VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 4/20/12)—Secretary of State Clinton’s Sub-Working Group on International Religious Freedom, Stability, and Democracy met at the American Baptist Churches USA (ABCUSA) mission center in Valley Forge, PA on Tuesday, April 17.
Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley, general secretary of ABCUSA, welcomed the group saying, ”We welcome you, and you are among friends and fellow advocates for religious liberty. The vast majority of Baptists treasure religious liberty – it is, as Baptists, one of our major contributions to human civilization. As a people, Baptists have always affirmed that faith cannot be compelled by any external force, faith that is not freely chosen and freely embraced is not faith.”
The working group was chaired by Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook, U.S. ambassador at large for International Religious Freedom, and Chris Seiple, Working Group Senior Advisor and president of the Institute for Global Engagement. Cook, an American Baptist minister, was nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate for the position of U.S. Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom.
The working group expressed interest in holding meetings outside of the Washington D.C. area, and group member Rev. Dr. Leo S. Thorne, associate general secretary of Mission Resource Development for ABCUSA, extended an invitation for the group to meet in Valley Forge.
American Baptists Rev. Saw Ler Htoo, pastor of Calvary Baptist Christian Fellowship in Washington DC, Rev. Florence Li, director of Asian Ministries at American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS), and Rev. Rothang Chhangte, ABHMS liaison for Burma refugees, addressed the issues for Burmese immigrants in other Southeast Asian countries. They urged the committee to consider the question, “how can we work on this issue, and work together to make changes for the immigrants?”
The committee chairs asked for other recommendations and issues of concern, which will be entered into a sub group report.
“We have a couple of practical recommendations right now, but I think it would be wise to look at specific additional recommendations,” said Seiple. “We need to establish a model for how it might be done across the agency, society, the world…We should develop robust toolkits for enabling governments, religious leaders and communities to engage in a dialog.”
The working group will continue meeting on various issues, and the co-chairs of the committee will take the recommendations to a future Federal Advisory Committee Act meeting.
American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with 5,500 local congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.