Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Other F-Word (Feminism)

 I have read Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique and heard Gloria Steinem in person. And I spent some years in the halls of academia exploring the history and teachings of feminism. The result: I've concluded that most Christians need to pull back and regroup both in our representations of feminists and in our approach to engaging them.

Just as there is not one "Christianity" but many Christianities (Orthodox, Catholic, Anglo-Catholic, Protestant, Lutheran, Armenian, Calvinist, Reform, dispensational, etc.), there are many feminisms (Marxist, socialist, radical, liberal, lesbian, biblical, difference feminists (we are women—viva le difference! from men) and sameness feminists (we're very similar to men).

Those who self-label as liberal feminists come from the equal rights movement. Betty Friedan was one of them. They are interested in legal equality, not to be confused with sameness. They want the law to quit seeing gender when they approach job opportunities, pay, child custody, property ownership, etc. They were never for unisex bathrooms, though I myself claimed they were in a scathing article I wrote against the ERA in college. I was wrong.

And they are not at all man-haters. Not. At. All. About five years ago, I was present when Gloria Steinem said that one of her greatest frustrations has been that she is accused of being a man-hater, and she is most adamantly not, nor has she ever been. In fact, she said the saddest letters she receives are from male prison inmates empathizing with women who have been raped/oppressed, because they are finding themselves victimized behind bars and they identify with the suffering now.

Those who refer to themselves as radical feminists came out of the peace movement. They see so much wrong with materialism/capitalism that they think we will never have equality under the law. Forget trying to change the law, they say—we need to overhaul society. Make noise. Shake it up. That's why many in this group are also big into environmentalism, sometimes Marxism, sometimes socialism, peace, no nukes, etc.  But as a radical feminist professor asked me, "There is much in Christianity that would oppose materialism too, right?"

We need to ask people, "What do you mean when you use that word?" We might be surprised.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Infertility: One Couple's Story

On and off for the past 20 years or so, I've talked with Jeff Baxter, executive producer of Day of Discovery, about doing a show devoted to infertility. Last week, this arrived in my mail box with a note that said, "I think this program will resonate with you." It did and does. But it's not just for those experiencing infertility. It's for anyone who has wrestled with longings and unanswered prayer.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Year's Worth of Book Fairs, Cons, and Book Conferences


International Cairo Book Fair
Where: Cairo
When: Jan. 28–Feb. 12
Angoulême International Comics Festival
Where: Angoulême, France
When: Jan. 29–Feb. 1
*ALA Midwinter Meeting
Where: Chicago
When: Jan. 30–Feb. 3


*Indie Author Conference & Pitchapalooza
Where: Phoenix, Ariz.
When: TBD
Minsk International Book Trade Fair
Where: Minsk, Belarus
When: Feb. 11–15
Taipei International Book Exhibition
Where: Taipei, Taiwan
When: Feb. 11–16
*The Annual Genre-LA Writers Conference
Where: Van Nuys, Calif.
When: TBD
San Miguel Writers Conference
Where: San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
When: Feb. 11–15
*San Francisco Writers Conference
Where: San Francisco
When: Feb. 12–15
Feria Internacional del Libro La Habana
Where: Havana
When: Feb. 12–22
New Delhi World Book Fair
Where: New Delhi
When: Feb. 14–22
Vilnius Book Fair
Where: Vilnius, Lithuania
When: Feb. 19–22
Brussels Book Fair
Where: Brussels
When: Feb. 26-Mar. 2
Where: Deerfield Beach, Fla.
When: Feb. 26–Mar. 1
*London Author Fair
Where: London
When: TBD


Dublin Book Festival
Where: Dublin
When: TBD
Where: San Antonio, Tex.
When: Mar. 12–14
Leipzig Book Fair
Where: Leipzig, Germany
When: Mar. 12–15
*South by Southwest
Where: Austin, Tex.
When: Mar. 13–22
*Unicorn Writers Conference
Where: Purchase, N.Y.
When: Mar. 14
Paris Book Fair (Salon du Livre)
Where: Paris
When: Mar. 20–23
*PubSense Summit
Where: Charleston, S.C.
When: Mar. 22–24
Bangkok International Book Fair
Where: Bangkok
When: Mar. 27–Apr. 6
Bologna Children’s Book Fair
Where: Bologna, Italy
When: Mar. 30–Apr. 2


