Ambassador Brownback: “Religious freedom is the most important foreign relations topic today”

by Courtney Grogan

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Ambassador Sam Brownback speaks Feb. 6, 2018. Credit: Jonah McKeown/ CNA

In his first public appearance as US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback spoke to Muslim, Jewish, and Christians leaders gathered to discuss their shared commitment to promoting peace and protecting religious minorities in the Muslim world.

“I think religious freedom is the most important foreign relations topic today,” Brownback told the delegates at The Alliance of Virtue for the Common Good Conference in Washington, DC.

“The world needs reconciliation. It needs it between the Abrahamic faiths,” the ambassador  said.

The three-day event is hosted by the Middle East-based Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, and will culminate in the signing of a declaration on religious freedom the morning of Feb. 7.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of the Archdiocese of Washington is on the steering committee for the interfaith conference, along with Rabbi David Saperstein and other Muslim and Evangelical leaders.

The Washington Declaration will build upon the 2016 Marrakesh Declaration, which affirmed the rights of religious minorities in Muslim majority countries, by adding an additional call to respect Muslims living in the U.S.

 The Marrakesh Declaration was signed by hundreds of Muslim scholars and leaders from more than 60 countries, according to the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies.

“Forty years after the Helsinki Accords, the Muslim community developed an agreement on the freedom of religion and equal citizenship that was true to Islam’s history and teachings,” reflected the founder and president of the forum, Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, in his keynote address.

The Skaykh is a scholar of all four major Sunni schools of jurisprudence, and is known as an outspoken critic of terrorism.

Finland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Timo Soini, spoke of his experience as a Catholic minority in a Lutheran-majority country during remarks immediately following Brownback.

Soini, who has worked with Iraqi Christian refugees in Finland, told CNA “the Christian minorities are the most persecuted people at the moment. And that must be said aloud...this is something for us western and European people to be outspoken [about].”

Sister Agatha O. Chikelue of Nigeria was invited to speak at the conference about her peacebuilding work among Christians and Muslims. “I want to hear the experiences of others from different parts of the world on how they managed their conflict, how the improved their interreligious dialogue, so that I can bring this back home to Africa,” Sr. Agatha told CNA.

The Executive Director of the Cardinal Onaiyekan Foundation for Peace (COFP), works with refugees displaced by the Boko Haram. She has also created a network for Christian and Muslim women to work together to stand up against violence.

In her presentation to Muslim, Jewish, and Christian faith leaders, Chikelue said that the Marrakesh Declaration reminds her of the Second Vatican Council document Nostra Aetate, “which gave us the room to embrace people, to extend our hands in fellowship to other people from other religious communities, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists.”

Sister Agatha continued, “If we, the Catholics, have seen this 50 years ago, and the Muslims have seen it now, and understood the need for us to work together, then what stops us from doing that? So, it is only left to us to use this Marrakesh Declaration, use the Second Vatican Council, to build a platform for us to discover our commonalities.”

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