A “World Summit in Defence of Persecuted Christians” has started in Washington DC, and is expected to be addressed by the US Vice-President Mike Pence today (Thursday, 11 May). It has been organised by American evangelist Franklin Graham and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
600 participants have come from 136 countries: including Egypt, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, all places where Christians have suffered specifically for their faith over the past few years.
Amongst the delegates are family members of the 20 Egyptian Copts beheaded by Islamic State on a beach in Libya in February 2015. The 21st man to die with them was from Chad, although first reported as Ghanaian. When he had been captured, Egyptian Anglican Bishop Mouneer Anis reported to the conference, Mathew Ayairga did not share the Copts’ faith, but he was so moved by their witness and courage, that – when challenged him to reject Jesus – he declared “Their God is my God”. Thus he was then beheaded alongside them.
Bishop Anis told how he had met the mother of two of the Egyptians, and she had said “I’m glad they didn’t denounce their killers. I pray that the Lord will forgive and guide those killers in the right way”.
At a conservative estimate, the conference heard, about 100,000 Christians a year are either killed or imprisoned for their faith.
Organisers also cited the research of charity Open Doors, which states that approximately 215 million Christians experience “high, very high or extreme persecution” in the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
Writing on Sunday in USA Today, Revd Graham said: “The persecution of Christians is not just happening in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan and other hotbeds of extremist ideology. It may come as a surprise that some of our neighbours and allies are on the list of perpetrators.” He went on to cite discrimination against Protestants in Mexico and Christian refugees and converts from Islam in Europe.
Separately in a press statement, Mr Graham, who is president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the charity Samaritan’s Purse, said: “It’s important to educate the American public and Washington about what is happening and how we can work with the United Nations and other government bodies to ensure that religious freedoms are protected.”
Organisers said the summit would provide a forum for hearing and documenting first-hand accounts of persecution, and for “victims, advocates, leaders and influencers to create partnerships that can help bring about change”.
In January Mr Graham read from the Bible and gave a blessing at the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
The Chaplain of the US Senate, Rear Admiral Barry C. Black prayed on the opening night: “Forgive us when we demonstrate profiles of cowardice instead of courage”.
After the plenary speech by Revd. Graham, the closing prayer was led by Samuel Rodiguez, President of the US National Hispanic Christian Leadership conference.