Where: SeaTac, Wash.
When: Apr. 2–5
WonderCon Anaheim
Where: Anaheim, Calif.
When: Apr. 3–5
*Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP)
Where: Minneapolis
When: Apr. 8–11
Québec International Book Fair
Where: Québec City, Canada
When: Apr. 8–12
*London Book Fair
Where: London
When: Apr. 14–16
Where: Online
When: Apr. 16–18
Bogota International Book Fair
Where: Bogota, Colombia
When: Apr. 22–May 4
Budapest International Book Festival
Where: Budapest, Hungary
When: Apr. 23–26
Buenos Aires International Book Fair
Where: Buenos Aires, Argentina
When: Apr. 23–May 11
*2014 Redwood Writers Conference
Where: Santa Rosa, Calif.
When: TBD
Geneva International Book and Press Fair
Where: Geneva, Switzerland
When: Apr. 29–May 3


*Nonfiction Writers Conference
Where: Online
When: May 6–8
Abu Dhabi International Book Fair
Where: Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
When: May 7–13
Thessaloniki Book Fair
Where: Thessaloniki, Greece
When: May 7–10
*The Self-Publishing Conference
Where: Leicester, England
When: May 9
Turin International Book Fair
Where: Turin, Italy
When: May 14–18
Idaho Writers & Readers Rendezvous
Where: Boise, Idaho
When: May 14–16
Prague International Book Fair and Literary Festival Book World
Where: Prague, Czech Republic
When: May 14–17
Warsaw International Book Fair
Where: Warsaw, Poland
When: May 14–17
St. Petersburg International Book Salon
Where: St. Petersburg, Russia
When: May 21–24
*BookExpo America (BEA)
Where: New York
When: May 27–May 29
Where: New York
When: May 30–31
*uPublishU at BEA
Where: New York
When: May 30


*The Santa Barbara Writers Conference
Where: Santa Barbara, Calif.
When: June 7–12
Cape Town Book Fair
Where: Cape Town, South Africa
When: June 19–21
Seoul International Book Fair
Where: Seoul, South Korea
When: TBD
Wizard World Sacramento Comic Con
Where: Sacramento, Calif.
When: June 19–21
*ALA Annual Conference
Where: San Francisco
When: June 25–30


Tokyo International Book Fair
Where: Tokyo
When: July 1–4
*ThrillerFest X
Where: New York
When: July 7–11
*Comic-Con International
Where: San Diego, Calif.
When: July 9–12
Hong Kong Book Fair
Where: Hong Kong
When: July 15–21
*Writer’s Digest Conference
Where: New York
When: July 31–Aug. 2


Travel Writers & Photographers Conference
Where: Corte Madera, Calif.
When: Aug. 13–16
Beijing International Book Fair
Where: Beijing, China
When: Aug. 26–30


Where: Atlanta, Ga.
When: Sept. 4–7
*Kentucky Women Writers Conference
Where: Lexington, Ky.
When: Sept. 11–12
Where: Denver, Colo.
When: Sept. 23–27
Moscow International Book Fair
Where: Moscow
When: Sept. 2–6
Göteborg Book Fair
Where: Göteborg, Sweden
When: Sept. 24–27
*Chicago Writers Conference
Where: Chicago, Ill.
When: TBD


Liber International Book Fair
Where: Barcelona, Spain
When: TBD
Alternative Press Expo
Where: San Francisco
When: TBD
*New York Comic Con
Where: New York
When: Oct. 8–11
*Frankfurt Book Fair
Where: Frankfurt, Germany
When: Oct. 14–18
Gourmand International World Cookbook Fair
Where: Frankfurt, Germany (In conjunction with Frankfurt Book Fair)
When: Oct. 14–18
Helsinki Book Fair
Where: Helsinki, Finland
When: Oct. 22–25
Belgrade Book Fair
Where: Belgrade, Serbia
When: Oct. 25–Nov. 1


Sharjah World Book Fair
Where: Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
When: Nov. 4–14
*Self-Publishing Book Expo
Where: New York
When: TBD
Istanbul Book Fair
Where: Istanbul, Turkey
When: Nov. 7–15
Montreal Book Fair
Where: Montreal, Canada
When: TBD
Guadalajara International Book Fair
Where: Guadalajara, Mexico
When: Nov. 28–Dec. 6

Basel Book Fair
Where: Basel, Switzerland
When: TBD

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Awards

The awards will be presented on March 12 at the New School in a free ceremony that is open to the public. The full list of nominees follows:


Blake Bailey, The Splendid Things We Planned: A Family Portrait (W.W. Norton & Co.)

