Union Hosts First Religious Liberty Festival
Story and Photos By Beth Michaels
Pictured below: Walter Carson, a Columbia Union Conference vice president and general counsel (far right), poses with Sen. Roger P. Manno (center), following his acceptance of the Adrian T. Westney Religious Liberty Award. Also pictured are members of Westney’s family.
Approximately four dozen members from Columbia Union churches in the greater Baltimore and Washington, D.C., area gathered at the union office in Columbia, Md., October 20 for the Liberty Festival 2012. Sponsored by the union’s Office of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty (PARL), the program provided an overview of the role of religious freedom in the development of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and also provided an opportunity for the church to consider religious freedom from the perspective of other faiths.
“This is the first of what we hope will become an annual tradition in the union, to celebrate our first freedom, freedom of religion,” reports Walter Carson, union vice president and general counsel. “It was a banner day for us to invite guests to address religious freedom in this country, especially at this time as we face a national election.”
The event featured guest presenters from several Adventist institutions. Merlin Burt, PhD, director of the White Estate Branch Office at Andrews University (Mich.), presented the traditional Adventist interpretation of Revelation 13 and drew religious liberty implications from it. Doug Morgan, PhD, professor of history at Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park, Md., provided a historical account of the church’s first entry into the public arena to combat what appeared to be a serious legislative threat to Sabbath keepers. He referred to Ellen White’s suggested reasons for involvement in political issues, especially religious liberty, saying that mostly she felt it appropriate to vote when it would allow our freedoms “to flourish for a time.” More importantly, he added, her writings indicate that “liberty itself is integral to present truth.”
James Londis, PhD, chair of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences for Kettering College in Kettering, Ohio, offered the Sabbath homily titled “Where is Jesus?” He encouraged attendees to avoid getting sidetracked by the when of Jesus’ return. “When the disciples asked Jesus when He was coming back, Jesus told them, ‘You should be more worried about what you can do while I'm gone,’” he reported. He went on to add, “When Jesus is coming back is irrelevant. We need to concentrate on the work at hand.”
There were also two representatives from other denominational organizations who promote religious freedom: K. Hollyn Hollman, General Counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, and Rev. John W. Crossin, executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“I was particularly interested in Hollyn Hollman's presentation regarding recent relevant cases at the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Dwayne Leslie, director of Legislative Affairs for the General Conference and a member of Potomac Conference’s Restoration Praise Center in Lanham, Md. “It is very important for our members to understand where the upcoming battles on religious freedom will be fought.”
During the program, Carson took time to confer the first Adrian T. Westney Religious Liberty Award on Sen. Roger P. Manno, who supported a religious accommodation bill pending in the Maryland General Assembly that would have helped Adventists find religious accommodation in the workplace. Although the bill did not pass, Carson expressed his appreciation for Sen. Manno’s support. Touched by the recognition, Manno stated, “I didn’t know Dr. Westney, but I now know that he was a man of faith and a man who dedicated his life to love and to helping people [know] God, and I suppose that’s what we all should be doing more of in the world. So, it is a great honor, and I thank you so much for this.”
The award was given in memory of Adrian T. Westney, one of Carson’s predecessors at the union who spent many years, even into his retirement, to educate members on the importance of religious liberty issues. The award will be presented annually to persons in the Columbia Union who make special contributions to such freedoms.
Carson expressed appreciation for Westney’s leadership and advocacy for religious freedom and stated that it is fitting and proper for the union to remember his contributions to the cause. Westney’s widow and other family members were on hand to participate in the presentation.
Video and/or audio clips of the various presentations from the day will soon be published on Carson’s blog page of the union’s website, columbiaunion.org.