The Baptist World Alliance announced the launch of an annual Human Rights Award to supplement the Quinquennial Human Rights Award given at the BWA’s Congress every five years. The new addition, which was announced during the BWA’s Council meeting in Seoul, Korea, July 26-31, will allow the 48-millio-member alliance to recognize the works of those who continue to fight against human rights and religious rights violations.
During the annual Council, during which some 400 international BWA leaders gathered, several members spoke of the various violations of human rights in their respective nations.
John Kok of the Malaysia Baptist Convention mentioned that the Muslim-majority nation prohibits Christians from reaching out to Muslims.
“It is a big challenge to witness to many people,” said Kok, who added that churches are often persecuted when they apply for land to build their chapel.
However, Kok said the convention, which has some 16,000 members in 135 churches, is planning to double its membership in the next five years.
In Nepal, according to the General Secretary Yukta Man Gurung, Maoist rebels are demanding churches to provide manpower to fight against the government and the royal family. In this Buddhist-majority nation, full religious liberty is not granted.
Meanwhile, in Cambodia, the general secretary of the Cambodia Baptist Convention said there are 202 churches and more than 10,000 baptized believers even though persecution still persists.
Following the reports of the global Baptist leaders, the Alliance’s General Secretary Denton Lotz reminded the Baptist leaders that the BWA must continue to fight for the freedom of its brothers and sisters worldwide.
“It was the BWA that kept the light of liberty burning for our brothers and sisters during the darkest days of Soviet oppression." Now, Lotz said, with freedom, "in some places the totalitarianism of the state has been replaced by the totalitarianism of religions." The fall of the Berlin wall and of Communism did not bring peace and justice and human rights to Eastern Europe and the world. Indeed the "clash of civilizations," which is often a clash of religions, is a reality.”
Lotz mentioned the murder of a Baptist pastor in Tajikistan earlier this year and the slaughter of hundreds in Nigeria, Indonesia, India and the Middle East, and thus encourage the attendants to "to present a united front, to protest to governments and to challenge international organizations such as the UN to defend religious freedom and human rights."
The General Secretary also listed “impressive interventions for religious freedom and human rights” that the BWA spearheaded, including: permission to publish Bibles in Bangladesh, freedom to broadcast on the radio in Romania, defense of religious freedom in the former Soviet Republics, a strong participation in fighting the evil of apartheid, and working for racial reconciliation and opposition to all forms of ethnic conflict, and saving of individual pastors from incarceration or death.
However, Lotz said, that the Alliance must do much more.
“We must strengthen even more this ministry of the BWA," he said.
At that end, Lotz announced plans for the BWA to form a new Division of Freedom and Justice to help the Alliance “monitor and become more actively engaged with governments and international organizations in defending religious freedom and human rights for all people.”