My brothers and sisters, should we not stand in solidarity for the suffering church around the world?”
The Pentecostal World Fellowship and our chair, Dr. Prince Guneratnam, had asked me to be their spokesperson at a historic consultation of church leaders from 56 different nations. For three humbling, soul-searching, and at times heartbreaking days, we focused on the intensifying discrimination, persecution and violence against Christian communities around the world.
For the first time in modern history, every stream of global Christianity came together to listen to and learn from Christians who experience discrimination, persecution and violence. Then we asked the question, “How do we and these suffering brothers and sisters follow Christ together into the future?”
The consultation was an initiative of the Global Christian Forum and was supported by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (Vatican), the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), the Pentecostal World Fellowship (PWF), and the World Council of Churches (WCC). It took place November 2-4, 2015, in Tirana, Albania.
Prior to 1991, Albania was an atheistic state where the practice of religion was not allowed. Churches, mosques and temples were destroyed. Many religious people were discriminated against, persecuted, and even martyred. Our hotel was built on the site of a centuries-old Orthodox cathedral that had been destroyed during those years. Now there is a magnificent new Orthodox centre, which is where the consultation met, and the participants attended a reception at the palace of the nation’s president. In his address to us, the president lamented his country’s history of persecution and emphasized their government’s commitment to religious liberty for all. It inspired us to believe this could take place in many other nations around the world that are currently oppressing Christians and other religious communities.
Those of us who spoke on behalf of the four participating bodies affirmed both our time together and whatever action steps would follow. In my remarks, I expressed our desire to listen to the suffering church, I declared our solidarity with them, and I spoke of finding tangible, ongoing ways to offer our support. In a later session I presented our campaign in support of the persecuted church called #forthesilenced. Throughout the month of November, this initiative called people to prayer, awareness and action on behalf of the persecuted church.
In a greeting from the Vatican, Pope Francis said, “I think with great sadness of the escalating discrimination and persecution against Christians in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and elsewhere throughout the world … In various parts of the world, the witness to Christ, even to the shedding of blood, has become a shared experience of Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Protestants, Evangelicals and Pentecostals ...”1
One presenter noted, “When they come to your cities and towns to destroy your homes, rape your women and execute your men, and when they come to the universities to shoot your students while they pray, and when they come to your villages and kidnap your daughters to be their slaves, they do not identify if you are Pentecostal, Baptist, Catholic or Orthodox. They simply identify you as a Christian. My brothers and sisters, should we not stand in solidarity for the suffering church around the world?”
In the final message that came from the consultation (available on paoc.org), participants called on churches and Christian organizations around the globe to pray, support and be in solidarity with those suffering persecution due to their faith. We also called on governments to “respect and protect the freedom of religion and belief of all people as a fundamental human right.”
Calls of action were also aimed at internal dynamics within the church. Brian Stiller, WEA global ambassador, writes: “While outside forces pressing against Christians was at the top of our considerations, we had other business to settle. Too many centuries have gone by without Christians sitting down together, admitting sins of omission and commission and settling our grievances, before we set about addressing contemporary attacks.
“A telling comment in the final press release said it quietly, but for those who listen, it was an astounding admission: ‘We repent of having at times persecuted each other and other religious communities in history, and we ask forgiveness from each other and pray for new ways of following Christ together.’ ”2
He then references my remarks on behalf of the Pentecostal community that “too often Evangelicals did not understand or appreciate historical churches, their centuries-old stand for Christ, and their presence in countries in which their witness and pastoral ministry have been dominant.”3
In my remarks I noted that in recent days church bodies have acknowledged their discrimination toward other Christian groups. The process to deal with future grievances is part of the ongoing work that is taking place.
The PWF delegation provided a number of clear recommendations to the PWF executive for prayer and action on behalf of the suffering church. In many cases, these will be done in tandem with the WEA and, where appropriate, other Christian bodies.
Personally, I find it hard to get the voices and images from the consultation out of my heart and mind. And that’s a good thing.
I invite you to pray with me:
Father, surround our persecuted brothers and sisters with Your powerful, comforting presence right now. Deliver them from the evil one and from those who do evil. Guide us to pray and act on their behalf. May Your kingdom come and Your will be done around this world. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
1 Vatican Radio, “Pope Francis: Shedding of blood shared Christian experience,” November 4, 2015, http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2015/11/04/pope_ francis_shedding_of_blood_shared_christian_experience_/ 1184409;
2 Dispatches from the Global Village, “Following Christ Together,” November 17, 2015, accessed December 1, 2015, http://dispatchesfrombrian.com/2015/11/17/following-christ-together;