Roz Chast, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?  (Bloomsbury)

Lacy M. Johnson, The Other Side (Tin House)

Gary Shteyngart, Little Failure (Random House)

Meline Toumani, There Was and There Was Not (Metropolitan Books)


Ezra Greenspan, William Wells Brown (W.W. Norton & Co.)

S.C. Gwynne, Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson (Scribner)

John Lahr, Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh (W.W. Norton & Co.)

Ian S. MacNiven, Literchoor Is My Beat: A Life of James Laughlin, Publisher of New Directions (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Miriam Pawel, The Crusades of Cesar Chavez (Bloomsbury)


Eula Biss, On Immunity: An Inoculation (Graywolf Press)

Vikram Chandra, Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty (Graywolf Press)

Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press)

Lynne Tillman, What Would Lynne Tillman Do? (Red Lemonade)

Ellen Willis, The Essential Ellen Willis, edited by Nona Willis Aronowitz (University of Minnesota Press)


Rabih Alameddine, An Unnecessary Woman (Grove Press)

Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings (Riverhead Books)

Lily King, Euphoria (Atlantic Monthly Press)

Chang-rae Lee, On Such a Full Sea (Riverhead Books)

Marilynne Robinson, Lila (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)


David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation (Alfred A. Knopf)

Peter Finn and Petra Couvee, The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle over a Forbidden Book (Pantheon)

Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (Henry Holt & Co.)

Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, translated from the French by Arthur Goldhammer (Belknap Press/Harvard University Press)

Hector Tobar, Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle that Set Them Free (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)


Saeed Jones, Prelude to Bruise (Coffee House Press)

Willie Perdomo, The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon (Penguin Books)

Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press)

Christian Wiman, Once in the West (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Jake Adam York, Abide (Southern Illinois University Press)


Alexandra Schwartz


Charles Finch

B.K. Fischer

Benjamin Moser

Lisa Russ Spaar


Toni Morrison


Phil Klay, Redeployment (Penguin Press)

Friday, January 23, 2015

What They Don't Tell You (but should!) about Short-Term Mission Trips

(Here's my Engage post for the week.) 
Researchers estimate that more than a million people per year take short-term mission trips (STMs).  Some say that in the 13- to 17-year-old bracket, that number is closer to two million.
When I took my first STM, a seasoned missionary told my friend cynically, “She will probably get a lot more out of the trip than any of the nationals she’s going to help.” I like to think the people I met on that trip—some of whom I still have regular contact with—would say he was wrong. Still, it would have helped to have some guidance for avoiding pitfalls.
Today—many STMs later— my husband is a missionary, and we have seen first-hand what does and doesn’t help. Additionally, I took a poll of some ministry workers. So here are some suggestions for your group’s next trip.
  • Prepare well. Before going, read a history of the country where you’re going, catch up on current events there, and read books such as When Helping Hurts.
  • Truly serve. One person told of teens and single men sitting through a marriage conference their team was helping to provide while the local pastor had to hire someone to care for his kids because such work was “beneath” them.
  • Invest in the long term. Consider partnering with one church in one place over a long term. Rather than using mission trips to see different parts of the world, really develop one relationship.
  • Let the locals call the shots. Ask the nationals to tell you the best week or month to visit. Make sure the time you have chosen is actually best for them. Student teams going over spring break often arrive at the host country when kids there are in school, and the church has no extra hands to spare for translators or hosting. Going at Christmas may be less convenient for the STM team, but much more convenient for those who “can easily add more beans to the pot.”
  • If your group goes to build something, make sure they aren’t taking work from nationals who could benefit from the income. Sometimes churches in the developing world will invite teams to do such projects because the Americans often leave lump sums at the end that the nationals grow to depend on.
  • Look at the economics. If your group plans to spend $10,000 in travel, lodging, and food to build a $7,000 school foundation, you might want to reconsider.
  • Do for the nationals only what they cannot do for themselves. Creating dependency on STM teams is unhealthy for the receiving organization.
  • Assume that the people you are going to help will also teach and minister to you. See the relationship as give-and-take. Never view the nationals as the primary recipients. See yourselves as the nationals’ students. And notice in what ways you are impoverished that they are rich.
  • Take cues from the ministry workers on the ground. One husband, ignoring the advice of the local missionary, built orphanages in his wife’s name as a gift to her—in a place where the church was moving to a model that was emptying orphanages in favor of supporting kids in extended family members’ homes. Today those buildings sit empty.  
  • Think twice about going simply to play with/do VBS for kids in orphanages. The process of bonding and separating can complicate existing attachment issues. The money may be better spent supporting a relative of the orphan, such as an aunt, who cannot afford to raise the child but could do so if the funds were available.
  • Replace references to “third world” countries with references to the “developing world.” The former ranks the receiving country below the sending country, suggesting superiority on the part of those lending aid.
  • Let them reciprocate. A Texas congregation with a sister church on the US/Mexico border took a seminary student with them who was from Mexico and assigned him the task of talking with the local pastor privately to find out if there was anything they could do to better serve. That conversation yielded a number of suggestions: Stay on the Mexico side of the border every night instead of seeming to “flee to safety” on the US side; and invite the receiving church up to help with VBS—creating a true partnership. Notice they didn’t say, “Don’t come.” But rather, do it better.
What advice do you have for those leading STMs?  

