29 November 2013

In Thanksgiving for Religious Liberty

As I sat and listened to people from around the world - government representatives, heads of NGOs, academics, and ordinary people who had been victims of incredibly painful persecution - share their experiences and concerns at the United Nation's 6th Forum on Minority Rights, I was reminded of how much I have to be thankful for. The topic of the Forum was Minority Religious Rights.

Amazing ceiling art which must be seen in person to appreciate
I am thankful for a Christian brother who lives as a minority faith in Egypt, who spoke with passion and resolve about overcoming torture in order to proclaim their faith.

I am thankful to hear the leader of one NGO say "We want to thank" their home country for the protection extended by their government which ensures that, even as a minority faith, their rights are ensured.

I am thankful to learn that though religious minorities face greater dangers during both peace and times of conflict than majority faiths, and that members of minority faiths are the most common victims of genocide, interfaith dialogue and embracing the "other" can help prevent these atrocities.

I am thankful that after fifty years of conflict in Cyprus religious leaders were brought together for the first time to build bridges of understanding and cooperation to nurture peace between a divided country.

I am thankful to see two Romani women in positions of leadership at the Forum - one as chairperson and the other as UN-appointed specialist for Minority Rights.

I am thankful for the role of women - from India to Israel, Nigeria to Mexico, Hungary to the Philippines - who serve as agents of positive change in promoting gender justice and the synergies which can be found as women work together across religious divisions.

I am thankful to hear the report from a group of Baptists who seek to build, through interfaith dialogue, greater cooperation with others with the goal of ensuring religious liberty for everyone in their country.

I am thankful for speeches, even when it is mostly rhetoric, which contain the seeds of hope for equal protection for religious minorities by a government whose track record in this area is less than stellar. 

I am thankful for organizations like the Baptist World Alliance, who address the religious liberty concerns on behalf of Baptists on the State level through visits, consultations, participating in events like this Forum, and hosting Human Rights Day emphasis.  (Religious Liberty is one, if not the first, right of basic Human Rights.)

Finally, I am thankful, that while a citizen of a country which ensures the religious liberty of all, to be able to participate at every level - locally, regionally, nationally, and globally - in advocacy for the religious liberty of all persons.