October 15, 2010
Evangelical leaders from virtually every country around the globe will convene this week for the Lausanne movement's Third Congress on World Evangelization in Cape Town, South Africa. This convocation is like a United Nations assembly of the Body of Christ that works in evangelism. I'll be among the 4,000 delegates in attendance, 400 of whom are from North America.
As president of Open Doors USA, every year I meet thousands of persecuted Christians. Most live in countries that restrict the practice of faiths that differ from their homeland's official religion. Globally, 5 billion people - more than 70 percent of the world's population - reside in places where they are not free to worship as they desire. For them, changing religions is not a legal option nor socially acceptable.
Worldwide, more than 200 million Christians are actively persecuted for their faith. While most Western evangelical leaders have never truly suffered for believing in Jesus, they will convene in Cape Town with brothers and sisters in the faith who are intimately acquainted with the issue of persecution. They or their loved ones may have endured severe trials for the cause of Christ: death threats, torture, expulsion from homes or communities, confiscation of property, rape, kidnapping or enslavement. Many face martyrdom.
These brothers and sisters' discussions with Western church leaders during the nine-day conference are vitally important. When one part of the Body suffers, all of us suffer. The issue of persecution is on the Cape Town agenda. Raising awareness and support for the plight of those suffering for their faith must be part of a global strategy in reaching the world for Christ.
Few persecuted believers ask us first for rescue and relief. Instead, they seek our prayers and ask us to come alongside them as they build the Kingdom of God. Just as the Book of Acts describes the Christians' zeal in the early church, the passion of the persecuted church today remains advancing the gospel. As Western church leaders who have never suffered for their faith hear first-hand at the Cape Town gathering the stories of perseverance from their counterparts living in the majority world, they will gain a sense of urgency to help make a difference in their lives.
Globally, persecution is rising because the church is growing. Indeed, persecution and the expansion of God's Kingdom go hand in hand. In John 15:20, Jesus said, "If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also." But He also promises in Matthew 5:11-12, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven..." Faith is refined in this crucible.
The idea that any belief system can be ascribed rights as human beings is absurd. Protection from defamation was intended to help individuals from losing their reputation and ability to earn a living if threatened by false accusations in the public sphere. No religion can be above criticism; especially not when the state is empowered to decide what can be said about certain ideas and faiths. This represents a clear violation of freedom of speech and religion. The result is that some countries make it illegal to express competing truth claims and evangelize. The UN resolution provides legitimacy to national laws which are used to persecute Christians and other minority faiths such as blasphemy laws in Pakistan.
In Europe "hate speech" laws already have been used against Christians speaking truths from God's Word. This has stifled what Americans hold as First Amendment rights. Should the UN Defamation of Religions Resolution become binding, the gag it would slap on free expression worldwide would be devastating. It would condone the de-facto relegation of Christians as second-class citizens in many Muslim-dominated countries around the world.
We must work now to defeat this resolution. That's why Open Doors USA has launched the "Free to Believe" advocacy campaign. We're asking believers in America to send a letter to their legislators, requesting them to lobby against this resolution at the UN. To send a message, visit the Open Doors USA Website at www.freetobelieve.info.
Open Doors USA is also asking Christians to pray. First, that legislators will speak on behalf of Christians and other religions minorities and help defeat the resolution. Due to advocacy efforts, the resolution has passed the UN General Assembly with less support the last several years. Second, for believers in these Muslim-dominated countries to have the freedom to believe. And finally, pray the Lord would use this experience to bring more people to Him.
The world's evangelical leaders in Cape Town and the United Nations leaders in New York City will discuss critical issues. May the actions of each body serve to make the world truly free to believe.
Carl Moeller, Ph.D., is president and CEO of Open Doors USA, the American arm of Open Doors International, a worldwide ministry that has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians since 1955.