Friday, January 16, 2015

Whitney Houston: The Movie

Multi-Grammy® Award-winning singer and musical icon Whitney Houston was the voice of a generation. We heard Whitney live at the Grammy® Awards in 1994, and her voice shook the walls with its power like no singer I've ever heard. 

For the first time ever, a movie has been made about her life. Directed by Golden Globe® winner and Academy Award® nominee Angela Bassett, the much-anticipated world premiere of Whitney will air tomorrow at 8 PM/7 Central. 
When casting began, everyone asked, “Who will play Whitney?” No one could imagine filling the shoes of this great artist. But after a grueling casting call, Yaya DaCosta landed the role, capturing the essence of Whitney in every scene, according to Lifetime. From her early beginnings in daytime television to most recently, her role on Lee Daniels’ "The Butler," Yaya has proven she has what it takes to bring Whitney to life once again. Arlen Escarpeta (Final Destination 5) stars alongside her as Bobby Brown, and Houston’s vocal performances in the film are sung by Grammy-nominated and multiplatinum-selling entertainer Deborah Cox.

Thursday, January 15, 2015


Today's guest blogger, Shannon Gianotti, and I had lunch together on Tuesday at Jimmy's. Posted below is what she wrote about the place, which—if you live in or near Dallas—you must visit! I came home with a pound of spicy Italian sausage after munching on an oversized muffaletta sandwich. Next time, I'm buying some E-V-O-O (and some milder sausage—yeow!). The clerk knew her customers, and the back room provided plenty of eating space. You just have to know to walk through the kitchen to get there. 

It shocks me how many people haven’t heard about one of the epicurean gems in our community. So, for the good of my neighbors and delight of their tastebuds, I propose that everyone make a pilgrimage to the corner of Bryan Street and North Fitzhugh to visit Jimmy's Food Store—twice—and that’s not a suggestion.

Because, whether you work like Emeril in the kitchen or get by on Kraft dinners, your pasta skills can use the help. Jimmy’s Fine Italian Food and Wine works magic on the palate. Try adding a pound of sweet Italian sausage to that no-name marinara sauce you bought for $1.98, and your spouse may worry that he forgot your anniversary. Or, if you live on a higher culinary plane, sauté the spicy variety with garlic-seared mushrooms before simmering in 28 ounces of imported San Marzano tomatoes. Your friends will wonder when Julia Child took possession of your body.

True, you'll pay for it. But, what else can you expect after settling for that boring porker at the corner grocery store? And true, you'll have to travel all that way for just one ingredient. But that only bothers people who haven’t gone to Jimmy's.

Inside the store, teetering aisles crammed with imported cans lure the adventurer. Foreign labels flirt with language lovers. But only the foodie will find true love, probably somewhere between the basil and mozzarella of a prosciutto panini. Or perhaps, while the flavors vie for center stage on your tastebuds, the panini will uncover the foodie in you. And, since Jimmy’s offers too many culinary delights to swallow in one visit, you need to plan a second trip, perhaps for tiramisu and a wine tasting.

