As reverberations of uncertainty echo worldwide, interest in the role that religious liberty should play in society’s well-being is mounting. From July 21 to 24, 2021, the Caribbean Union hosted a virtual Congress, under the theme “Grieving, Gullible, Yet Gracious – Ring the Bell”, to boost the pulse of religious liberty throughout its fields. Representatives from the North Caribbean Conference (NCC) joined their counterparts for an empowering slate of presentations.
The virtual conference drew speakers from across the Caribbean Union who made resolute calls to build bridges of understanding and strengthen networks, as methods to combat religious intolerance and advocate freedom of conscience and belief.
“The relevance of groups like the Caribbean Union Conference Religious Liberty Organization, in providing intervention, has to be like an oasis in the desert,” said Dr. Kern Tobias, President of the Caribbean Union, who “declared the Congress officially open” and presented the first devotional. He added, “We must ensure that the vulnerable receive due care and attention. There is the need to rise up and care for those who are hurting, who have lost loved ones and are at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.”
The President of the Caribbean Union Conference Religious Liberty Association, Attorney Leslyn Charles of Guyana, delivered the keynote address. She encouraged attendees to “ring the bell” with grace and emphasized the vital role of bridge builders for religious freedom. Attorney Charles said, “The freedom Christ died for was the freedom to choose. We are freed to promote religious liberty for all. As hard as that might be for us as Christians, that includes the freedom to reject Christ and to live as unbelievers. Let us not be gullible about the controversial social issues we face. We are called to free others and preach the everlasting gospel to all.”
Religious liberty has been thrust into the limelight at a time when the entire world is threatened by conspiracy theories and fake news. Perhaps, there is no better time for the Church to raise its voice for religious liberty. Since 1893, only 30 years after its inception, the Seventh-day Adventist Church began defending this right by creating the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA). The IRLA is the oldest entity in the world, in defense of religious liberty for everyone. Communities and individuals fight, 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.
“We must become peace-makers, peace-builders and reconciliatory,” said Dr. Ganoune Diop, the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Director at the General Conference. He continued, “We are called to restore the primacy of the love of God. This restoration or mingling is not a fusion with their beliefs. Religious liberty allows the dignity of difference. Freedom matters.” He emphasized 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.
Dr. Diop also pointed out that denying anyone, or an institution, liberty, denies humanity. And he detailed the way that 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. We carefully choose when and how to do it,” Dr. Diop concluded.
The NCC President and Religious Liberty Director, Pastor Desmond James, observed, “The development of cross-cultural understanding and respect for all people is what we are about. We are seeking to demonstrate cultural sensitivity in all our interactions in the public space.”
The PARL Director of the Caribbean Union, Dr. Clive Dottin, shared, “On one hand, religious liberty is praised as a fundamental freedom. We still live through a time of quintessential injustice. While 70% of the world enjoys religious liberty, there are still billions who don’t enjoy that right. They live through pain and sorrow, torture and depression. Let us continue to “ring the bell” with respect, graciousness and unconditional love. We must be willing to become vulnerable so we will defend religious freedom for all.”
Congress attendees agreed that although this is an unprecedented and complex age, the religious liberty conversation is still relevant.