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The crypto-Christians: One of the world’s largest religious groups

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For most American Christians, re straints on the open expression of religious loyalties normally involve situations in which believers might be seen as imposing their views on others—through evangelism in the workplace or school, perhaps. But in many parts of Africa and Asia, in societies dominated by other religions or by militant atheist regimes, Christians experience such negative pressure that they refrain from even admitting they are Christians. Millions survive as crypto-Christians.

Just how common these covert believers are is a mystery. In theory, hidden believers should be immune to study, as they would never break cover; the people who can be studied are only the less discreet. But we often do hear of crypto-Christians, and the stories are startling.

According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, as of 2000 Syria’s Christian population was fewer than 5 percent, but most observers think that number is far too low. And the true number has surely risen with the influx of Christian Iraqi refugees. A million semiclandestine Iraqi believers would raise the size of the Christian minority to at least 10 or 12 percent.

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