A Deeper Understanding of PARL’s Mission and Functions
By Ganoune Diop, PhD, Director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
The biblical, theological and ecclesiological premise upon which the whole edifice of PARL work is grounded is the belief that for Seventh-day Adventists, God alone is our sufficiency. This is the radical reformation position of the Adventist Church. This focus on Christ gives us the freedom to mingle with all people while maintaining intact our identity, mission, and message.
For us Seventh-day Adventists, Jesus Christ is our sufficiency. When it comes to sacrifice, he is the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. When it comes to the prophetic word, Jesus is the Word of God incarnate. When it comes to the need for mediation, Jesus is the only mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim. 2:5). When it comes to cosmic governance, Jesus is also our sufficiency. He is the king of God’s kingdom. He is the One who will restore the Kingdom of God at His Second Coming.
The major emphasis of PARL work is to help cultivate a good reputation for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in every region of the world. This means being intentional about providing the church with more visibility to people of influence and decision makers, positioning the church to a standing a credibility, trust and relevance in the public space.
Our official constitution, our working policy, puts it as follows:
“Public Affairs and Religious Liberty is ... involved in government relations, interchurch contacts, and where indicated, networks with non-governmental organizations which have kindred goals in upholding religious freedom.” Working Policy, p. 374.
Relations with all entities active in the public arena, whether political or religious, are an integral part of PARL work. Our mandate is to connect with every public officer in every world church region. This means making contact with presidents, prime ministers, governors, government officials, politicians, decision-makers, justice ministers, lawmakers, religious leaders, community developers, mayors, and any other public official whose functions have a bearing on, or intersect with, the mandate, ministries or interests of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. PARL also works with the academic world, the human rights advocacy community, and with agencies that have like-minded goals or values.
At the beginning of our engagement with society, early Adventists were clear that they must engage the government of their day. In 1888, Adventist leaders opposed two bills introduced in the United States senate by Senator Henry W. Blair of New Hampshire. The first bill called for a promotion of Sunday, understood as the Lord’s Day, a day of rest. The second proposed a constitutional amendment requiring the nation’s public school to teach the “principles of the Christian religion.”
Seventh-day Adventist pioneers created an association called “The National Religious Liberty Association.” One of the leaders even testified to Congress in order to stop the Sunday law and the proposal to make America into a Christian nation. It was a religious liberty issue and early Seventh-day Adventists understood that engaging government officials is necessary.
Ellen White brought her prophetic insights to the issue. She told early Adventists they were not doing enough to reach people of influence, and this included both people of influence from the political world but also people of influence from the religious world.
“God has a work to be done which the workers have not yet fully comprehended. Ministers and worldly-wise men are to be tested by the light of the present truth. The third angel’s message is to be set forth before the learned ones of this world, judiciously, in its native dignity.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 4, p. 391.
Yet, this part of the mission of the church has been neglected and needs to come to the fore if a wholistic approach to reaching the whole world is to be integrated into our mission endeavor.
“It requires much wisdom to reach ministers and men of influence. But why should they be neglected as they have been by our people? These men are responsible to God just in proportion to the capital of talents entrusted to them. Should there not be a deeper study, and much more humble prayer for wisdom, that we may learn how to reach these classes?” Evangelism, 562.
“Much has been lost by our people by following such narrow plans that the higher classes were not reached. The appearance of the work has impressed the minds of unbelievers as being of very little worth—some stray offshoot of religious theory, entirely beneath their notice. Much has also been lost through lack of wise methods of labor.” Testimonies to Southern Africa, 3.
Ellen White also made clear appeals in the following terms:
“Every effort should be made to give dignity and character to the work. Special effort should be made to secure the good will of men in responsible positions; and this can be done, not by sacrificing any principle of truth or righteousness, but simply giving up our own way of approaching the people and following God’s way.” Evangelism, 17.
“The men in high positions of trust should be educated in the school of Christ. Do not shun these influential men.” Review and Herald, Aug 21, 1900.
How then should we be engaged in this vital work? Contrary to some misinformation, or “fake news,” the Seventh-day Adventist Church has no representative at any church anywhere: not at the Vatican or at any other church headquarters.
Representatives of the Adventist Church attend two significant interchurch meetings: The Conference of Secretaries of Christian World Communions (CSCWC) and the Global Christian Forum (GCF).
The CSCWC has existed since 1957 and Seventh-day Adventists have held the position of secretary of the CSCWC for more than 50 years. My two immediate predecessors each performed this function and in 2021, it will be seven years since I also assumed this role. The Conference of Secretaries of Christian World Communions is a unique gathering of leaders which meets once a year. During this yearly meeting, there is no voted action, no resolution to implement, no doctrinal discussion or alliances, no signatures given to any document. This is a space for multilateral engagements to dispel prejudice and for each communion to express its identity in its own terms.
When someone attending the CSCWC shares information about their church’s various initiatives, no other church is asked to endorse the content of their report. Rather, the CSCWC is a space to listen without having to approve any other church’s beliefs or plans of action. Seventh-day Adventists mingle with our distinctive identity, message and mission. This work is vital and is necessary to dispel prejudices and help overcome any negative perceptions of the Adventist Church’s identity and beliefs.
PARL introduces others to the wide portfolio of services offered by the Seventh-day Adventist church which aims to make the world a better place for millions of people through health, education, humanitarian assistance, human rights, and various ministries focused on women, youth, children, special needs and other services. (For tools and various materials regarding how to introduce the Seventh-day Adventist Church to others, consult our website: adventistliberty.org)
The Public Affairs department undertakes several additional functions besides positioning the church to greater prominence and relevance and helping others see that Seventh-day Adventists are blessings to the world. There is, for instance, the work of mediating for the rights of Seventh-day Adventists to freedom of conscience, so that they cannot be coerced to study, take exams or work on the Sabbath. PARL also mediates on behalf Seventh-day Adventists who have been falsely accused, persecuted or imprisoned.
In order, to fulfill the various aspects of its mandate, PARL has a representative in New York and Geneva: our liaison with the United Nations, Dr Nelu Burcea. PARL also has a representative to Washington, its various branches of government, the diplomatic community and the international organizations located in Washington: Ms. Bettina Krause. These networks with people of influence and international decision-makers, connects our church with the whole world and facilitates problem solving.
The work of PARL department, which was first established in 1909, is a blessing to the church and to the world in its ministry of reconciliation and peacemaking. In fact, the mission of the Adventist Church to reach the whole world cannot be fulfilled without this department. The same can be said of the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA), which is a religious liberty organization chartered by the church in 1889 to promote freedom of conscience for all. Seventh-day Adventists claim the right to religious liberty, the right to share our faith with everyone, everywhere. By the same token, this same right and prerogative to develop strategic plans to reach the world also exists for all other religious organizations. This is what religious liberty means. Respect of other human beings and organizations is paramount. We may disagree with other denominations, religions or philosophies of life on points of beliefs, but we recognize their right to form their opinions and to share them with others. Religious liberty implies tolerance without condescendence or contempt.
The freedom we promote, the one Christ gave us, aims at creating conditions for love to flourish. Ultimately, the Seventh-day Adventist Church champions love in the public space; for, as the Apostle Paul says, without this virtue nothing else matters (1 Corinthians 13).