WASHINGTON — Hundreds of religious freedom advocates marched in solidarity with persecuted Christians worldwide Saturday as part of a movement to “rise up as one voice for the persecuted Church.”
The second annual March for the Martyrs event, spearheaded by Gia Chacon, the founder of the nonprofit organization For the Martyrs, was attended by 500 to 1,000 Christians from across the United States who gathered at the kick-off rally on the National Mall where they listened to speeches, worshiped together and marched to the White House where they collectively prayed before attending the “Night for the Martyrs” evening event held at the JW Marriott hotel.
“I think now more than ever, it’s important that Christians across all denominations gather together as one unified voice,” said Chacon in an interview with The Christian Post. “It’s so important that we’re standing up now, as brothers and sisters in Christ in the United States, being a voice for our persecuted brothers and sisters.”
While she praised President Joe Biden for becoming “the first United States president to recognize the Armenian genocide,” Chacon expressed a desire to see “more action taken for Christian minorities in other countries to protect them from religious persecution” that's happening now.
“This is the first time March for the Martyrs will be in the nation’s capital and we think … especially with what’s going on in Afghanistan and as we continue to see Christian persecution increase, it’s so important to send a strong message not just to the Body of Christ, but also to this administration that we would like to see Christians protected, and I’m excited to see everyone rise up as one voice for the persecuted church.”
Chacon said it was Open Doors USA’s findings of a 30% increase in religious persecution last year that motivated her to bring the March for the Martyrs to Washington. Her desire, she said, is to make the March for the Martyrs an annual event in the nation's capital. The first March for the Martyrs took place in Long Beach, California, in September 2020.
The religious freedom advocate explained that she held the first March for the Martyrs last year in response to the worship restrictions imposed on churches during the coronavirus pandemic.
Recalling that “Christianity and religious freedom here in the United States during that time was being threatened,” Chacon noted that her group “wanted to make the connection for Christians here in the United States.”
“For the first time in the United States in 2020, Christians were feeling what it would be like if we had worship restricted … if we were to face persecution for our faith and experience the inability to worship freely. And so it helped them empathize with their brothers and sisters around the world who face serious persecution and encouraged them to be bold in their faith here in the United States.”
When Chacon took to the stage after the band Radiant Worship greeted attendees with praise worship music, she highlighted the purpose of the event, saying: “We’re marching for the over 340 million Christians around the world who suffer for the name of Jesus. We’re marching for the people who lay down their lives every single day to go to church, to own a Bible. To even say that they believe in Jesus, in some countries, is illegal.”
Chacon shared with the crowd another statistic from Open Doors USA's findings, noting that last year, there was a 60% increase in the number of Christians killed for their faith.
“If Christians continue to be persecuted for their faith, why does this issue have so much silence around it?” she asked. “Why does the world remain silent as Christians are targeted and executed for their faith in Christ?”
Chacon vowed that “we’re going to remember every single Christian who laid down their life for the sake of the Gospel and we’re going to bring attention to every Christian who is suffering under radical governments, under extremist groups.”
She further expressed gratitude for the “brave pastors in these countries that are holding underground church services where they don’t know if they’re going to be arrested after” and for “the Christians that continue to gather and speak the name of Jesus regardless of the consequences."
“If Christians in other countries can lay down their life for the Gospel, we should be encouraged to stand strong in our faith here in the United States,” she added.
Social media personality Jacob Coyne, who was among the event's speakers, has a passion for bringing attention to the plight of Christians worldwide. He's the founder of Stay Here, an organization that Chacon described as a “Christ-centered suicide prevention ministry with a vision that Gen Z will be suicide-free.” In his remarks, Coyne shared a real-world example of the impact martyrdom has had on converting people to Christianity.
“I heard a story of a teenager who was at a youth camp in Indonesia and this teenager was on fire for Jesus Christ,” he recalled. “There were about 80 youth that were worshiping the Lord and then suddenly, a radical Islamist group of extremists came and terrorized this youth group. One of the men grabbed this boy by the hand, they put him in front of the crowd and they said: ‘Deny Christ and accept Allah or die.’”
The boy repeatedly refused to deny Christ, calling himself a “soldier in the army of our Lord.” He died after the radicals cut off his arms. Following “mass hysteria,” the remaining Christians in the youth group escaped unharmed, which Coyne attributed to a “miracle.”
