They came from 130 countries and nearly every Christian denomination. Some bore physical scars from beatings, torture and imprisonment. Others carried emotional scars—some freshly inflicted from witnessing the atrocities of the Islamic State, extremist Hindu sects or hard-line atheist dictators. Each person had a story to tell—from lands where following Jesus Christ is difficult and often perilous.
They came to Washington, D.C., May 10-13 for the first-ever World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians, hosted by BGEA, to address rising persecution against believers and to proclaim hope in Jesus Christ as the only antidote to human sin. According to multiple reports by human rights groups, the years 2014, 2015 and 2016 were the worst on record for Christians worldwide, with growing severity.
“Today, our Christian brothers and sisters in many countries are facing persecution and martyrdom on an unprecedented scale,” Franklin Graham told the more than 600 invited guests attending the Summit. Among those guests were some 150 people who have experienced persecution firsthand.
“In fact,” Franklin said during the opening session, “throughout the world the number of Christians facing hostility, persecution and even death is greater than any other time in history. No part of the Christian family is exempt. Nor is any part of the world exempt.”
Yet the global scope of persecution alone doesn’t account for a sharp upsurge in the oppression of Christians, Franklin said.
“Today, powerful demonic forces that are absolutely opposed to Christ and His Church reach across national borders and cultures, and they see Jesus Christ and His followers as their enemy in their struggle for worldwide dominion.
“We must not be naïve, nor can we afford to be complacent or unprepared for the challenge we face in these dark forces,” Franklin said.
The gathering, which drew dignitaries that included U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (see story, page 16), had five purposes:
- To show solidary with all who suffer for the Name of Jesus Christ.
- To call attention to the plight of persecuted Christians.
- To pray for those in political authority.
- To learn from one another how to persevere amid suffering.
- To “recommit ourselves without reserve to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“The persecution of one Christian affects us all,” Franklin said.
The figure of nearly 100,000 Christians killed annually represents only those who can be accounted for, Franklin said. “It’s the equivalent of a Christian genocide. I’m sure the number of Christians who are imprisoned or martyred each year would stagger our mind if we knew what the total number really was. And it would send us to our knees in sorrow and in prayer.”
Pence, a former Indiana governor and congressman known for his evangelical faith, was warmly received when he addressed the Summit on May 11.
“I’m here on behalf of the president as a tangible sign of his commitment to defending Christians and, frankly, all who suffer for their beliefs across the wider world,” said Pence, reiterating several times President Trump’s commitment to “condemn persecution” and “stand against it with our ideals and with all our might.”
In contrast to the previous White House’s reticence, Pence drew applause in referring to “radical Islamic terrorists” and to the ISIS-led purging of Christian communities in Iraq and Syria as “genocide.”
On May 13 during the closing session, Summit leaders announced a declaration calling on all Christians to “declare our allegiance with all who suffer for Christ’s Name” and to pledge solidarity with them through prayer, practical aid and public advocacy (see next page).
The declaration’s final pledge has an explicit Gospel intent: “We pledge to strengthen the worldwide witness of the church around the world through Biblical proclamation—evangelism—and to do so boldly, unapologetically and without compromise (Mark 16:15; Romans 1:16).”
During the event, a bipartisan resolution was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, who addressed the Summit. Senate Resolution 162 calls on the federal government to act on behalf of persecuted peoples and on President Trump to fill the vacant seat in the State Department for ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.
The resolution, co-sponsored by Lankford, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.), recognizes religious freedom as a “fundamental human right of all people” and draws additional weight from the 1948 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which asserts ‘‘Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who also attended the Summit, added his name as a co-sponsor on May 22.
The resolution calls on the president, the secretary of state and the secretary of defense to develop “a comprehensive response to protect victims of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.” It was awaiting action in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations as of press time.
Lankford, addressing the Summit, said, “We sometimes make assumptions that the rest of the world sees religious liberty like we do. They do not.” House Resolution 319, a similar measure sponsored by Rep. Randy Hultgren of Illinois, who also addressed the Summit, was also awaiting action in mid-June.
Among the Summit guests were several North Koreans who have escaped persecution in that communist dictatorship—considered the world’s worst persecutor of Christians by the watchdog group Open Doors and one of 10 “countries of particular concern” by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom—the government’s most severe designation.
Also among the guests were two Coptic Christians from a small Egyptian village whose brothers were among 21 Christians beheaded by ISIS in the surf of the Mediterranean Sea in 2015 for refusing to recant their faith in Jesus Christ.
“The stories go on and on,” said Franklin in the closing session of the Summit, which ended with a communion service.
“We may think that in the United States we are far removed from such persecution, but we are not. We have a responsibility to pray for those enduring suffering because they carry the Name of Christ.”