On September 24, Christians from across the country will meet up in Washington, D.C., for March for the Martyrs 2022, an annual event designed to bring attention to the growing crisis of religious persecution around the globe and to bring Christians together to pray for their suffering brothers and sisters.
When thinking of persecution, it’s easy to picture the Christians of the early Church, harassed and thrown to the lions by the Romans. While persecution then was often violent and egregious, it hasn’t gotten any better in the last 2,000 years. It may surprise many in America, but religious persecution is continuing to rise and the group most affected is Christianity. According to Open Doors USA, a group that tracks religious persecution globally, more than 360 million Christians are living in places where they experience high levels of persecution and discrimination.
Gia Chacón is the founder of For the Martyrs, a non-profit that seeks to raise awareness of persecution, advocates for religious freedom, and aids victims of persecution. She has dedicated her life to bringing attention to the suffering faced by Christians around the world, which is why her organization has organized the third March for the Martyrs.
March for the Martyrs 2022 will be held on September 24. Participants will meet at the National Mall at 3 p.m. for the Kick-Off Rally, followed by the procession at 4 p.m. through the streets of Washington D.C. The March will end at the Museum of the Bible, which will then host a Night of Prayer for the Persecuted beginning at 5 p.m.
This year’s speakers include Chacón; Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was held prisoner in Turkey for his Christian faith; Enes Kanter Freedom, a professional basketball player known for speaking out against China’s human rights abuses against the Uyghurs; David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA; Ryan Helfenbein, executive director of the Standing for Freedom Center; and many others.
Anyone who wants to participate can register here to receive their free general admission ticket.
Persecution has intensified in recent years within countries of varying political philosophies and religious beliefs. Authoritarian governments such as China, North Korea, and Eritrea continue to persecute religious beliefs by shutting down or destroying churches and through arrests, kidnappings, torture, and brainwashing programs. Countries with different majority religious beliefs such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, and Afghanistan all sanction persecution of Christians. Meanwhile, in Nigeria, Muslim Fulani tribesmen and terror group Boko Haram routinely martyr Christians.
Reports have shown that religious freedom worldwide continues to deteriorate.
Chacón warns that the persecution seen in nations like China could one day be imported to the U.S. She noted that the Chinese constitution allows for religious freedom, so long as it doesn’t sow disorder or impair public health. She says China uses this to monitor and control what pastors say, decide which church Christians can join, and even revise the Bible to reflect communist ideology. House churches are illegal and can lead to harsh punishments.
She compares this provision in the Chinese constitution to the ways some state governors have sought to regulate Christian activities and beliefs, such as shutting down churches during the COVID crisis and implementing so-called non-discrimination laws that claim to protect LGBT individuals but actually seek to control religious dissent.
Chacón encourages those concerned about the persecution of Christians or the possibility of future persecution to get involved. When asked what advice she would give to young people, Chacón said,
“I would say just start and don’t be afraid. You know, I think a lot of times we’re our own worst enemy because we tell ourselves we’re not the right person for it, here’s someone else who’s better suited, more qualified, it’s not my time yet. Whatever excuses we give ourselves to hold us back from starting, I would just encourage young people, whether they want to get involved in politics or maybe start a non-profit, there’s something that the Lord’s laying on their heart — don’t hesitate. Just trust the Lord, trust that He’s given you this calling, and just go for it, honestly.”
Christians have an opportunity to do that on Saturday. Concerned Americans can also help everyday by praying and supporting organizations like For the Martyrs.
American Christians are starting to see the beginning stages of disfavor among the powerful, but few have experienced harsh persecution. Until now, America has enjoyed an exceedingly rare time of religious freedom that few in history have experienced. Christians around the world haven’t been so fortunate. It is critical that Christians in America stand up for those who can’t march down the street with fellow Christians or gather to hear God’s Word or pray. To ignore the suffering of others is not an option.
While persecution is heinous, and authoritarians and terrorists may seek to impose their will, their efforts to silence the Church will not succeed. Tertullian, the early Christian writer, wrote, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
Tertullian was saying that when persecution grows, the Church grows. In Acts 8, the story of the beginning of the Church relays the persecution that took place after the stoning and martyrdom of Stephen.
In Verse 1 we learn:
“…on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”
It didn’t stop there, as Verse 3 goes on to explain,
“Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.”
Christians hadn’t experienced much persecution to this point, but the martyrdom of Stephen began a horrifying lashing out at the young Church. Yet verse 4 provides a foreshadowing of the blessings that burst forth when Christians are willing to stand up and suffer for their faith. It reads:
“Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.”
The Gospel spread, and soon Saul, who was confronted and converted by Jesus, was given the name Paul and began traveling the Roman world spreading the Gospel and writing much of the New Testament.
This pattern has only continued into our modern age, as Christianity thrives in the face of suffering and God’s greater plan will never be thwarted.
In China, for example, amid heavy and unrelenting persecution, the number of Christians has skyrocketed from 1 million in 1976 to more than 100 million today. The number of Nigerian Christians has more than doubled since 1953, and Rev. Dafes Philip Mwelbish, chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Plateau State chapter, has stated that the brutal persecution Christianity faces in his country has remained its greatest source of growth.
As Christians who still have religious freedom, our job is to stand up for those who have none and safeguard that freedom for our posterity. Yet we know that whatever persecution the world throws our way, God will bring good out of it, and the Church will march on.
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.