WASHINGTON — Leading evangelist Franklin Graham addressed persecuted Christians from over 130 countries gathered this week for the first-ever World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians and explained the "real reason" why so many people throughout the world are being killed, tortured and imprisoned for their faith in Christ.
Graham, the president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse, gave the keynote address at the BGEA-hosted summit's opening session Wednesday night at the Mayflower Hotel and welcomed Christians of all denominational and cultural stripes who traveled from all over the world to the summit on behalf of his father, the 98-year-old Billy Graham.
"This conference is not an ecumenical effort to unite Christians through theology or organizational means. This summit intentionally includes people from many denominations and traditions," the 64-year-old Graham said. "As it has been said, the persecution of one Christian, affects us all."
"I would like to remind all of us that no one has suffered more than our Lord Jesus Christ," Graham added. "May the story of the Lord Jesus Christ and His suffering for us be the focus of the primary message of this conference."
As the the conference aims to allow persecuted Christians from every corner of the globe share their stories of persecution and tribulations, Graham took time from his speech to highlight for an ovation the family members of some of the 20 Coptic Christians beheaded by the Islamic State on a beach in Libya in February 2015. The publicized footage of their beheadings helped millions realize the horror that many of their brothers and sisters are facing around the world at the hands of anti-Christian extremists.
"Tragically, this is not an isolated incident," Graham asserted. "Today, our Christian brothers and sisters in many countries are facing persecution and martyrdom on an unprecedented scale. In fact, throughout the world the number of Christians facing hostility, persecution and even death is greater than any other time in history."
Graham stressed that "no part of the Christian family is exempt" from persecution, no matter if they are Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox. He also stressed that "no part of the world is exempt."
"In many places it is caused by intense and growing anti-Christian movements within Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. In other parts of the world it is anti-religious political ideologies that are openly hostile to the Christian faith. Other Christians face persecution in societies that are riddled with corruption and lawlessness, drug cartels. Or, they are killed or imprisoned because of civil wars or tribal conflict," Graham explained.
But religious extremists aren't the only ones responsible for persecuting Christians.
"The rising tide of modern secularism that we see here in Western countries and Western societies that is creeping into other nations around the world is strongly anti-Christian," Graham warned. "And, secularists are especially hostile to those who uphold the unchanging, moral and spiritual standards of God and His Holy Word."
Although Christians are now being persecuted for their faith at a rate in which the world has never seen, Graham stressed that persecution itself has been around since the days of Saul of Tarsus.
"Christians have been imprisoned and killed by tyrants of every kind, including determined and systematic attempts to destroy the Christian faith." Graham said. "I think, for example, of the terrible persecution that our brothers and sisters in Christ experienced in the times of Communism in the former Soviet Union. In Russia, almost every priest and pastor was either imprisoned or executed because of their faith."
But even in the "midst of the Church's darkest day," Graham pointed out that Christ's promise has proven true.
"'I will build my church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it,'" Graham quoted Matthew 16:18.
Considering the fact that Christians have been persecuted ever since the earliest days of Christianity, Graham asked, "What then is different today?"
"It is that the persecution of Christians is no longer limited to one nation or to one area of the world," Graham contended. "Today, the Christian faith is under attack in every corner of the globe. As a result, Christians face persecution that is worldwide in scope."
The fact that Christians today are facing persecution across the globe does not account for the "present upsurge" in persecution, Graham believes.
"Today, powerful, demonic forces that are absolutely opposed to Christ and His Church reach across the natural borders and cultures to seek Jesus Christ and His followers as their enemies in their struggle for worldwide domain," Graham asserted. "We must not be naive, nor can we afford to be complacent or unprepared for the challenge in these dark forces."
"Christians today may be persecuted for many reasons," Graham added. "But, the real reason I believe Christians are persecuted is to suppress their faith, quieten their voice, marginalize the very word of God. The persecution of Christians is evil. God is not the author of persecution. Evil men and women are authors and ultimately, Satan is the author of persecution."