The topic of religious liberty frequently emerged as a top concern during last week’s annual gathering of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) in Vancouver, Canada.
As more than 300 Baptists from more than 50 nations met, they considered the importance of religious liberty in the context of multiple countries.
One of three resolutions passed at the meeting addressed “violations of religious freedom in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region.”
The resolution notes that “people of faith and houses of worship have been intentionally targeted,” including attacks on churches and mosques.
In the resolution, the BWA expresses solidarity with Baptists “and other Christian believers and people of goodwill” in the region.
The resolution also praises Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim. With the resolution, the BWA “urges all Baptists … to actively work to build a context of justice, human rights, rule of law and religious freedom for all people.”
During other parts of the annual gathering, reports brought attention to religious liberty issues in central Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
Presentations highlighted the work Baptists have undertaken in various countries to advocate for religious liberty for all.
Christer Daelander, who serves as the religious freedom representative for the European Baptist Federation, talked about religious persecution in central Asia.
He particularly focused his thoughts on a recent visit to Baptists in Tajikistan, but also discussed religious liberty concerns in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Tajikistan is 98 percent Muslim. There are fewer than 1,000 Baptists in just over 50 churches.
Daelander noted various restrictions on Christian witness in various central Asian countries, including some countries where churches must register with the government, where religious gatherings cannot be held outside of a church building, where children cannot receive religious education, where pastors and lay leaders are sometimes imprisoned (including on false charges), or where one can face persecution for owning a Bible.
He recounted one trip to Baptists in the region, noting the Baptists there “were so encouraged they had a worldwide family behind them.”
Thus, Daelander urged Baptists to visit those in countries where religious freedoms are restricted and help train Baptists how to advocate for their rights.
“This will give them courage to stand up,” he said. “We can stand side by side with those who are persecuted.”
Christoph Stiba, secretary general of the Union of Evangelical Free Churches in Germany, talked about religious liberty issues emerging in his country with the dramatic influx of refugees from Syria and Iraq.
He noted Germany has accepted more than 98 percent of the Syrians seeking asylum there and 83 percent of Iraqis.
He said that as a result of the Syrian civil war, “Christians became the target of bloody attacks.”
While Syria’s Christian population previously numbered 10 percent of the country, he said many have since fled. Yet, more Syrian refugees are Muslims.
The BWA passed a resolution during the meeting on “ministry to refugees” that urged Baptists to minister and witness to refugees.
Stiba explained that as Muslims and Christians seek asylum in Germany, they are housed together for several months during the temporary processing. This arrangement “leads to conflict.”
“In Syria, Muslims and Christians lived in separate neighborhoods and villages,” he explained. “In German refugee housing, they have to share sleeping quarters and sanitary facilities, eat together and live.”
Conflicts can particularly arise when refugees convert from Islam to Christianity, angering other Muslim refugees.
In addition to the conflicts that may emerge among refugees, Striba noted “xenophobic hoodlums” have attacked refugees – including Christian refugees – “in the name of protecting the ‘Christian West.'”
Another area of religious tension comes as some Christian refugees expect to receive “preferential treatment” in Germany, which they view as a Christian nation.
He noted, however, Germany is “basically a secular society” and stressed the importance of not providing religious-based privileges.
“What we Christians ask for ourselves and for Christian refugees we must ask on behalf of those of other religions,” he said. “This is difficult for many Christians and Christian refugees to understand. But at the end of the day, religious freedom for Christians depends on religious freedom for all.”
Editor’s note: An EthicsDaily.com video interview with Olu Menjay of Liberia discussing religious liberty can be viewed here. Pictures from the 2016 BWA annual gathering are available on EthicsDaily.com’s Facebook page and Pinterest page.
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.