To understand the PARL department's philosophy and approach, it's helpful to look at the documents that provide the "blueprint" for PARL's mission.
The Church Manual gives a brief overview of the work of PARL, while the General Conference Working Policy gives a longer, more comprehensive description. The Working Policy also gives guidance on PARL's work in developing relationships with other religious groups.
PARL and the Church Manual
Excerpt from General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Church Manual, 18th Edition (Hagerstown: Review and Herald, 2010) pages 92-93.
The public affairs and religious liberty (PARL) department promotes and maintains religious liberty, with particular emphasis upon liberty of con- science. Religious liberty includes the human right to have or adopt the religion of one’s choice, to change religious belief according to conscience, to manifest one’s religion individually or in community with fellow believers, in worship, observance, practice, witness, and teaching, subject to respect for the equivalent rights of others.
Religious Liberty Leader—The elected religious liberty leader cooperates with both the pastor and the conference or union PARL department. The leader should be of positive spiritual influence, able to meet the general public, interested in public affairs, proficient as a correspondent, and concerned with the preservation of liberty for God’s people.
Religious Liberty Associations—Each church is considered an informal religious liberty association, and every church member is considered a member of the association. The pastor or an elder is the chairperson.
PARL and the General Conference Working Policy
Excerpt from the General Conference Working Policy (2014-2015) pages 353-355
FL 05 Philosophy
The use of force and coercion is inimical to authentic religion. God accepts homage and worship only when they are freely given. While all human rights are of great importance, religious liberty is unique and of special significance. It deals not only with the inter-human dimension, but with a person's relationship with God, the Creator. Seventh-day Adventists therefore view religious liberty as the primordial human right that undergirds all human rights.
Separation of church and state offers the best safeguard for religious liberty and is in harmony with Jesus' statement, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's" (Matt 22:21). The Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department encourages, where feasible, such separation. The Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department also believes that the union of church and state is a sure formula for discrimination and intolerance and offers a fertile soil for the spread of persecution.
In view of its divinely ordained role, civil government is entitled to respectful and willing obedience, to the extent that civil laws and regulations are not in conflict with God's requirements, for it is necessary "to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).
FL 05 05 Religious Liberty
- Religious liberty includes the fundamental human right to have, adopt, or change one's religion or religious belief according to conscience and to manifest and practice one's religion individually or in fellowship with other believers, in prayer, devotions, witness, and teaching, including the observance of a weekly day of rest and worship in harmony with the precepts of one's religion, subject to respect for the equivalent rights of others.
- Religious liberty also includes the right to publish literature, operate church schools at all levels, as well as other institutions, ecclesiastic control of doctrine, polity and appointment of ministers and church officials, without outside interference, and the right to have regular international contacts and interrelationships with coreligionist and church organizations in all parts of the world.
FL 10 Purpose
The Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department, one of the original core departments of the Church, was established to promote and maintain religious liberty, with particular emphasis upon individual liberty of conscience. In so doing, the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department is involved in government relations, inter-church contacts and, where indicated, networks with non-governmental organizations which have kindred goals in upholding religious freedom. The department not only works for the religious liberties of both individual church members and organized entities of the Church, but also supports the rightful religious liberties of all people.
In view of the Seventh-day Adventist understanding of the "great controversy" and the climactic events of human history involving union of church and state, eliminating the free exercise of religion, and resulting in persecution of the faithful remnant, the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department monitors and seeks to interpret prudently current trends that may reflect the prophetic scenario.
FL 15 Departmental Responsibilities
- The General Conference Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department is responsible for developing global religious liberty strategies and programs for the Church, in harmony with FL 05 and FL 10. This program will include appropriate strategic contacts and relationships with various governments, the United Nations, especially the Economic and Social Council and the Human Rights Commission, and the United States Congress and State Department.
