Faiths Join to End Persecution - Reversing the 'Ism' Schism Member of US Advisory Group Explains New Religious Cooperation

Article excerpt

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. …


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