Faith-based communities and religious institutions can be voices of reason and compassion against escalating conflict that leads to mass atrocities. Or they can be equally culpable by creating a victim mentality and inflaming public opinion, human-rights defenders, including a moderate Baptist leader, agreed at a recent conference.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour co-chaired a Sept. 6-7 meeting on “Faith and Freedom: Protecting Human Rights as Common Cause.”

The Carter Center in Atlanta sponsors an annual workshop on human rights. But this is the first year it has concentrated on organizing faith communities to be part of the movement.

Karin Ryan, the director of the center’s Human Rights Program, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the emphasis makes sense. People of faith, she said, have often led movements for justice, equality and rights. Faith organizations don’t have to be created. They exist in every country and already network to share information and motivate people to action.

Recommendations at the end of the conference included calling on religious leaders to “have a moderating influence on their own faith communities in areas of conflict.”

Speakers included Jimmy Allen, along with Carter, a planner of a New Baptist Covenant Celebration early next year in Atlanta.

Allen, a past Southern Baptist Convention president and executive, said forces like globalization and fundamentalism have shifted concern for human rights from the denominational level to the local church. Allen said the Jan. 30-Feb. 1 gathering at the Georgia World Congress Center is part of a new faith movement to “take back the microphone” from the Religious Right.

Another speaker, Palestinian pastor Mitri Raheb, senior pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, told the Christian Post he hopes to reach out for support among Baptists in the United States, often identified with the Christian Zionist position of the Religious Right.

“When people look at Palestine, often they have the feeling there is a double standard when it comes to human rights, because the rights of the Palestinians are less than the rights of Israeli people,” Raheb said at a debriefing from the human-rights gathering in Washington.

Raheb was guest preacher Sept. 9 at Northside Baptist Church in Atlanta. The Christian Post linked Raheb’s interest in reaching out to moderate U.S. Baptists to Carter’s involvement in the New Baptist Covenant and controversy over his recent book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.

Allen, the last moderate SBC president before the “conservative resurgence” in 1979 and retired president of the SBC Radio & Television Commission, told he met Raheb for the first time at the CarterCenter conference on human rights. He said the Palestinian activist isn’t formally connected to the New Baptist Covenant Celebration, which features only Baptists.

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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