BY KRISTINA MALAREK, a communication and international development major at Avondale College in Cooranbong, Australia, and DEBBY KNOTT, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty specialist at the General Conference
n a telling turn on a much-used phrase, former World Vision president Ambassador Robert Seiple today urged IRLA World Congress participants to promote “the separation of church and hate.”
“This has been an extraordinary year for our issue of religious freedom,” noted Seiple, former U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious liberty. “We’ve had a great deal of publicity.”
Seiple’s review of some of 2006’s most notorious instances of religiously-inspired intolerance and violence evoked nods of recognition among the crowd of 600 World Congress participants. Interspersing his news review with sharp commentary, Seiple described the Danish cartoon controversy (“a terrible abuse of freedom of the press”); the Abdul Rahman death penalty sentence in Afghanistan for converting from Islam to Christianity; conflicts between Shiite and Sunni death squads (“exacting a brutal and terrible price from each other”); the 34-day of war between Hezbollah and Israel in the summer of 2006 (“a senseless war fought among the people of Abraham, the people of the Book”); and Pope Benedict XVI’s inclusion of an obscure medieval text in a sermon that provoked a worldwide frenzy.
Seiple, who now serves as president of the Council for America’s Freedom, praised the World Congress for promoting respect among people in spite of great diversity, but also highlighted the need to promote greater knowledge of each other as well.
“It is the lack of knowledge of one another that translates directly into a lack of respect,” he urged. “If we don’t care to know one another, how can we ever respect one another?”
Congress participants were also challenged to go beyond mere toleration of differences. “Toleration is a wimpy word,” Seiple asserted. “Toleration is forbearance; it’s not equality. I don’t have to like you; I only have to tolerate you.”
If people of faith are to combat religious hatred, the ambassador reminded, they must promote more than freedom to believe. Believers must promote “the ministry of presence” – doing the hard work of being there, “close enough to touch, to understand, and to embrace the people who maybe yesterday were your enemies.”
Robert Seiple is a longstanding member of the IRLA Board of Experts and also previously served as the president for the Institute for Global Engagement.