What a powerful combination - Americans of many faiths joining
hands with their government and with partners worldwide to expose
and roll back religious persecution! That is an important "story
behind the story" of the US State Department's helpful and frank
"Report on US Policies to Eliminate Christian Persecution,"
released July 22.
Undergirding the report is the work of the State Department's
Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad. Its members include
mainline and evangelical Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic
Christians; Jews; Muslims; Mormons; and Baha'is. I am privileged to
be part of that committee.
Together, we are moving toward greater appreciation of each other's
commitment to religious freedom for all.
This is remarkable, given a history of sometimes bitter conflict on
the issue. Now, around a common table, we are looking at each other
with new eyes and acknowledging that each of us has a contribution
to make. We are learning the importance of listening more closely
to each other and of taking action together.
Putting 'together' into action
For me, that word "together" is key when we look at "next steps"
for people of faith and the United States government to take to end
religious persecution. Within the Advisory Committee on Religious
Freedom Abroad, accusations concerning blind spots and
insensitivities are giving way to acknowledgment that no single one
of us has the whole story on persecution.
US mainline, evangelical, and Roman Catholic bodies relate to
different segments of the Christian community around the world.
Other US faith communities have their global counterparts. Each of
us knows a part of the world's religious community, and each of us
knows a part of its story.
For example, the ecumenical councils, including the National
Council of Churches (NCC), historically have related to mainline
Protestants in China and the Soviet Union, along with Orthodox
Christian bodies. These include the 1,000-year-old Russian Orthodox
Church and the 1,700-year-old Armenian Apostolic Church. Our
unbroken ties through their darkest hours under oppressive regimes
gave encouragement to those brothers and sisters who preserved a
faithful Christian witness until the reopening of their societies.
These churches still need support as each day brings new challenges.
We are lending a hand to "registered" churches in the former USSR
as they reclaim and refurbish houses of worship and update their
Christian education materials for the first time in 80 years.
We rejoice with the "registered" (state-sanctioned) China Christian
Council as its membership grows - from 5 million adherents in 1980
to 11 million today. We support its efforts to meet the staggering
demand for more pastors, more Bibles, more hymnals. We talk with
each other about problems Chinese and Russian Christians still face. …