Public Affairs and
JOHN GRAZ, DIRECTOR
he Department of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty (PARL) has historically been the church’s primary interface with governments and international organizations to promote better understanding of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and to secure the rights of Adventist Church members to practice their faith according to their consciences. In the past five years this mission has included working to end the persecution of Adventists in central Asia, helping to free American Adventist college students under house arrest while traveling overseas, standing up for the right of Adventists to rest from labor on the Sabbath around the world, and being an Adventist voice in the process of forming national and international law. The PARL Department takes on individual cases, and it takes on national causes such as working for the registration of the Adventist Church in nations as diverse as Turkmenistan and Vietnam.
The PARL team works through quiet diplomacy in national legislatures, in court systems, in international forum, through letter-writing campaigns, and in one-on-one conversations. Recently the department has initiated a series of large, public events to highlight the importance of God-given right of religious freedom.
On June 13, 2009, more than 40,000 people gathered in the National Stadium of Lima, Peru, to say thank you to God and to their country for the religious freedom they enjoy. In attendance were two ministers of the government, the president of the Supreme Court, ambassadors, and other officials, as well as religious leaders representing Muslims, Jews, and Evangelicals. Preceding this event was a series of forums around the country, culminated in a 10,000-person march through Lima, asking for religious equality for Adventists in Peru.
These mass events, known as Festivals of Religious Freedom, added a new dimension to our efforts to raise the profile of religious freedom, build allies, and communicate to states around the world that there is a large constituency that supports religious freedom for all peaceful people of faith. During the past five years, through close cooperation among the world divisions, unions, and the General Conference PARL Department, mass events have been organized in São Paulo, Brazil; Bucharest, Romania; Cape Town, South Africa; Georgetown, Guyana; Luanda, Angola; Honolulu, Hawaii; Caracas, Venezuela; St. Petersburg, Russia; Suriname; Seoul, South Korea; Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; Bogotá, Colombia; Jerusalem; Mexico; and the United States.
Adventist Church members march in a large PARL rally staged in Luanda, Angola.
No other organization is raising the profile of the religious freedom cause in the way Adventists are.
The PARL Department also works closely with the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA), founded by Adventists in 1893. In the past five years international congresses, symposia, and forums have been organized by the IRLA with support from the Adventist Church. These meetings have been held in places as diverse as Port-of-Spain, Trinidad; Accra, Ghana; Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia; Luanda, Angola; São Paulo, Brazil; Seoul, South Korea; Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; Lima, Trujillo, and Cuzco, Peru; Vera Cruz and Tijuana, Mexico; and Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The IRLA’s World Congress was held in 2007 in Cape Town, South Africa, with the support of the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division and the Southern Africa Union.
The PARL Department works continuously to invite thought leaders to visit Adventist institutions and learn about our remarkable message. The department has hosted heads of state, legislators, diplomats, religious leaders, journalists, and other thought leaders to the General Conference world headquarters. The church also sends representatives to interact with those in power around the world.
PARL Department leaders serve like traveling diplomats for the church. During the past five years they have entered areas few travelers visit, often on missions of compassion to help church members facing serious pressures from the authorities. The department also works to share an Adventist perspective on issues of religious freedom and pending legislation in the halls of power. In 2009 the International Religious Liberty Association’s board of experts, convened by PARL, developed a careful analysis of the legal and policy implications of the effort to enact a global blasphemy law.
PARL director John Graz (left) with an interpreter addressing one of the PARL Festivals of Religious Freedom
PARL associate directors James Standish (United Nations liaison) and Barry Bussey (United States Government liaison) attend significant international and national events that give them opportunity to dialogue with ambassadors and legislators about efforts to end religious persecution of Adventists and others around the globe. The PARL Department annually provides a journal, Fides et Libertas, which covers religious freedom issues around the globe, and organizes in conjunction with Liberty magazine the annual Religious Liberty Dinner in Washington that welcomes diplomatic representatives and legislators—all with a purpose of reminding the opinion makers that “religious persecution has a face.”
The PARL Department also attempts to build good relationships with other faith communities, not to minimize distinctions and differences, but to promote the rights of Adventists to maintain our unique beliefs without hostility and discrimination from other denominations. PARL director John Graz serves as secretary of the Conference of Secretaries of the Christian World Communions, whose leaders represent more than a billion Christians from around the world. He follows Bert B. Beach, his predecessor at the General Conference, who held the position of secretary for 32 years.
Seventh-day Adventists believe the time is coming when religious freedom will be restricted and persecution will become more widespread. In a world in which 65 percent of the population does not enjoy full religious freedom today, we can’t wait until tomorrow to begin our religious freedom work.
The world needs effective religious freedom advocacy today, because today, persecution has a face. It is the face of a young man yearning to serve Christ but being threatened with stoning. It is the face of an elderly woman whose family refuses to permit her to attend church. It is the face of missionaries expelled from a country for no crime other than sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the face of the woman whose husband beats her for refusing to give up her faith, or the face of the father who comes home from work for the last time because his boss fired him for keeping the Sabbath.
Today, persecution has a face.
This article was published June 24, 2010.