May 15, 2017
By FRC's Travis Weber, Director of the Center for Religious Liberty
"No one has suffered more than our Lord Jesus Christ," observed a visibly emotional Franklin Graham in the opening session of the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians, hosted by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association last week in Washington, D.C. As persecution of Christians around the world reaches record levels, this first-of-its-kind event brought together over 600 Christians from over 130 countries, many of whom have firsthand experienced persecution for their faith.
I attended the summit as a Special Advisor on religious freedom and heard unbelievable firsthand accounts of stonings, beatings, and torture for Christ. The overarching theme in all these testimonies was even more unbelievable, however, for it was not doom and gloom, but the obvious joy and presence of the Holy Spirit. The only way such a response -- which runs against all that is in our nature -- is possible is through the power of God. "What a privilege it is to suffer for Jesus!" was the theme that permeated all the stories, despite the fact that the accounts came from Christians of different backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities. For they all followed Jesus through hardship, and God sustained and strengthened them by the Holy Spirit as they did.
The summit also featured testimonies from speakers closer to home, like Fire Chief Cochran from Atlanta, who was fired from his job for his faith. It was heartening to see them alongside speakers from around the world, for though form of persecution may be different, all are suffering for the same core beliefs -- historic Christian truths held for thousands of years. In this way, there is continuity and solidarity between Christians across borders. Indeed, the suffering and example of many helps us in our own trials.
In addition to the multiple testimonies, other speakers included Ravi Zacharias, Metropolitan Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church, Pastor Jack Graham from Texas, Cardinal Donald Wuerl from Washington, D.C., Bishop Michael Nasir-Ali from the U.K., and Pastor Sami Dagher from Lebanon, who blessed the participants with their messages and encouragement.
I wish every Christian in the country could have been present at the event, for it is difficult to share many of the stories of people whose lives would be put in immediate danger if they were publicized. But I firmly believe that no one who heard the accounts of these followers of Jesus standing joyfully for Christ through torture and other hardship could go back to their lives in the United States and not be strengthened and encouraged to joyfully face opposition and name-calling for standing for God's truth on sexuality and the other issues we face here at home. In this regard, believers from hard places do indeed encourage the U.S. church.
While these believers may encourage us spiritually, we can (and must) speak up for them practically. They often have no voice to speak to the corridors of power, and we in the West have an incredible responsibility to steward our freedom and opportunity well; this includes speaking up for those who can't speak up for themselves. In this regard, we continue to call upon President Trump (as we have done before) to prioritize religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy, including by appointing a strong advocate to the position of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.
In addition, we urge Congress to take up and pass the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act of 2016, which would bring relief and remedy to those Christians and others who have suffered under ISIS' genocide in the Middle East. Congressman Chris Smith, who introduced this bill (and who also addressed the summit), has done great work to highlight the issue of persecuted Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Vice President Pence also addressed the summit on Thursday morning, giving a splendid articulation of the U.S. defense of religious freedom and the persecuted church. On a personal note, he encouraged the persecuted Christians gathered there, "by your life, you bear witness to the truth that brings us together here at this summit," and he told them: "We stand with you."
This summit was monumental, and the first time such a gathering of world-wide Christians was assembled. The Holy Spirit was there, and I believe it was God-ordained, taking place for "such a time as this." Indeed, there is no better time than now to start using our freedom here at home to speak up for our fellow persecuted believers abroad -- doing all we can, with sincere prayers and forceful action. Let us respond to the call.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.