Conference Reveals Diverse Christian Experience with Human Rights

Posted by Sean Flynt on 2004-11-16

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."

 

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ABOUT SAMFORD UNIVERSITY -- Samford University is a premier nationally ranked private university deeply rooted in its Christian mission. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th oldest institution of higher education in the United States. U.S. News & World Report ranks Samford 3rd among regional universities in the South. Samford enrolls 5,509 students from 45 states, the District of Columbia and 29 other countries in its 10 academic units: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy, and public health. Samford also fields 17 NCAA Division I teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference.