May 6, 2018

Leader Brings Distinctly Adventist Voice to International Christian Gathering

Bettina Krause, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty

The third meeting of the Global Christian Forum, held April 24 to 27 in Bogotá, Colombia, provided an invaluable opportunity to be “salt and light” and to share key Seventh-day Adventist values with a unique audience, says Dr. Ganoune Diop, director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the Adventist world church. Diop, who was a plenary speaker in the closing session of the event, addressed some 400 Christian leaders from 65 countries who represented a broad range of Christian traditions, including Eastern Orthodox, Evangelicals, Anglicans, and many independent churches.


In his presentation, Diop spoke about the centrality of Jesus Christ in human history. “One of the most fascinating revelations of Scripture is how Jesus embraced the story of the whole human family; how He fulfils our stories,” said Diop. “He came to embrace our destiny in order to defeat death from inside. He came to deliver us from evil. And to do so, he chose to live our story, and our stories.”

The Global Christian Forum provides an informal space for Christians of many different denominations to share information about themselves and to discuss common challenges facing Christians around the world. The group, which has no constitution and makes no decisions, is focused on facilitating open dialogue about shared concerns, such as religious freedom, persecution, and other barriers to mission.

In an interview after the event, Diop said that the presence of Adventists at gatherings such as this is an important part of the work of the General Conference Public Affairs and Religious Liberty department, which is entrusted with the task of making the Adventist Church more visible in the public realm.

“Ellen White describes the ministry of Christ on Earth as ‘mingling with men as one who desired their good,’” says Diop. “Mingling—being salt and light in the world—is at the heart of our mission as Seventh-day Adventists. For our department, that means building bridges with people of influence in society, whether in the political or religious arenas, sharing who Adventists are, and how we are a blessing to society in so many different ways.”

Diop, who also serves on the Global Christian Forum oversight committee, says it provides a way to introduce Adventism to other Christians “on our own terms,” to learn about other denominations, and to help dispel prejudices or misconceptions on both sides.

“We sometimes forget that Mrs. White counseled Adventist ministers of her day not to neglect outreach to clergy of other churches,” said Diop. He points to a passage recorded in Testimonies for the Church, where she writes, “Our ministers should seek to come near to the ministers of other denominations. Pray for and with these men, for whom Christ is interceding. A solemn responsibility is theirs. As Christ’s messengers, we should manifest a deep, earnest interest in these shepherds of the flock.”[1]

One of the key issues discussed at the Bogotá gathering was the rapidly changing demographic landscape of global Christianity. According to presenter Gina Zurlo, assistant director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, the most significant change has not been numerical, but geographical. She pointed to research showing only a three percent overall decline in the world Christian population since 1910—from 35 to 32 percent of total world population. However, this seemingly static picture obscures a massive change in where the majority of Christians are now located, said Zurlo. While Christianity has declined numerically in many Western nations, sub-Saharan Africa has seen a dramatic increase in the number of Christians; in 1970 the region held some 134 million Christians, but today has more than 620 million. Zurlo also cited the relatively recent, but significant, rise in the number of “independent Christians” worldwide—Christian churches that do not identify with historically dominant traditions, such as Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, or mainstream Protestantism.

Other topics addressed at the event included the persecution of Christians in many places where Christianity is a minority religion. The Patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Ignatius Aphrem II, spoke to the group and urged leaders not to forget the beleaguered Christian community of the Middle East. He described living in a region where Christians are often the target of terrorist attacks and he spoke movingly of two Orthodox priests who were abducted in Syria five years ago, and who are now presumed dead.

According to the patriarch, the Christian population in the Middle East has been decimated over the past 15 years, with Iraq losing some 80 percent of its Christians and Syria’s Christian population falling by an estimated 40 percent.

This is the first time that the Global Christian Forum has met in the Americas and the first time in a Spanish-speaking country. The first and second gatherings of the group were held in Kenya and Indonesia.

For a more in-depth look at the work of the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty department, see an earlier interview with Diop:

[1] Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Ca.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 6, 78.