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Columbia Union Members Celebrate Religious Freedom at Annual Religious Liberty Dinner

Story by Melissa Reid
Photos by Ansel Oliver

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett; Dwayne Leslie, new associate director for the Adventist Church’s Department of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty and director of Legislative Affairs; and Bud Otis, Chief of Staff for Rep. Bartlett.

Local church members who work in government or government relations well represented the Columbia Union at the ninth annual Religious Liberty Dinner last month in Washington, D.C. Cosponsored by Liberty magazine, the North American Religious Liberty Association, the International Religious Liberty Association and the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the dinner is held to celebrate and bring attention to the principle of religious freedom, both in the United States and around the world.

The evening’s 200-plus guests included members of the diplomatic community; the U.S. State Department; three members of Congress—including Reps. Roscoe Bartlett and Sheila Jackson-Lee, both Seventh-day Adventists; Adventist Church president Ted N.C. Wilson and North American Division president Dan Jackson; non-governmental organizations; and religious leaders from a variety of faith communities.

During his welcome, Wilson reminded guests that religious liberty is part of the “DNA of the Adventist Church.” He reaffirmed the church's longstanding commitment to promote such freedom for all people, no matter their faith tradition.

During her keynote address, the Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook, President Barack Obama’s newly appointed religious freedom ambassador, emphasized the continued urgency of the protection of freedom of conscience. She noted that in the last two centuries, more people have died for their faith than the other 19 centuries combined.

“As Americans, without any apologies whatsoever, we must repeat the message [religious freedom] over and over and over again to the world ... [and] hold up international documents that establish this right,” suggested Cook.

First time attendee Orlan Johnson, partner at Saul Ewing LLP and chairman of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation, as well as a member of the Capitol Hill church in the D.C.; felt the dinner “was a tremendous opportunity to witness the Adventist Church’s religious liberty efforts in action.” He added, “It was a pleasure to see firsthand the work that is done by our church on behalf of all believers.”

Robert Jepson, Frederick (Md.) church member and vice president of Government Relations & Public Policy for Adventist HealthCare, was another Columbia Union attendee. “Few things, if any, are more precious than the right to worship as one chooses. The Religious Liberty Dinner was a sobering, important reminder that while some areas in the world have freedom of worship, people in other parts of the globe are murdered for honoring their God,” he said. “It was encouraging to witness the Seventh-day Adventist Church's leadership role in advancing freedom of worship throughout the world for individuals of all faiths.”

Liberty editor Lincoln Steed noted that the dinner has grown way beyond its founding purpose of bringing attention to the magazine’s 100th anniversary. “It is now a premier religious liberty event for the Washington political elite, diplomatic community, and various religious representatives,” he explained. “Our church has created something with invaluable outreach potential.”