Religious Liberty Conference to Spotlight Global Freedom
Amajor international event in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, in April will affirm once more that “religious liberty is part of the DNA of the Adventist Church,” according to General Conference president Ted N. C. Wilson. The seventh World Congress for Religious Freedom, organized by the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA), expects to bring together some 800 government officials, community activists, church leaders, scholars, and legal experts for a three-day series of meetings, beginning April 24.
RELIGIOUS LIBERTY ENCOUNTER:Reverend John G.W. Oliver, chairman of the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative, left, and Imam Seyyed Mohammad Ali Abtahi, an Iranian theologian, scholar, and pro-democracy activist, converse during the 6th IRLA World Congress, held in 2007 in Cape Town, South Africa. The imam is currently imprisoned in Iran for alleged political crimes.In a short video message Wilson said the event offers an unprecedented opportunity “to mix with those who hold positions of influence in society—to explore how, together, we can speak for the millions of people around the world today who face discrimination, imprisonment, or worse, simply because they’ve chosen the path of faithfulness.”
A 2011 international study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life suggested about a third of the world’s population—more than 2.2 billion men, women, and children—live in in places in which religious persecution not only exists, but is actually on the rise. This grim forecast for religious minorities comes as no surprise to John Graz, director of the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department for the world church and secretary-general of the IRLA. “As we meet together in Punta Cana to explore current religious freedom issues, this terrible reality of persecution will be ever before us,” he said.
“We serve a God of freedom who appeals to us through love, not fear,” Wilson added. “Preserving and promoting religious freedom for all people—no matter what their faith tradition—will always be a central Adventist value.”
The seventh World Congress, the first such event to be held in the Inter-America Division, has attracted presenters from around the world, including ambassador Robert Seiple, former U.S. ambassador at large for International Religious Freedom, and Neville Callam, Baptist World Alliance general secretary and leader of 100 million Baptists worldwide. Other attendees from the local region include Dominican Republic president Leonel Fernández, prime minister Gerrit Schotte from Curaçao, prime minister Michiel Eman from Aruba, and Caridad Diego Bello, Cuba’s minister for religion.
For more information about the congress and for streaming video of plenary sessions, go towww.irla.org.
—reported by Bettina Krause, IRLA