Commission on Religious Freedom
The Commission on Religious Freedom supports the BWA and its member bodies in their advocacy for the protection of fundamental human rights for people of all faiths, especially for Baptists and other Christians who experience or face the threat of persecution.
Annual Gathering 2013
Commission chairs will be contacting their commissions shortly to begin planning for the upcoming Annual Gathering in Ocho Rios, Jamaica from July 1-6, 2012; focusing on the theme of In Step with the Spirit: Liberation.
Past Annual Gathering
The Commission on Religious Freedom met from July 2-6, 2012, in Santiago, Chile, where they featured sessions on Chilean Baptists and Religious Freedom; Minority Voices Report; and Religious Freedom through a Legal Lens. For those interested in the topic, that presentation is available at http://www.bwa-baptist-heritage.org/Pereira-Chile-Baptists-BWA-2012.pdf.
- The Freedom and Justice Roundtable was a new initiative that brought together all F&J Commissions to reflect together on a common theme: “Thomas Helwys and the Baptist Legacy of Religious Freedom for All.” The papers presented during that meeting can be found at http://www.bwa-baptist-heritage.org/chile.htm
- These are some suggestions coming out of those presentations, for Baptists in the 21st century: We must advocate for religious freedom around the world for all persons, not just for those who believe as we do. Second, as Baptists we should also fight for other human rights that evolve from similar biblical and theological tenets. Third, deeper understanding and greater acceptance of a multi-faith plural society in light of Helwys’ example encourage active engagement rather than a withdrawal to the margins, or any attempt to re-establish Christendom by force or law.
- Baptists need to reflect on the intersection between the historic Baptist tenet of religious liberty, also called “soul freedom,” and concerns for justice and peace. Among other things, we need to ask ourselves, “How we practice our liberty in a world whose disparity is escalating to unprecedented levels? Do our congregations possess enough soul freedom to stand up and name this as an abomination, an assault on human dignity? As one of the panelists affirmed, quoting Dietrich Bonheoffer, “freedom is not something you have for yourself, but something you have for others.” Participants were driven attention to the volatile situation of the Middle East, in General, and of Lebanon and Syria in particular, and asked to pray for our brothers and sisters living in such difficult times. The panelists also highlighted how, in many parts of the world, religious identity and political power have become inextricably linked, alerting also against the dangers of mutual misperception between different faith communities. “We do not bear true witness to Christ when we bear false witness against our neighbor, however different he or she may be, and however difficult the political and economic conditions in which we are living.” Finally, we learnt about the Baptist tenet of universal religious freedom, not just freedom for our own views. Our commitment to freedom must include those with whom we disagree.
A session focusing on the legal lens of liberty addressed the status of religious freedom in other Latin American countries. Minority voices reports were heard about the situation of Baptists and other religious minorities in Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. Both countries have received the visit of BWA delegations in the past few years to monitor situations of discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs and practices. In different ways, Baptists in these two countries are among the minorities suffering different forms of harassment because of their faith. The BWA has responded to these situations in a variety of ways. Later this year, reports on both countries will be submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council, as both Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan will undergo an UN-led review process in respect to their human rights status next year. Throughout the past year the BWA, including some members of this commission, mobilized the global Baptist family around the imprisonment of Iranian pastor Youcef Nardakhani and other leaders of religious minorities in that country. His release from prison last month brought relief to those working on that case. This Commission also drafted a resolution-proposal on religious freedom which was passed by the General Council.
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