Coyne detailed how after hearing about what the radicals did to the Christian boy, the Indonesian government “decided to shut down all water supply, food supply and trade” from the Muslim village where the Christian boy was killed. The young Christians, however, maintained that they were “not going to let them (the Muslim villagers) die,” and went door-to-door in the village to express their forgiveness.
“What God did in that moment was so powerful. The majority of those radicals ended up converting to Christianity,” he added. “Why? Because those people chose forgiveness, as Jesus did.”
Coyne concluded his speech with a plea to “align our hearts with the martyrs” by practicing forgiveness."
Allie Beth Stuckey, host of the “Relatable” podcast, also spoke at the event where she urged those gathered to “be thankful for this privilege, for this right that we have. That not only the majority of the world does not have, but for most of the history of the Church, this idea of free speech, of the freedom of expression, of religious liberty, it just didn’t exist."
“While we still have them, even if we do feel like they’re under attack, we have to take advantage of them," she added. "We have to use them to the glory of God, we have to use them boldly and courageously to speak up for people who don’t even know what the concept of a right is.”
Stuckey told the crowd to “think of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world” whenever we “are tempted to hold our tongue or to hold back in sharing the Gospel or speaking what is now considered political, what is considered supposedly controversial here in the United States.” She then shared a Bible passage from 2 Timothy 3:12, reminding attendees that “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
The political activist clarified that Christians will face varying degrees of persecution during their time on Earth, from censorship and bullying in the U.S. and other Western countries to imprisonment and death in other countries. She implored the crowd to “pray for those who are persecuted” and “pray for those who are imprisoned.” She stressed that “that’s not a cop-out, that’s not an easy way out, the Bible tells us that our prayers have great power.”
The crowd at the March for the Martyrs consisted of individuals from an array of denominations, ages and regions of the country.
Several attendees at the event spoke with CP about their reasons for attending the event and shared their thoughts about the dire state of religious freedom worldwide.
Mario from Chicago, Illinois, told CP that he attended the March for the Martyrs to “walk with the persecuted Church,” adding that “It’s something that I believe in.”
While most of the people who attended the March for Martyrs had planned on participating in the event ahead of time, Rachel Hartley and Meg Jones, both residents of the District of Columbia, stumbled upon the rally by accident.
“We actually were just out for a walk, didn’t know about this,” Hartley told CP. “We’re Christians, we go to church on Capitol Hill and we’re excited to see what was going on. Our church every week has been praying for the persecuted Church across the world. So we just jumped at this opportunity to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Christ and join in the march,” she added.
Hartley said the uncertainty facing her “brothers and sisters in Christ” in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of U.S. troops there has “really given me a certain gratitude and humility just to be living in a country where we have the freedom to proclaim the name of Jesus and to worship him freely.”
Ellie McFarland who hails from Maryland said she had “martyrs in my family and I really care about this cause.” She lamented that “nobody sees it as relevant; nobody thinks that Christians are persecuted because they think America is the only country that exists.”
As she marched, McFarland carried a flag of Mount Athos, the “international symbol of Orthodox Christianity.”
Samantha from California attended the first March for the Martyrs in Long Beach last year. She returned for the second march this year “in support of all Christians everywhere who are persecuted, who risk their lives every day to practice their faith.”
A practicing Catholic, Samantha held up a sign with a direct message to Pope Francis, proclaiming: “Our Church is in peril not because of vax passports but because Christians are bombed, beheaded, stoned, kidnapped, raped, dehumanized!"
She elaborated on her concerns in an interview with CP: "I don’t agree with his green passport to go to the Vatican City when Christians all over the world are being beheaded, bombed, killed, exterminated. As a Christian, our priorities need to be … in order.”
“If we all just turn to the source of truth and light, which is Jesus Christ, then our world would be much better, and a lot of our problems would be solved just simply by becoming stronger in our faith,” she added.
Michael Bellacicco, a Connecticut native who's attending the Catholic University of America, saw attending the march as a way to “be there in solidarity” with the “Christians being persecuted all around the world.”
He emphasized the need to “pray for our political leaders that they see Christ” because “it’s always a process with our government” regarding religious freedom advocacy. Bellacicco concluded his interview with CP by rejoicing that “we’re in the United States and we’re able to do this.”
Brian Klotz of Virginia attended the rally with his children. “I’m here to march for the persecuted Church and those that have died and especially those that are facing persecution in … Nigeria specifically,” he said.
Klotz added that he believes religious persecution is “going to get worse” following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. But he also praised the Biden administration for nominating an international religious freedom ambassador and expressed hope that the U.S. Senate would take up his nomination in the near future.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org