For the first time in modern history, representatives from every Christian tradition gathered to address religious persecution. In November, the Global Christian Forum (GCF) hosted an international conference in Tirana, Albania, on the theme Discrimination, Persecution, Martyrdom: Following Christ Together.
Jim Payton, a member of the Christian Reformed Church’s Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee and a member of Ancaster CRC, represented the CRC at the conference. Payton taught the history of Eastern Europe and the study of Eastern Orthodoxy at Redeemer University College and is a respected scholar.
Participants called for churches to pray for the persecuted and to unite in prayer for specific groups and churches, giving more than an occasional reference in a congregational prayer. Forum participants want churches to increase dialogue and learn about the situations experienced by people in countries or regions where there is religious violence. Payton explained, “For those who are facing persecution, to know that someone knows and is praying for them specifically can offer great comfort.”
Holding the forum in Albania was fitting, as persecution was once rampant in that country. Payton explained that Albania was declared an atheist state in 1967, and the practice of any religion was forbidden. In 1992, communist rule ended and religious liberty was declared. Christianity has since flourished. Forum delegates attended a reception at the presidential Palace of Tirana hosted by the president of Albania.
GCF started in 1998, meeting approximately every four years with the goal of overcoming the divisions between the main Christian traditions. At this meeting, churches representing different traditions led worship each day. Presentations and small group discussions provided opportunities to meet people who have endured religious persecution. For some, simply attending the forum placed them in danger of persecution.
“It was an extraordinary experience,” said Payton. “What has developed is the broadest ecumenical gathering, a gathering where we interact on an equal footing with a genuine expression of Christian respect, a real sense of comradery with our brothers and sisters in Christ.”