Two senior Seventh-day Adventist leaders joined participants of a Russian government-organized conference on religious freedom in pledging to fight against a growing “perversion of religion” worldwide by those who use the language of faith to justify violence and terrorism.
The Third International Forum on Religion and Peace, a rare gathering of leaders from across Russia’s religious and political spectrum, met Oct. 29 in the Great Hall of Moscow’s President Hotel and included scholars, public officials, and religious leaders representing the Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish, Catholic, and Islamic communities.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church was represented by Ganoune Diop, director of the public affairs and religious liberty department for the world church, and Oleg Goncharov, director of the public affairs and religious liberty department in the church’s Euro-Asia Division.
In his address to the assembly, Diop focused on the foundational place of religious freedom within the pantheon of human rights. He emphasized that it is a God-given right not subject to political agendas, and he urged all those present to work together to preserve and extend this “first freedom.”
On the day before the forum, Diop and Goncharov visited the State Duma, Russia’s national parliament, to meet various public officials responsible for church-state relations in the country. They also met with Alexander Kudryavtsev, who heads one of Russia’s most active public organizations focused on religious liberty, the Russian Association for the Protection of Religious Freedoms.
At the conclusion of the forum, participants adopted a resolution expressing deep concern about rising religious extremism. They also urged greater action on the part of the international community in stemming the continued destruction of Christian communities in the Middle East and Africa, and they expressed solidarity with all those suffering persecution for their faith.
The event was jointly organized by Russia’s Presidential Council for Cooperation with Religious Organizations, and Moscow’s Department of National Policy, Inter-Regional Relations, and Tourism. It was supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill, along with other religious and public leaders.
Pastor Franklin Graham, son of well-known evangelist Billy Graham, attended the forum, along with Metropolitan Hilarion, director of the department for external church relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, and Allahshukur Pashazade, chair of the Religious Council of the Caucasus.