In light of the rampant persecution of Christians around the world, Franklin Graham has announced that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, in cooperation with the Russian Orthodox Church, will convene "The World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians" later this year.
In a Facebook post shared on Wednesday morning, Graham, 64, drew attention to a recent Open Doors USA report, which revealed that beheadings, imprisonment and eviction from ancestral homelands made 2015 the worst year on record for the persecution of Christians.
Graham, who is the president of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, said that in light of these sobering statistics, his organization and the Russian Orthodox Church decided to hold "The World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians" in Moscow, Russia, October 28-30, 2016.
"The World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians will shed a global spotlight on this crisis," he wrote. "We will bring delegates from around the world and will be able to join hands with people of other churches and denominations of the Christian faith to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ and to hear firsthand reports of the suffering that is taking place. Will you pray with us for this historic summit?"
The evangelist noted that Moscow is a fitting and meaningful location to hold the summit, as no church in modern history has suffered more than the church in Russia.
"In the years under Communist rule, virtually all of the priests, pastors, and church leaders in Russia were imprisoned or executed by the Communists, and their graves are on the outskirts of Moscow and throughout the country serving as a reminder," he writes.
The Open Doors report, released on March 8, found that an estimated 7,000 Christians were killed for their faith in 2015, up nearly 50 percent from the previous year and the highest number since such statistics have been tracked. Nigeria, Eritrea and Pakistan were among the countries that experienced the biggest spikes, due to the rise of Islamic extremism and authoritarian governments.
"The report confirms what we have seen develop in these countries -- a rise in Islamic extremism that tragically targets minority religions -- especially Christians," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice. "The brutality is unspeakable, with nearly 1 million Christians being slaughtered or displaced in the Middle East."
David Curry, CEO and President of Open Doors, said that the United States government, in particular, has an obligation to fight the rise of religious persecution worldwide.
"It is no longer just a Christian problem, but a global problem that must be addressed," he said. "As the dominant power in the free world, [the U.S.] must lead the charge in bringing more relief and aid to those suffering."
In concluding his Facebook post, Graham echoed Curry's sentiment and recalled a conversation he had last October with Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, where the two discussed the persecution of the church worldwide.
Graham quoted Kirill as stating, "I strongly believe that we should work together in order to save our society from de-Christianization-because, facing increasing atheistic pressure, which has become quite aggressive in some countries, Christians are being squeezed out of public life."
Last week, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a resolution calling on the U.S. State Department to declare the violence against Christians and other religious groups in the Middle East as genocide.
As part of the condition of an omnibus bill regarding the actions against religious groups in the Middle East, which was passed in December of last year, the government only has until March 17 to formally declare the crimes as genocide.
In an email send on Saturday, Hollywood producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey urged their fans to take action and call for an end to persecution.
"As many of you are aware, the Islamic State has been killing, enslaving and torturing Christians and other religious minorities in ways that are reminiscent of 1930's Germany. Hundreds of churches have been destroyed, over two million Christians have been displaced, their children enslaved, and many Christians murdered (including by crucifixion)," they wrote. "This must stop. We must raise our voice."