- In addition to supporting the publishing of Fides et Libertas, the journal of the International Religious Liberty Association, the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department directly supports the North American Division, financially and otherwise, in publishing Liberty, A Magazine of Religious Freedom, for which the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department director serves as a consulting editor.
- The General Conference Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department supports the various divisions in the promotion of the annual Religious Liberty Sabbath and special offerings for religious liberty ministry.
- The Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department director serves as secretary of the General Conference Public Affairs and Religious Liberty World Affairs Committee, the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Committee—General Conference/North American Division, and the Protocol Committee.
FL 20 International Religious Liberty Association
The Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department carries on a number of functions in cooperation with the International Religious Liberty Association. Founded in 1888 by Seventh-day Adventists and reorganized in 1946, the International Religious Liberty Association has enlarged its sphere of support and activity by including on both its Board of Directors and Board of Experts, religious liberty advocates from different faith communities. The director of the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department serves as Secretary General of the International Religious Liberty Association. One of the main activities of the association is the conducting of international and regional religious liberty congresses, conferences, and seminars.
The Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department gives support to the International Religious Liberty Association in publishing the journal Fides et Libertas and a newsletter, IRLÁ Information. The Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department develops, jointly with the various English-speaking divisions, policies for the financial support and circulation of this English language religious liberty journal.
FL 25 Religious Liberty Litigation
In various countries it may become necessary from time to time to take legal action in defense of the religious liberty rights of church organizations or individuals, including the right of Sabbath observance. However, before resorting to the courts, every effort should be made to settle matters equitably in support of free exercise of religion. Prudence should always prevail when it appears advisable to seek rights or redress through the judicial system, not the least because of the heavy costs that can be incurred and the possible far-reaching consequences of court decisions.
Each division shall establish procedures governing religious liberty litigation.
PARL and relationships with other religions
Excerpted from General Conference Working Policy, Policy No. 075
To avoid creating misunderstanding or friction in our relationships with other Christian churches and religious organizations, the following guidelines have been set forth:
- We recognize those agencies that lift up Christ before men as a part of the divine plan for evangelization of the world, and we hold in high esteem Christian men and women in other communions who are engaged in winning souls to Christ.
- When interdivision work brings us in contact with other Christian societies and religious bodies, the spirit of Christian courtesy, frankness, and fairness shall prevail at all times.
- We recognize that true religion is based on conscience and conviction. It is therefore to be our constant purpose that no selfish interest or temporal advantage shall draw any person to our communion and that no tie shall hold any member save the belief and conviction that in this way the true connection with Christ is found. If a change of conviction leads a member of our church to feel no longer in harmony with Seventh-day Adventist faith and practice, we recognize not only the right but also the responsibility of that member to change, without opprobrium, religious affiliation in accord with belief. We expect other religious bodies to respond in the same spirit of religious liberty.
- Before admitting to church membership members of other religious organizations, care shall be exercised to ascertain that the candidates are moved to change their religious affiliation by religious conviction and out of regard to their personal relationship with God.
- A person under censure of another religious organization for clearly established fault in Christian morals or character shall not be considered eligible for membership in the Seventh-day Adventist Church until there is evidence of repentance and reformation.
- The Seventh-day Adventist Church is unable to confine its mission to restricted geographical areas because of its understanding of the gospel commission's mandate. In the providence of God and the historical development of His work for men, denominational bodies and religious movements have arisen from time to time to give special emphasis to different phases of gospel truth. In the origin and rise of the Seventh-day Adventist people, the burden was laid upon us to emphasize the gospel of Christ's second coming as an imminent event, calling for the proclamation of Biblical truths in the setting of the special message of preparation as described in Bible prophecy, particularly in Revelation 14:6-14. This message commissions the preaching of the "everlasting gospel to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people" bringing it to the attention of all peoples everywhere. Any restriction which limits witness to specified geographical areas therefore becomes an abridgment of the gospel commission. The Seventh-day Adventist Church also acknowledges the rights of other religious persuasions to operate without geographic restrictions.