Christian Churches Together holds forum on ‘the persecuted church’

Church of the Brethren Newsline
March 17, 2017

At the Christian Churches Together meeting on the persecuted church, a chat between His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aprhem II of the Syriac Orthodox Church and Cardinal Joseph Tobin of the Catholic Church, Newark Archdiocese. Photo by Jay Wittmeyer.

By Jay Wittmeyer

More than 40 leaders from Christian Churches Together (CCT) joined a forum in Newark, N.J., on March 2-3 to discuss the ongoing persecution of Christians around the globe. I was invited to speak on behalf of the Church of the Brethren regarding the impact of Boko Haram on the Christian community in Nigeria.

The primary goals of the forum were to pray together for the persecuted churches and discuss best practices in meeting the needs of suffering churches. Dialogue centered on methods to raise awareness of the realities of anti-Christian violence and persecution, and mobilizing Christians in the US to act. Presentations also discussed theologies on the issue in order to build bridges of understanding.

The forum reported that each month 322 Christians are killed for their faith and 214 churches and Christian properties are destroyed. Christians are regularly attacked and discriminated against in various forms around the globe. Open Doors, a Christian organization focused on persecution, shared its World Watch List of persecution and the scale it uses to categorize persecution in countries. The scale is scored on the various forms of violence Christians suffer, as well as the pressures put on them in their private and corporate lives. In its latest chart, the Democratic Republic of North Korea is rated as the worst country for Christians, Somalia is second, and Nigeria is twelfth.

The forum highlighted the need for governments and United Nation agencies to strongly enforce Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which states “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.”

Archbishop Vicken Aykazian of the Armenian Orthodox Church spoke about the persecution and killing of Christians in the Middle East today. “Christians are suffering more than any other people on the face of the earth today,” he said. “We are completely forgotten.”

The forum also noted that many Christians persecute each other, not respecting other branches of Christendom. Examples were given how Pentecostals and Catholics fight among themselves in Mexico.

In speaking about the situation in Nigeria, I shared about the abduction of girls from Chibok and Boko Haram’s attempt to establish a strict Islamic Caliphate, driving out Christians from the north and destroying thousands of churches. I also shared that an equal number of Muslims have been killed in the violence. “Persecution” is such a divisive term, that it is difficult to work at interfaith dialogue and peace when we alienate others by using the term.

— Jay Wittmeyer is executive director of Global Mission and Service for the Church of the Brethren.

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