This month, I would like to devote my column for an important message of our times from Bishop Ken Carter:
“Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The season of Lent is historically a time in which we remember that Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem and the cross (Luke 9:51). In the past weeks we have become more aware of the sufferings and martyrdom of many of our brothers and sisters in Christ across the global church.
The persecution of Christians is a reality that has been largely ignored in our culture. This is due to our very appropriate desire for religious tolerance, on the one hand, and our muted support for religious freedom, on the other.
Much of the persecution of Christians is occurring in the Middle East and Africa, and includes the genocide in Mosul, the kidnapping of young girls in Nigeria and the beheading of Coptic Christians this year. But it is a mistake to think it is limited to specific regions or groups because sisters and brothers around the world are experiencing a similar fate.
There has been a deafening silence in the face of this crisis. We can no longer remain silent; as the scriptures remind us, “the very stones cry out” (Luke 19:40). It is time to speak clearly and to unite in prayer on behalf of those suffering and dying simply because they are followers of Jesus.
I am joining with other United Methodist Bishops in inviting United Methodists to pray on behalf of Christians facing persecution. Nothing could be more fitting as we move closer and closer to the final steps on Jesus’ journey to the cross where he died so that we might live.
In our baptismal promises we say these words:
‘Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,
reject the evil powers of this world
and repent of your sin?’
Christians have certainly persecuted each other, and persons of other faiths and no faith. We come to this act of prayer with humility. And as Jesus teaches us in the Beatitudes, we pray for those who persecute us. Yet we must certainly speak out whenever someone is persecuted, tortured or killed – whether or not they are persons of other faiths or no faith. But we feel a special sense of urgency to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ in the face of increasing persecution, suffering and death. Pope Francis recently called this ‘the ecumenism of blood,’ as the faithful witness of the persecuted church unites us in the One Body of Christ.”
The Peace of the Lord,
Resident Bishop, Florida Conference
The United Methodist Church
Bishop Carter invites us to join in this prayer:
“God of us all,
You love us so passionately that you sent Your Son to help us experience the fullness of divine love. And while we love you, we are not often asked to risk our lives because of our faith.
This is not true for many of our sisters and brothers in Christ. Our hearts break as we see more of them suffering and dying simply because they are living as disciples of Jesus.
We pray for their safety and sanctuary. We pray that you will give them grace in suffering. We are humbled by the witness of these martyred for their faith. We pray for their persecutors, and that acts of violence and persecution will cease.
Help us to grow in our commitment to live as Jesus’ disciples. Remind us that we are the One Body of Christ: when one member suffers, all suffer. Stir us to pray unceasingly. And empower us to speak boldly.
We pray all of this in the name of our Savior and Lord, Jesus the Christ.
You are loved,