from day or good is from bad.

  • Don’t get your point – are you saying that men will continue to assault women and women will stay silent? I read her speech which I wouldn’t have bothered to do otherwise. It was great. Seal’s comments appear to be only conjecture – whoever he is – and not for sure fact. Meryl Streep also said she was unaware of Weinstein’s behaviour. Did it ever occur to you that he may have treated some women respectfully? Or that some people keep their heads low when it comes to gossip and rumour – I was always the last person to know anything at work.

  • Fascinating article but ignored some blatant facts about Christian oppression of Muslim. There is no way a balanced and fair assessment of women other than Christians could be assessed by not including the horrific bombing of Muslims’ lands for ‘dirty fossil fuels”. Muslim women are not only being bombed to death with their babies but also losing sons and husbands in wars initiated by Christians. Your provocative article and bending of the truth may afford you readers but you are projecting a dangerous and false narrative that excludes a balance and realistic appraisal.

  • The point is rather simple. We’re all in favor of the MeToo Movement — but what happens when “the reckoning” catches an iconic liberal feminist like Oprah?

    Does she get her fair share of scrutiny? Will she have to give an account of what she knew or didn’t know about her pal Weinstein? Or does she get an automatic free pass?

  • When was she supposed to get out of the car? Why is it her responsibility and not his? Doesn’t the Bible allow for monetary damages when a person is wronged? Even if everything Savage is saying is true, it still would support a civil lawsuit.
    If the statute of limitations had not run, her account may or may not have supported a prosecution for forcible sexual assault. But you are correct about Texas law regarding members of the clergy “who causes the other person to submit or participate by exploiting the other person’s emotional dependency on the clergyman in the clergyman’s professional character as spiritual adviser.” Under current Texas law at least, the act would not have been consensual.

  • She shouldn’t get a free pass, but it doesn’t follow that she knew about Weinstein’s behavior and remained friends with him.

  • I suppose as a matter of argument, as a theological concept, Jesus taught that women are equal “children of God.” But as to temporal matters, he also taught that women must remain silent in church and cannot have authority over men (I have been reliably told by Christians that all scripture is from Jesus). There are also many modern religious teachings, including from Christianity, that view men and women as equals. The author’s remark about Jesus being the “only” one to view men and women as equals is misleading and chauvinistic.

  • When was she supposed to get out of the car? When she became uncomfortable.
    Why is it her responsibility? He obviously was not going to be dissuaded and she needed to get away from that.
    I know of no scripture supporting monetary damages.
    forcible sexual assault? Where? She chose to do what she did. She made the decision. She did the act. Two consenting adults – as far as the law is concerned. They both did wrong and acted abominably against the other.
    The law? Was it in effect at that time?

  • Perhaps in other countries, Arb but not in North America. That is like the excuse of a back street abortionist. Women have more power than that in North America. The difficulty is they want even more power to the detriment of males.
    The prime minister of Canada turned against his own to garner votes.
    It’s time that we started respecting men again.

  • It would depend on the details of her account as to whether he could be criminally prosecuted for forcible sexual assault. Failure to say no, leave the scene, cry out, etc. does not on its own establish consent.
    Exodus 21 and 22 cover damages for various torts, for example.
    I honestly don’t know whether the Texas clergy provision was in effect when this took place.

  • Apparently her parents thought he did nothing worthy of charging him with the police and they would have heard the story from both of them. If he lied, she could have corrected him at that time.
    What she did established consent. He did not hold a gun to her head. He did not have a knife at her throat. He did the filthy act of manipulating her with, “I love you. Please do this.” Not an uncommon manipulation for males, nor females.
    Her complaint when it came online was to remind him that he had said that he loved her – so she suggests she was motivated by that.
    The Mosaic law may have for Israel. Christ taught, “Forgive and you will be forgiven.” and “I will repay.”

  • I thought all scripture was good for instruction. My only point is that the Bible provides for monetary damages, not that you have to follow the Bible in this case.

  • Does the Oprah dig disappear given Seal’s attempt today at walking back his comments? In fact, I am thinking Seal basically said it ii an industry problem – no evidence of Oprah turning her head the other way – so given the paucity of women in positions of power and authority, it stays a male problem.

  • Actually, it will disappear, or already has.

    Seal initially did the right thing, called attention to something dubious. But the unspoken question was already there: Are Seal’s arms long enough to box with a media giant like Oprah? (No they aren’t.)

    So, for me, no surprise in Seal’s backpedal. Gotta survive, after all. Seal’s accusation is at least plausible via photo. Certainly there’s a “Did she know” inquiry that could be very reasonably asked.

    But Seal’s been notified somehow, that any efforts to press this issue will not end well for his career. THAT is what his backpedaling is about.

  • you are simply hiding the fact that Muslims never allow other religions to live in their country peacefully. point out a Muslim country where people of all religion live peacefully you bastard.

  • Hi, Roxanne Stone! I’m sorry about the untold plight of Christian women worldwide! And as His Holy Scriptures urge & like you told us, though I believe that Christian-persecuters, rapists, & sex traffickers should be brought to justice, also, other Christians & I should stand up for the Lord Jesus Christ, especially enough to pray to Him for, help, & defend His suffering other flock(especially enough to stand up against rape & sex-trafficking of our Christian women & provide help & relief for other suffering born-again believers worldwide)! Hallelujah! [It’s because the LORD our God hates it when anybody rapes[even forces into prostitution] or mistreats His sons & daughters! In fact, He & Heaven forbid that any human being ever deserves to be raped at all!]