The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has decided to move a May 2017 summit on Christian persecution from Moscow to Washington, D.C., following Russia's passage of a controversial law curtailing evangelism.
The World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians is slated to unfold from May 10-13, 2017, and will include hundreds of evangelical leaders from across the globe — attendees who will represent around 100 countries, according to BGEA.
The summit will bring attention to Christian persecution to aid ministries that support those who face harassment and abuse due to their faith. In addition to evangelical leaders, the event will also prominently feature around 150 persecuted Christians, many of whom will openly share their personal stories.
Attendees will learn the tragic history of Christian persecution, with the names of past victims being honored and remembered.
"If one part of the body suffers, everyone suffers, and we are responsible for our brothers and sisters," the Rev. Viktor Hamm, vice president of Crusade Ministries with the BGEA, said in a statement. "And (Christians) should have taken that responsibility years ago."
The WSDPC was originally slated to unfold in Moscow, but organizers changed the location after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a controversial law last month that takes aim at faith.
"We were looking forward to this significant event being held in Russia because no one knows modern Christian persecution better than the church that suffered under communist rule," BGEA president Franklin Graham wrote on his Facebook page Tuesday. "However, just a few weeks ago Russia passed a law that severely limits Christians' freedoms."
Dubbed the "Big Brother Law" by its critics, the anti-terror measure also has profound consequences for missionary work and church activity inside Russia.
As previously reported, the law creates a broad definition for missionary work, and will restrict any such activity if it is not undertaken by people who are affiliated with registered organizations. Additionally, the locations where such work can unfold would be restricted to houses of worship and other related religious sites.
Christians and churches across Russia have responded to the law by praying and fasting, with many expressing fears that the restrictions will have profound consequences on religious freedom.
"This new situation resembles the Soviet Union in 1929. At that time, confession of faith was permitted only in church," Hannu Haukka, president of Great Commission Media Ministries, told National Religious Broadcasters last month. "Practically speaking, we are back in the same situation. These anti-terrorist laws are some of the most restrictive laws in post-Soviet history."
Many churches and denominations have been defiant in light of the new restrictions, publicly pledging not to leave Russia.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan government coalition, was also quick to condemn it, saying that it would "grant authorities sweeping powers to curtail civil liberties, including setting broad restrictions on religious practices that would make it very difficult for religious groups to operate."
The passage of the law, as well as the change to the summit's location, come as many organizations sound the alarm on the atrocities that Christians, among other groups, face at the hands of the Islamic State and other terror groups.
Open Doors USA is just one organization that monitors Christian persecution, finding that an estimated 7,000 Christians died for their faith last year alone.
"Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in Jesus Christ, according to the United States Department of State," the BGEA statement continues.
The organization notes that abuse often comes in the form of isolation, rape, imprisonment, torture, beating and even death.