‘Baptist Voices’ religious liberty conference set for Tuesday

By Marilyn Stewart

NEW ORLEANS — At America’s “birthplace”—Independence Mall in Philadelphia—Pope Francis reminded the American people this weekend that religious liberty is a truth that must be “reaffirmed, re-appropriated, and defended.”

Baptist Voices: Left, Right and Center, Leavell Center, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 1 – 9 p.m. will address the meaning of religious liberty and the challenges it faces in the world today. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, opens the free event at 1 p.m.  

Religious liberty means more than the freedom to gather privately in worship, the Pope told the crowd in Philadelphia.  

Dr. Lloyd Harsch, director of the NOBTS Institute for Religious Liberty, agrees and said that a popular misunderstanding of religious liberty has taken root in today’s culture.

“The challenge I see today is a fundamental shift in what it means to actually have religious liberty,” Harsch said. “What we currently understand religious liberty to be is what has been called religious toleration in the past: we will tolerate you to have your freedom to believe what you wish behind the closed doors of your home and place of worship, but you give up your right to practice what you believe once you enter the public square or the business realm.”

Gregory Komendant, Kiev Theological Seminary, Ukraine and former leader of the All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian Baptists, is the 7 p.m. plenary speaker.

Other speakers representing varied perspectives include William Brackney, Acadia Divinity College, Canada; J. Brent Walker, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty; Suzii Paynter, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship; Dr. Mike Edens, NOBTS professor of theology and Islamic studies with two decades of experience living in the Middle East; and Kenneth McDowell, Union Baptist College and Theological Seminary, New Orleans.

The event is co-sponsored by the NOBTS Institute for Faith and the Public Square and the NOBTS Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry, endorsed by the Baptist History and Heritage Society. Donations for the event have made free admission possible, Harsch said.

Komendant is a timely choice for plenary speaker due to his experience of living under the former Soviet Union, a Communist state, Harsch said.

“We need to be reminded of the historic cost that was paid to secure religious liberty and not to give it away, and to educate those who do not understand its value,” Harsch said. “Religious liberty is not just for one group, but for all people: the atheist, the Muslim, the Christian, if any of these have their rights of conscience violated by government dictate, any of them become suspect.”  
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