World Religious Freedom Congress Calls to Avoid Secular Society’s Lead
24 April 2012, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic [Mark Kellner/Adventist Review; tedNEWS] Addressing nearly 900 delegates and guests at the Seventh World Congress of the International Religious Liberty Association, Denton Lotz, a noted Baptist minister and IRLA president, summarised the purpose of this three-day event: "We're here today because we believe that freedom of religion is basic to all human rights."
That view, sadly, is not shared in many parts of the world, something Lotz said made holding the sessions even more important.
"It's incumbent upon us to work together that we live together in harmony and concord," Lotz said to an audience of leaders from Christian, Muslim, Jewish and other communities. "We don't need religious wars."
While the main congress theme, "Secularism and Religious Freedom – Conflict or Partnership" may seem far removed from lands where persecution is active, Lotz took a different view.
"Most people worldwide suffer from a lack of religious freedom. Seventy percent of the world lives in places of religious repression," he said.
Speaking to an audience that included Seventh-day Adventists, Mennonites, Roman Catholics, Baptists, Mormons and Scientologists, among others, IRLA secretary-general John Graz noted the world congress is a multifaceted event.
"This congress is about religious freedom, but it is not a religious event," Graz said. "We are all here together. We represent different faiths, different religions and different churches. We are different, but we are respectful of each other."
With the theme of "Secularism and Religious Freedom -- Conflict or Partnership," speakers and delegates tried to negotiate the challenges of a world which is increasingly hostile to a variety of religious expression in the public square.
Dr Miroslav Pujic director of the ministry to secular and postmoderns at the Trans-European Division was one of the speakers who talked about the historical development of secularism and he shared few ideas how the media, especially social media, could be used in promoting religious freedom.
“Secularism is manifesting itself in a wave of anti-discrimination measures in Europe that are pushing anti-discrimination laws and practices which do not permit any religious exclusions” says Raafat Kamal, Religious Liberty director for Europe, and he added “the rise of secularism has contributed to a diminishing role of religion in the public square, and a marked increase in skepticism towards the free exercise of faith. When societies become neutral towards religion, we see less and less protection of religion and religious activities."
While standing for separation of church and state, IRLA leader Lotz issued a call for religion to avoid following a secular society's lead. "When religion becomes secular, I believe it is the greatest challenge to religious freedom, allowing secularism to define what a religion believes," Lotz told delegates. "When we allow the secularization of our faith to transcend the transcendent, it loses its meaning," he added.
Seventh-day Adventist world church President Ted N. C. Wilson challenged believers to grasp the opportunities for open discourse that a secular state preserves. Although acknowledging the inevitable conflict between the values of believers and that of secular culture, Wilson said, “We have to accept this tension as part of a free society. We have to accept the challenges and find appropriate responses, through God’s leading.”
Wilson drew a distinction between “radical” or “extreme” secularism—which seeks to exclude religion from the public sphere—and “secular governance,” which remains neutral toward religions and protects the religious freedom rights of minorities.
In a statement read to delegates, the country's president, Leonel Fernandez Reyna, offered "a most cordial welcome to the Dominican Republic, a land of freedom. The Dominican Republic is a place of freedom for Christians, Muslims, Jews and people of other faiths." [tedNEWS]
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