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Prof: BWA plays key role ‘amidst a divided world’

WASHINGTON (BP)–Incidents of religious intolerance around the world are akin to a “tsunami wave,” Paul R. Dekar, professor of evangelism and missions at Memphis (Tenn.) Theological Seminary told the Baptist World Alliance’s Freedom and Justice Commission.

The “global scope of violations of religious freedom, as well as human rights generally, far exceeds the capacity of global institutions, including the BWA, to address them,” Dekar said during commission sessions held in conjunction with BWA General Council meetings July 2-7 in Prince Edward Island, Canada.

Dekar described the BWA as a frontline organization for Baptists in the fight for religious freedom. “I am struck afresh by the importance of the BWA as a mediating agency that receives information and advocates for Baptists amidst a divided world,” he said.

In a paper titled, “Religious Freedom around the World,” Dekar reminded commission members that the concern for religious freedom and its wide scope are theological and biblical.

“Our concern for religious freedom begins with the Bible,” Dekar said. He listed four crucial absolutes: 1) each human bears the image and likeness of God; 2) through Christ, believers participate in the divine nature; 3) in everything, believers are called to do to others as we would have them do to us; 4) God hates injustice and oppression, “and God weeps over what we humans are doing to each other,” Dekar said.

Baptists played a crucial part in the process by which absolutes of God became encoded in international human rights, he reminded, citing the Charter of the United Nations (1945), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1976) and others.

Dekar said all of these documents describe religious freedom as including the right to:

— choose one’s religious faith and change it without repercussion.

— develop religious structures for community building.

— believe without coercion.

— worship.

— practice one’s religious faith.

Dekar described situations around the world of ideological strife, such as the recently ended Cold War and continuing situations in China, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam and Yugoslavia (Serbia). He also described Christian-versus-Christian persecution in which minority religions are persecuted by majority religions around the world.

“Christians suffer not only in non-Christian regimes,” Dekar said, “but also in countries where Christians are a majority.”

Listing actions Baptists and other believers can take, Dekar especially called on Baptists around the world to report religious violations to the BWA. “When we learn of violations so compelling and so immediate they call for a response,” Dekar continued, “the first thing Baptists should do is to pray for both victim and victimizer.” Accurate information should be sent to the BWA so that it continues to be “a credible voice to ask for urgent action,” he said, noting that the BWA has made available to all member bodies a form for reporting human rights violations.

Dekar cautioned that when human rights abuses are reported Baptists should “do nothing to worsen the situation,” as well as “refrain from passing judgment on specific countries; we must be certain that those who allege that their rights have been violated have exhausted every possible remedy within their context.”

Dekar commended the BWA for its actions on behalf of religious freedom, including BWA delegation visits to countries, various resolutions adopted at General Council meetings and the BWA’s current Decade for Racial Justice emphasis.

Dekar quoted the words of the BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz when Lotz appealed to the government of Turkmenistan for freedom for Baptists and other evangelicals that “it is a responsibility for those living in freedom to protest and work for freedom of all in Jesus’ name.”

Dekar raised two sensitivity issues with which Baptists will have to grapple: humanitarian military intervention and the need for reconciliation.

In view of growing religious intolerance worldwide and that abuses are likely to increase, BWA members must be prepared to wrestle with such moral and ethical issues as how and when to protest atrocities when there is a risk that humanitarian relief workers and missionaries will be jeopardized.

He also noted that it is important for BWA representatives, the staff of member bodies and members of the BWA Human Rights Commission to receive training in the skills necessary to serve as human rights monitors and observers.

Dekar also cited the challenge of overcoming resistance on the part of many Baptists to taking any action that might be deemed political. “The schism between evangelism and social action is wide,” he acknowledged.

Concerning reconciliation, Dekar said that when government fails to acknowledge abuses brought to account by international pressure, then reconciliation must be a part of any healing process.

Using South Africa and its Truth and Reconciliation Commission as an example, Dekar said, “A stable society is not possible if yesterday’s tortures and executioners go about their lives as if they had committed no crime. In reconciliation, you must acknowledge what is done, and the victims, at their initiative, can offer forgiveness.”

Reconciliation is “not a quick fix but a long-term process that entails conflict resolution and relationship-building,” he said. “We are seeking to build cultures of peace not just fight racism.”

Dekar said it is more important than ever for Christians to obey the command of Jesus to love one’s neighbor because religion is a factor in destructive conflicts all over the world. “In practical terms it requires that we meet people on their own terms,” he said, “and love as Jesus would love, not by simply loving those likeminded faces, but everyone.”

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  • Wendy Ryan