By Shane McNary
“What does that have to do with what goes on here?” That question was posed to Shane as he talked with a Slovak pastor about his involvement with international advocacy. As you recall, Shane has been asked to serve as a representative of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Baptist World Alliance at certain meetings concerning Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland. The pastor asked an excellent question.
What, indeed, does attendance at international gatherings have to do with local ministry? Better yet, how does involvement at the international level on questions of justice and religious freedom connect with the local church?
At the 6th Forum on Religious Minority Rights in November, the international community gathered to seek out best practices and to hear about cases of concern about the situation of religious minorities.
The most common concern expressed was how blasphemy laws were employed in different countries to deny the religious rights of minority faiths. Repeatedly there were questions of how to implement international commitments to protect religious liberty on the national and local levels. When speaking with the representative of one country where Baptists endure continued persecution including confiscation of property, fines for holding unregistered religious meetings and harassment by local officials, Shane reminded him of how promises made at international meetings are without meaning unless they are accompanied by implementation at the local level. Here is where the local church comes in.
Advocating at the national and local level to ensure that religious liberty and just laws are equally applied to every person is something which must be done locally in a concerted way with international efforts. In a testimony during one of the sessions, the speaker commented on how the most effective way of bringing change to a situation is to “find the synergies” in the common interests of different people in order to bring about the desired transformation.
Working together with people who have similar concerns locally helps strengthen the work of national and international bodies. One woman from the Philippines who is a member of a religious minority group made a comment which is a good reminder of the connection which exists between local, national and international advocacy. She stated, “If there is no equality in the family, there will not be equality in the society.”
When Shane answered the Pastor’s question, he pointed to a meeting which was held in Kosice the previous week. The goal of the meeting was to gather feedback on a proposed anti-racism law and ethnic minorities. The reason Shane attended is that the previous week at a UN meeting in Geneva, the international community had met and discussed Slovakia’s human rights record and made specific recommendations. Several of the recommendations related to the very anti-racism law being discussed locally and represented the clearest opportunity for local ethnic minorities to have a voice in the laws being written.