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Audrey Andersson, secretary of the Trans-European Division, leads a panel discussin atht a religious liberty festival in West Bromwich, England.
August 26, 2014 | West Bromwich, England | Victor Hulbert, John Surridge, Dan Serb and ANN staff
The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Britain held its first religious liberty festival, in which Church leaders offered an overview of religious freedom developments and urged Church members to continue defending rights for people of all faiths and beliefs.
More than 2,000 people attended the “Free to Worship” festival on Saturday, August 16, the second of a two-day event at the Bethel Convention Centre in West Bromwich.
Keynote speaker U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry Black emphasized that religious worship must lead to action. “Worship is what happens during the church service, while it should be seen as commencing when the service ends,” Black said.
Black referred to Matthew 25 and Luke 4:18-19, saying each “confers upon the worshipper the liberty to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and minister to the marginalized.” Black continued, saying, “True worship also grants us the liberty and courage to be prompt in publically voicing concern and offering solutions to social ills which threaten human dignity.”
On opening day, Ian Sweeney, president of the Adventist Church’s British Union Conference, welcomed guests, including Members of Parliament, John Speller and David Jamison, Councillor Yvonne Mosquito, and representatives from other religious faiths. Sandwell Mayor Derek Rowley also attended the festival.
The event was a blend of music, worship, prayer and learning.
John Graz, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty director for the Adventist world church, delivered a report on the state of religious freedom in the world underlining the new challenges and the recent events in Iraq. He emphasized that Adventists should defend freedom of conscience for people of all faiths, as well as people with no faith.
“If we don’t promote and protect religious liberty we will lose it,” Graz told the audience. “The most difficult place to promote it is in countries where we have it. But people should remember that a lot of sacrifices have been made to arrive at where we are today.”
Ganoune Diop, who serves as the Adventist Church’s United Nations liaison, said the most important value in every society is human dignity. “It is the foundation of human rights…. Human dignity is the foundations of all other values in society, whether freedom justice or peace.” Diop said the Adventist view of creation is key. “The fact that we are made in God’s image is the foundation of human dignity itself,” he said. “We can only understand who people are in the light of who God is.”
Dwayne Leslie, an attorney, represents the Adventist Church to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. “We must have relationships to influence people,” he said. “We need to go to our political leaders before we are in trouble.”
Delbert Baker, a vice president of the Adventist world church told the story of Pastor Antonio Monteiro, who was falsely imprisoned for nearly two years in Lomé, Togo before being released in January. Though Monteiro has been released, Baker noted there were other cases still outstanding with much work to be done.
Graz, Diop, Leslie and Baker also participated in a panel discussion led by Audrey Andersson, executive secretary of the Adventist Church’s Trans-European Division.
The day closed with a corporate commitment and desire from attendees to “Thank God for religious freedom, thank the UK for religious freedom,” and to work to maintain such freedoms both locally and wherever members have a sphere of influence.