For years I have criticized the number of 100,000 or 90,000 Christians who are allegedly killed every year on account of their faith. I have, for instance, repeatedly done so in interviews with the BBC.

  • Source of the 90,000: “Status of Global Christianity, 2017, in the Context 1900-2050,” annually, at
  • My detailed criticism from 2011 and 2016:
“A Response to the high counts of Christian martyrs per year.” International Journal of Religious Freedom 4 (2011) 2: 9-13.
  • Thomas Schirrmacher. “Zur Kritik der Zahl von 178.000 (2010) bzw. 100.000 (2011) christlichen Märtyrern pro Jahr.” pp. 119-124 in: Märtyrer 2011: Das Jahrbuch für Christenverfolgung heute. Bonn: VKW, 2011
Thomas Schirrmacher, Thomas Müller. “Märtyrer zählen?” pp. 16-27 in: Thomas Schirrmacher, Max Klingberg, Ron Kubsch (eds.). Jahrbuch Verfolgung und Diskriminierung von Christen 2016. Bonn: VKW, 2016. ISBN 978-3-86269-124-1

In my opinion, the 90,000 number for 2015 was more than ten times too high, and for 2016 it was even 30 times too high! The number of 90,000 Christians killed is misleading, even if there is a correct calculation behind it. It is done correct if one reads the fine print regarding the published calculation done by the institute, but does read this?

  1. It is the average number per year from an estimation for the entire time period 2000-2010, which is carried over and projected forward for 2016. No one kept a record to reach this number in and for 2016. The number is not current. Rather, it refers to older circumstances. For that reason, the number also remains more or less the same each year, although in the real world the number experiences significant fluctuation from year to year.
  2. The number does not ask whether the perpetrator killed Christians because they were Christians. For this reason, more than 90% of the Christians it includes were victims of civil wars. It also includes Christians who were killed in civil wars by ‘Christians.’ It can be defined this way, but readers surely think something else when they think of a martyr.
  3. The International Institute for Religious Freedom (IIRF) estimates the number of Christians who were killed in 2014 on account of their faith to be between 8,000 and 9,000. Open Doors International only collects documentable cases and came up with 7,106 for 2015. The estimated number the IIRF has for 2016 is one-third of the 2015 number (2,000–3,000). The 2016 number from Open Doors, which was published together with its World Watch List, is 1,207 and is significantly lower than the 2015 number. IIRF and Open Doors only count the number of cases where the perpetrators killed Christians because they were Christians. It is my opinion that only this number is of interest for the discussion.
    Let us take a closer look at the numbers from Open Doors. If we do so, then the drop in the numbers can be quickly explained. According to Open Doors, we had two situations with over 2,000 martyrs in 2015. They were Nigeria (4,028) and ZAR (1,269), followed by three countries with numbers between 100 and 1,000. These countries were Chad, with 750, Congo (Rep), with 467, and Kenya, with 225. In 2016, Nigeria had 695, Congo 156, and the remaining three had altogether 70 martyrs. So there is good reason to believe, that the number for 2016 is much lower than the one for 2015.
  4. A comparison can help: Since 2003 and up to the present day, there have been an estimated 268,000 people who have violently died in Iraq, including the second war there. That is 26,800 people per year. In Syria, the number is 350,000 people, or 70,000 per year. The alleged number of 90,000 martyrs would correspond to the number of all victims of violence in Iraq and Syria. By far the largest portion of victims were not Christians. However, nowhere were there more Christians who were “martyrs” in 2015 and 2016 than there.

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