Seventh-day Adventist religious liberty leaders marked International Religious Freedom Day October 27 by asking church members around the world to remember those who suffer discrimination or persecution for their faith.
According to recent statistics from the Pew Research Institute, some two-thirds of the world’s population lives in countries where religious freedom is compromised either by laws or by social attitudes. Dr. Ganoune Diop, director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the Adventist world church, says these religious freedom challenges can take many different forms.
“For some church members, Sabbath-keeping in the workplace or at school is a continuing challenge that makes it difficult to find a job or advance professionally,” he said, citing recent cases reported from South Korea, India, and some African nations. “In other countries, there may be discrimination within the legal system, making religious minorities vulnerable to false accusations or injustice.”
Diop points to the case of Sajjad Masih Gill, an Adventist Church member currently serving a life sentence under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws. He was convicted in 2013 in a trial marked by irregularities and tainted evidence.
In the West African country of Togo, Adventist Church member Bruno Amah has been in prison since 2012 and is serving a life sentence for a murder conviction that has generated international concern and sparked worldwide prayer vigils and letter-writing campaigns. (Link to earlier coverage.) Adventist pastor Antonio Monteiro was arrested along with Amah, but was acquitted in 2014.
For other church members, says Diop, religiously motivated violence poses real dangers to individuals and their families. He points to recent news reports, such as one from Nigeria, which documents the flight of Christians, including Adventists, from ongoing religious conflict. According to one account, up to 40 Christians were killed and eight wounded when Muslim Fulani herdsmen attacked the town of Godogodo late afternoon on October 15 with guns and machetes. This is the second time in as many months that the town has been targeted; a similar attack in September had already caused many Christians to leave. Samuel Musa, a 60-year-old Adventist elder, spoke to a reporter before the second attack, saying that he was one of only four remaining church members out of a former congregation of 50.
Also this week, a news report from Pakistan describes the violent eviction of an Adventist pastor and his family from their home as part of a property dispute fueled by religious tensions. Christian Today reports that Pastor Michael Robert of the Adventist Church in Farooqabad, Sheikhupura District, sustained serious injuries along with his wife and members of his family when an armed mob entered his house.
“The plight of these church members is known,” says Diop. “Yet there are countless other men, women and children of many different faiths who suffer the consequences of religious intolerance.”
Other recent international religious freedom concerns include a Russian law enacted in July this year regulating missionary activity, as well as the continuing plight of members of Christian minorities in the Middle East, many of whom have fled discrimination and violence.
It is this complex global reality that will be the focus of scholars, experts and religious liberty advocates from around the world who will gather in August 2017 near Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, for the 8th World Congress for Religious Freedom. This event, organized by the church-supported International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA), will bring together some of the world’s foremost thinkers in the field of religious freedom.
According to Diop, who also serves as IRLA’s Secretary General, the focus of the Congress—Religious Freedom and the Hope for Peaceful Co-existence—is especially relevant. “Learning to share the public space with those with whom we disagree; learning to overcome humanity’s abysmal record of religious wars, religious ethnic cleansing, and genocide fuelled religious bigotry—these have become some of the most urgent challenges of our time.”
The IRLA’s 8th World Congress for Religious Freedom will be held August 22-24, 2017 at the beach-side Diplomat Resort and Spa by Hilton, in Hollywood, Florida. For more information visit www.irla.org.