Considering that Jimmy’s provides a mini-international experience without the cost of airfare, the sausage feels like a steal. For the low fare of $5.95/lb, teleport yourself across the pond, teach yourself some Italian, and forever ruin how much you loved your mom's spaghetti—unless she grew up in Sicily.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Today I finished Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas—the same author who told John Newton’s story in Amazing Grace.  Considering that Metaxas released this book about three-and-a-half years ago (it was ECPA's 2011 Book of the Year), I know I’m not exactly on the cutting edge of book-review timing here. But who cares? This book has a timeless appeal, as it tells the story of a man who laid down his life for what he believed.   
A friend insisted that the audio version of the book was preferable to the print one, so I took her advice and learned passively as I drove to and from work and to appointments. I also learned some German pronunciation. I regret, however, that I had no way to underline in order to capture amazing quotes. Bonhoeffer had much wisdom, especially on the subjects of being single, heaven, ministry to young people, the dangers of mixing nationalism with Christian faith, about taking risks for the sake of the gospel, and about death and the Christian.

My favorite way to learn history is through the stories of individuals, whether real or fictional. And World War II is one of the eras I find most interesting—a fact I blame on Herman Wouk and the productions of  “Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance” based on his books. I especially love the combination of deeply researched history and the world of ideas, including theological ones. Consequently, I loved this Bonhoeffer book, as it was part biography, part history, part theology, and inspiration through and through.

Metaxas used sermons, letters, journal entries, lectures, the Barman Declaration, and news clippings to bring to life the events and people who made Bonhoeffer who he was: a musical, intellectual, theological, art-loving, Goethe-toting, cigarette-smoking teacher, theologian and Lutheran pastor. Bonhoeffer was among those who fiercely resisted the Nazis, to the point that he participated in a failed plot to kill Hitler. The young pastor wrote many volumes, including one on ethics, and he had a completely clear conscience about his efforts to stop the evil of the Third Reich. The book includes his rationale for how he could follow the God of the Ten Commandments ("you will not murder") while plotting a murder.

Bonhoeffer includes letters between the theologian and the fiancée he would never marry, as well as his musings from prison—during which, by the way, he felt he had too little time to get any writing done(!).

The broadcast of his funeral, through which his parents learned of their son's death (they lost three to wars), included these words from an old familiar hymn:

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

 Life is short, y’all. Spend yours well.

Monday, January 12, 2015

2014 was a year of rising hostility toward Christians

By guest contributor Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST and the ASSIST News Service (I met Dan on a press junket in the Middle East.) Please pray for the persecuted church!

LAKE FOREST, CA (ANS) —While the world's eyes were riveted to Syria and Iraq in 2014, life for Christians worsened even more profoundly in Africa, according to an annual report on religious freedom.

According to World Watch Monitor, the situation deteriorated most rapidly in sub-Saharan Africa, in countries where Islamic extremism is the main source of pressure upon Christians, according to the 2015 World Watch List, released Jan. 7 by Open Doors International (ODI). ODI is a charity that supports Christians who face hostilities because of their faith.

The list, published annually since 1993, ranks the 50 countries considered to be most hostile to Christians during the 12 months ending Oct. 31, 2014. It surveys religious freedom for Christians in five areas of life: private; family; community; national; and the church. It also measures violence against Christians, and 2014 was a very violent year.

According to Open Doors, the 4,344 Christians reported to have been killed during the 12-month period are more than double the 2,123 killed in 2013, and more than triple the 1,201 killed the year before that. The majority of the deaths in the most recent period occurred in Nigeria, where 2,484 people were killed, and in Central African Republic, where 1,088 people were killed.

"Overall, the survey scores assigned to the 50 countries rose by nearly 10 percent compared to the 2014 scores, indicating a generally rising tide of antagonism toward Christians in the 50 countries most hostile to believers," said World Watch Monitor.

"The report also noted a resurgence of anti-Christian hostility in parts of Asia and Latin America, two regions where conditions had been comparatively favorable in previous years.

"And for the first time in three years, Mexico is back on the list, at No. 38."

The main engine: Islamic extremism

In 40 of the 50 countries on the World Watch List, WWL, Open Doors said "Islamic extremism" was a primary source of pressure on Christian life.

"It is fair to say that Islamic extremism has two global centers of gravity. One in the Arab Middle East, but the other is in sub-Saharan Africa, and even Christian majority states are experiencing unprecedented levels of exclusion, discrimination, and even violence," wrote Ron Boyd-MacMillan, director of strategic trends and research for Open Doors International, in a report supplementing the World Watch List.

