Conference Reveals Diverse Christian Experience with Human Rights
by Sean Flynt
In the weeks after Nov. 2, 2004, many Americans, left, right and center, proclaimed the political ascendancy of the "values voter"--specifically, the politically conservative evangelical Christian. At the same time, the nation faced as many as 100,000 civilian casualties in Iraq, unchecked genocide in Africa and a prospective U.S. attorney general known primarily for his legal defense of torture, just to name a few of the ethical dilemmas then prominent in news headlines.
By coincidence, as the national spotlight focused on these issues as well as the intersection of faith and politics, Baptist-affiliated Samford University hosted an international conference on Christianity and Human Rights. The mid-November conference, made possible by a grant from the Lilly Fellows Program of the Lilly Foundation, explored the ways Christians have or have not matched their political actions to their professed beliefs.
Over four days, an international array of scholars attended three plenary addresses and more than 60 other presentations on topics ranging from the specific to the general. Much of the content challenged popular assumptions about the way Christians meet a world in which personal freedom is the exception rather than the norm. Those who suspect that Christians are so focused on heaven that they overlook hell on Earth had to contend with "just war" theology and Christian efforts to create economic justice, end sex slavery and stop African genocide. Those who believe in a uniformly benevolent Christian political activism were reminded of prominent Christian leaders who have aligned themselves with murderous dictators. In short, the conference portrayed the complex and thus oft-ignored diversity of Christian experience with human rights issues.
Samford English professor and conference co-organizer Chris Metress said Samford intends to publish online all of the conference presentations and include many of them in a printed collection. Those publishing projects reflect what Metress suggested might be the lasting value of the conference; not only the specific ideas presented but the very act of exchanging ideas. "The real highlights," he said, "are the connections that people make--the connections that lead to better scholarship and the spreading of resources."