by Elliott Wright, Information Consultant with the General Board of Global Ministries
New York, NY, November 10, 2015—A call for solidarity among all churches to strengthen the Christian witness in the face of modern-day discrimination and persecution was issued by a diverse group of Christian leaders meeting for a consultation on the topic in Tirana, Albania, November 1–5.
Global Christian Forum consultation “Discrimination, Persecution, Martyrdom: Following Christ Together,” was held in Tirana, Albania, November 1-5, 2015. Credit: Global Christian Forum/Eero Antturi
Some 150 Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Pentecostal representatives took part in the event. They heard a wide range of accounts about the suffering and martyrdom of Christians in the 21st century and made an appeal in a final message for the freedom of all faith groups. The message summarizes findings and recommends next steps for confronting and overcoming persecution based on religious identity.
The United Methodist Church was represented by its General Board of Global Ministries, which was also among the funding sponsors of the meeting with the theme, “Discrimination, Persecution, Martyrdom: Following Christ Together.” The consultation was organized by the ecumenical Global Christian Forum, based in Strasbourg, France.
Thomas Kemper, chief executive of Global Ministries, contributed a short paper on ways in which the agency walks in solidarity with suffering Christians. His examples were the Christian minority in Pakistan and the dwindling Palestine Christian community in Israel/Palestine. The paper stressed the historical and broad Methodist advocacy of religious freedom dating to its 18th century founding in England.
Kemper also pointed out that the global nature of the mission agency sometimes makes it difficult to openly support persecuted Christians “because what we say or do could jeopardize communities or colleagues… We have been asked by Christian leaders to forego criticism of human rights violations in their countries for fear of bringing down the wrath of tyrants on their congregations. Such ambiguities accompany the fact of our global nature.” He expressed the hope that the meeting in Tirana would help Global Ministries to “connect to a network for consideration of how we publicly speak out for religious freedom in ways that are fair, responsible, and intercultural.”
The Kemper paper was read in his absence by the Rev. Dr. Üllas Tankler,Global Ministries’ regional executive for Europe. Tankler also briefly spoke of his experience growing up in Estonia during the era of Soviet Union domination. He described how the government sought to “brainwash” a generation with anti-religious propaganda.
The consultation message noted that persecution of Christians today is in continuity with discrimination in the past, and calls all Christians to come together in support of suffering brothers and sisters. It also asks God’s forgiveness for times when Christians have persecuted one another or other faith groups.
The consultation was convened by the Global Christian Forum in collaboration with the Vatican, the World Council of Churches, the Pentecostal World Fellowship, and the World Evangelical Alliance. It was organized in concert with the Orthodox Church of Albania, the (Roman Catholic) Albanian Bishops’ Conference, and the Evangelical Alliance of Albania.
Consultation participants pledged themselves to listen, pray, speak up, and do more on behalf of persecuted Christians. Their message calls all Christians to follow this example. It encourages interfaith dialogue as a means to dilute hostility and to remain “vigilant, watchful, and fearless in the face of discrimination and persecution.” It appeals to all governments to protect the religious freedom and beliefs of all people, asks the media to report in unbiased ways on violations of such freedom, and invites all educational institutions to teach young people about human rights, religious toleration, and peaceful means of conflict resolution.
The message encourages “all people of goodwill to work for justice, peace, and development, knowing that poverty and disrespect of human dignity are major contributing factors to violence.” It concludes with a prayer:
May God the Father who created us equal by His grace, strengthen our efforts to overcome all forms of discrimination and persecution. May His Holy Spirit guide us in solidarity with all those who seek peace and reconciliation. May He heal the wounds of the persecuted and grant us hope as we look forward to the glorious coming of our Lord Jesus Christ who will make all things new.