BGEA/Orthodox religious liberty summit postponed after fallout from Pope and Patriarch meeting

The meeting between Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill may have contributed to the postponement of the BGEA/ROC conference in Moscow. Reuters

A planned joint conference on religious liberty between the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has been postponed until at least next year, according to Christian Today sources.

The BGEA still has the announcement of the conference on its website in a post dated March 29. It did not respond to requests for comment.

The conference was designed to bring together around 1,000 Christian leaders from more than 150 countries for a World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians. It was to take place from October 28-30, in Moscow, addressed the "unprecedented" mass persecution of Christians in the Middle East, Africa and other regions of the world. The joint press release said the BGEA and ROC "believe these evil deeds cannot be ignored by the Christian community".

However, it was unofficially announced earlier this month by the former president of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, Yuri Sipko, that the summit had been postponed or cancelled. Christian Today understands it will be held in 2017.

Sipko attributed the move to pressure on the ROC following the meeting of Patriarch Kirill with Pope Francis in Havana, widely applauded internationally but seen by many Orthodox Christians as a betrayal. The forthcoming Pan Orthodox Council in Crete from June 16-26, aimed at bring together all of the Orthodox Churches, may be an additional pressure point for the ROC as it cannot be seen as too accommodating to the West.

The BGEA is seen as an important partner by the ROC, which shares its highly conservative moral agenda. It ran a Russian-American Forum of Christian Leaders in Charlotte, North Carolina, in November 2014 at which Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the ROC's Department for External Affairs, was the featured guest.

The ROC has been asked to comment.