Though violence against Christians made headlines throughout 2014, it was largely the same in most countries, with the exception of Iraq, Syria and Nigeria, according to the report. Instead, pressure on Christians increased mostly in less obvious ways: being shunned by family; losing a job and rejection within the community for faith related reasons. Such "squeeze" tactics, the report said, are especially hard on former Muslims who have embraced Christianity.

"It's important to understand this extremism is not only from the violent jihadists like the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, but Islamists who seek to take over cultures by stealth," Boyd-McMillan wrote.

Influence of 'Islamic State'

Daily life for Christians in most of the top 50 countries became more difficult during the past year, but the situation especially deteriorated in the northern provinces of Nigeria, where the Boko Haram insurgency has followed the lead of the so-called "Islamic State" and proclaimed a caliphate of its own. (I was born in this part of Nigeria of British missionary parents.)

Ranking No. 10 on the World Watch List, Nigeria's levels of pressure and violence against Christians are at a record high.

In April, the abduction of the 276 school girls in the Borno State village of Chibok commanded worldwide attention, but the mass abduction was only part of a wider anti-Christian front, one which killed nearly 2,500 Christians across the country. Open Doors said the links between al-Qaeda in the Maghreb and Boko Haram, as well as with other Islamic terrorist groups in the region, make it likely the church will suffer more violent persecution in the near future. The charity said violence from Hausa-Fulani Muslim herdsmen in the country's Middle Belt region is expected to add to the threat, as is pre-election violence later this year.

Tiffany Lynch, a policy analyst for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an advisory body to Congress, drew a distinction between the apparent expansionist ambitions of Islamic State and the six-year-old Boko Haram uprising in Nigeria.

"ISIL fits in with greater national security concerns in the Middle East, whereas Boko Haram is a domestic Islamic insurgency with regional concerns," said Lynch, using a common name for Islamic State, in an email to World Watch Monitor. "More importantly, ISIL attacks on Christians and other non-Muslims are part of a broader question about the future of these small religious communities in the region and their homeland."

According to Open Doors, al-Shabaab, a Somalia-based militant Islamist group affiliated with al-Qaeda, and other extremist movements in Eastern Africa also are drawing inspiration from the tactics of Islamic State.

Asia increasingly difficult; North Korea still No.1

With the exception of North Korea, which has been No. 1 on the World Watch List since its inception, Open Doors had been reporting improving conditions for Christians in the Far East in recent years.

The trend reversed course in 2014, when every country on the list but Laos and Sri Lanka received a higher persecution score. China, India and Malaysia registered the largest increases. Twelve countries from East Asia and the Far East are among the top 50.

Open Doors said some fundamentalist Hindu and Buddhist leaders feel threatened by the growth of Christianity.

The score assigned to No. 21 India is the highest ever. "The season of impunity for anti-Christian action in India has started since the world's largest democracy elected a Hindu extremist Prime Minister who has declared open season on Christians," Open Doors said.

In China, which rose to No. 29, scores of churches were attacked, with some being destroyed and about 300 crosses being removed. Open Doors said the fact that the communist government is still undecided about how to deal with the church is good news because it suggests a debate about church liberties is happening within the Chinese government.

Latin America

Mexico is the highest entrant on the WWL this year at No. 38. The report said the growth of organized crime in the country, as well as better reporting of anti-Christian violence, helps to explain the country's return to the list. The sources of persecution are complex in the predominantly Christian country. Open Doors said weak states allow local forces, such as drug traffickers, to hold sway. When Christians stand against the trade, they are targeted.

The World Watch List, the only annual global survey of Christian religious freedom, ranks countries using eight primary "persecution engines" to explain why the Christian community becomes especially targeted in certain circumstances.

The "engines" are not always specifically anti-Christian as they include forces such as "dictatorial paranoia" and "organized corruption," which sweeps up people of all faiths.

"Dictatorial paranoia is the second-most prevalent force making life difficult for Christians, and is a primary source of persecution in 13 countries, including North Korea, according to the list. North Korean citizens who are discovered to be Christian face long prison terms or execution," continued World Watch Monitor.

"Against the backdrop of media coverage of violence and beheadings in the Middle East, Open Doors said new co-operative relationships being forged between Muslims and Christians could have long term benefits. The charity said the crisis is forging a new level of inter-faith respect as pressured minorities have been forced to live and work together."

For more information, please go to World Watch Monitor.