Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Seventh-day Adventist world church President Ted N. C. Wilson today
challenged believers to grasp the opportunities for open discourse that a
secular state preserves.
His comments came during a keynote address to the 7th World Congress
for Religious Freedom. The gathering has drawn hundreds of religious
liberty advocates, government officials, scholars and legal experts to
the Dominican Republic this week to examine the influence of secularism
on religious expression.
Although acknowledging the inevitable conflict between the values of
believers and that of secular culture, Wilson said, “We have to accept
this tension as part of a free society. We have to accept the challenges
and find appropriate responses, through God’s leading.”
Wilson drew a distinction between “radical” or “extreme”
secularism—which seeks to exclude religion from the public sphere—and
“secular governance,” which remains neutral toward religions and
protects the religious freedom rights of minorities.
“If intolerant and ideological secularism attacks our religious values,
we have to stand up for them with conviction,” he said. Wilson cited
examples of where secularism has been taken too far, including attempts
to prohibit Muslim girls from wearing headscarves to public school, or
to mandate the provision of abortions by institutions that reject the
practice as a matter of conscience.
“It’s taken too far when the mention of creation of the world is
totally forbidden in the public schools or when Christian agencies for
adoption of children are threatened to lose their legal recognition, if
they refuse to list as potential parents same sex couples,” he said.
However, Wilson also said that people of faith should reject the
temptation to see a “religious state” as an acceptable alternative to
secular governance. “If the state gives one religion a privileged legal
position, no equality is possible and life becomes a nightmare for those
who are different,” he said.
“Which type of society is it that condemns to death someone for
apostasy because they have changed religions?” he asked. “Is that a
secularized or religious society?”
Wilson said that Adventism’s strong heritage of religious freedom
activism and its support for state neutrality between religions has firm
biblical foundations, and that Adventists “feel very close to believers
who have stood for religious freedom during thousands of years of
restrictions and persecution.”
He said his life-long passion for promoting religious liberty has its
roots in memories of his father, Neal Wilson—a former world church
leader—who often spent hours with government officials explaining the
value of freedom of conscience.
“We need to instill in young people the love for preserving religious
liberty and freedom of conscience,” said Wilson. “Let us encourage them
to join in this vitally important pursuit of freedom of conscience for