A conversation with pastor Rick Warren on the importance of religious freedom
The event was part of a series of discussions held by the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. RFP began in January 2011 with the goal of analyzing religious freedom, a basic human right that is unfortunately restricted in many parts of the world.
The team of scholars examines how religious freedom is related to other fundamental freedoms: its relation to democracy, its role in development, diplomacy, and the struggle against violent religious extremism.
“In these discussions in the Religious Freedom Project, we hope to facilitate provocative and probing conversations on religious freedom because we believe it is extremely important issue today,” said Thomas Farr, director of RFP.
According to Farr, there are two important factors that drive RFP to investigate the idea of religious freedom: first, that religious liberty is important, whether individuals are religious or not; and second, that religious freedom is in global crisis, as 75 percent of the world’s population live in regions where religious freedom is severely restricted.
In RFP’s view, humans are such spiritual beings that without religious freedom, it is impossible to live a truly human life.
With this in mind, Timothy Shah, associate director of RFP, asked Pastor Warren the first question of the afternoon: Why is the topic of religious freedom so important to him?
“Let me start off by saying that religion is far more than worship. If you are truly a religious person, your religion affects every area of your life: how you spend you time, how you run your business, how you spend your money, how you educate your children. You can’t leave your religion at the church or temple door. It has to be allowed in every area of your life,” Warren said.
According to him, religious restrictions are growing around the world, especially in European nations and even in the United States. Pastor Warren emphasizes that this is especially dangerous, since so many of our other rights are based upon the freedom to practice what we believe in.
“If I don’t have the freedom to believe what I want to believe, then freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press are all irrelevant,” Warren said. “And it is so important that we don’t let anyone tear these freedoms away.”
The next part of the conversation gravitated to Pastor Warren’s PEACE Plan, which is an acronym for “Plant churches that promote reconciliation. Equip servant leaders. Assist the poor. Care for the sick. Educate the next generation.” It is a hopeful response to what Pastor Warren recognizes as the five greatest problems of our world: spiritual emptiness, self-serving, leadership, poverty, disease, and illiteracy.
Pastor Warren has spent most of the past decade traveling overseas to small villages all over the world attesting the PEACE Plan.
“We’ve gone to every nation in the world, all 196 nations, to care for the sick, educate the poor and give them hope for the future,” Warren said.
Pastor Warren has spent considerable time implementing the PEACE Plan in Rwanda. He and his fellow pastors chose Rwanda as they were looking for a small country upon which their work could have a major impact and that could serve as a national model for the PEACE Plan.
“We took pastors in Rwanda into training and told them that they needed to sustain the ‘three-legged stool’ in order to stabilize their nation,” Warren said. “These three legs include the public sector, the private sector, and the faith sector.”
Governments bring the ability to set the national agenda and facilitate and fund public works projects and businesses bring forth expertise, technology, and capital, all of which are important to nation-building. However, the faith sector brings something entirely different and especially important.
“The Church brings universal distribution. It is the only true global organization that touches every people group and speaks every language. It is the only social structure that is present in every part of the world,” Warren said.
For this reason, Warren believes that religious freedom is extremely important. Without it, so many lives would be untouched by the philanthropy of religious organizations, the church, and other faith-based institutions.
“There has been a 10 percent reduction in poverty since the PEACE Plan has been in Rwanda,” Warren said. “This kind of progress can only happen if there is religious freedom to allow the Church to facilitate it.”
Photo: Miles Gavin Meng/Georgetown Voice