Religious liberty is among the most basic of freedoms because it applies to the expression of a person’s relationship to God. The freedom of conscience lies beyond social conformity and civil obligation. The author of such freedom is God; therefore, it is embraced by the gospel of Jesus Christ. The reason we have a Religious Liberty Department is to spread the good news that the God of grace gives all men and women the freedom to believe and live according to their conscience. In collaboration with the Pacific Union Conference, this department serves the local churches and its members who face employment and other challenges because of their faith by persons who can assist with special needs. The department also works with North American Religious Liberty Association (NARLA), a member-driven organization devoted to the promotion of freedom of conscience and religion.
Highlights of the Last 5 Years
During the past five years, the customary services and programs have taken place: the award-winning Liberty magazine has been promoted and sent to thousands of thought leaders throughout North America. Those with Sabbath employment or career testing issues have received assistance, and with the talents and energies of those in NARLA, there were several symposia on freedom of conscience and human rights. Also with NARLA, La Sierra University and SIFE, Pacific Union and SECC, and the General Conference Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department and its director Dr. John Graz, 13 academy youth who wrote prize-winning essays on freedom of conscience went to Washington, D.C., for a pilot program called Freedom Classroom. Patterned after President’s Classroom, Freedom Classroom enables students to learn about the major issues of government and the Constitution as related to freedom of conscience. The students also visited some major sites in the nation’s capital.
There are several major areas of ministry in the Religious Liberty Department: Resources for ministry in the local congregation, training for pastors and local leaders, assistance for those who call with employment and other problems requiring specialized aid, and continuing education for pastors, leaders and youth about the freedom of conscience.
Resources for Religious Liberty Programming and Information
- A new manual for local religious liberty leaders is now available. This includes ideas for the ministry and a calendar of national celebrations appropriate for church education. A bibliography of helpful books provides continuing education for leaders and members.
- A video and DVD library of programs on religious liberty and church history that provide background of the freedoms enjoyed today. Some of these are for children and youth.
- A list of resource persons who may be available for special presentations.
Training and Continuing Education for Pastors and Church Leaders
- Several major training events have taken place in connection with the Pacific Union Conference Religious Liberty Department in area-wide programs.
- Training events in connection with general church officer meetings.
- Individual assistance to local church leaders.
- Conference director has attended several conventions and Religious Liberty Advisories, to keep current with legislative issues and other changes.
- An increase in the interest in freedom of conscience and human rights issues is noted by requests from churches and by youth in private discussions.
Goals for the Next 5 Years
- With NARLA and other previously mentioned entities, a major goal is to continue, on an annual basis, the Freedom Classroom program. It is imperative that the youth of the church are educated about the issues of freedom of conscience and human rights.
- Work with pastors and schools to engage more youth in local churches on religious freedom issues. Many youth are idealistic with interest in the world today. They must be encouraged, mentored and included in the ministry of the church.
- Continue to provide resources for local leaders and pastors and training to use them.
- Work with Bible teachers to include their ministry to youth in the area of freedom and human rights.
- Continue to assist those who need help with Sabbath employment and career testing issues.