The restricted liberty of thousands of people during World War II spurred the creation of an international organization. At the end of 1948, the United Nations (UN) established the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which outlined common ideals for all countries.
One of the themes highlighted in article 18 of the document was ignored by several nations and groups at the time. It reads, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.”
In 1893, only 30 years after its inception, the Seventh-day Adventist Church began defending this right by creating the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA). IRLA is the oldest entity in the world in defense of religious liberty for everyone. Communities and individuals today, however, are fighting daily for this cause. It is to give them a voice that the Seventh-day Adventist Church has a department dedicated to ensuring religious liberty for all people.
“Without religious liberty, there are other liberties that cease to exist, including the expression and the privilege of sharing one’s faith. Therefore, we defend, protect, and promote religious liberty for everyone, because that is the only way to guarantee that the gospel is preached to the whole world,” explained Helio Carnassale, director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in South America.
Focusing on strengthening this principle, the International Seminary of Religious Liberty held an online event in late August 2020. The meeting, which was broadcast by the official channels of the regional Adventist Church on Facebook and YouTube, addressed issues such as spiritual foundations and relationships with other Christians.
Why We Should Advocate for Religious Liberty
“Our purpose is to appeal to people to think and reflect on the need and role of religious liberty during these times. As long as there is full liberty, we can reach more people with the message of hope,” South American president Erton Köhler said.
He explained that Adventists need to defend this matter with solid arguments and clear words, using their influence so that more people can have the liberty to express their feelings and can allow others to know Jesus. “Without religious liberty, there is no fulfillment of the mission. And without the fulfillment of the mission, Matthew 24:14 and Matthew 28:18-20 will not be fulfilled,” he reminded.
In one of his seminars, the director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty at the Adventist world headquarters, Ganoune Diop, highlighted that the roots of religious liberty are in God and His purpose for the world. Thus, when human beings commit to promoting religious freedom in favor of other people, they participate in what God does: restoring His image in humans.
On the other hand, Diop pointed out that denying anyone or an institution their liberty denies their humanity. And he detailed this as the way the Adventist Church maintains relations with other denominations, always in accordance with the church’s Working Policy.
“We are called to relate to other churches, but that does not mean ecumenism. If we don’t mingle, we are going to disassociate from Jesus’ call of being salt and light,” he clarified. “We carefully choose when and how to do it.”
For Bettina Krause, director of government affairs at the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department for the Adventist world church and one of the speakers, public affairs are at the core of the Adventist mission. According to her, government officials must perceive the Adventist Church as credible, relevant, and trustworthy.
Nelu Burcea, liaison to the United Nations and associate director for Public Affairs and Religious Liberty at the General Conference, pointed out that religious liberty is interconnected with other human rights, including the right to live, among others. That is why Adventists must seize the current moment to develop new initiatives to fulfill its mission. It is every member’s duty, he said, to know how and why to defend this cause.
Both he and Carnassale were unanimous in highlighting the importance of meetings, such as forums and festivals, that make people aware and draw the attention of various groups that otherwise would not be interested in the subject. “Such gatherings help to educate the public in the correct concepts of religious liberty,” Carnassale said. “Religious liberty includes everyone, and we must do all within our power to preserve it.”