John Graz is director of the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department at the General Conference.

A number of Adventist elders and pastors will be surprised by such a question. For some the answer is: No! But for others, talking with and meeting leaders of other faiths and religions is part of their ministry. In this article, I would like to show you how meeting other religious leaders in your community is important for your church.

1. Why are religious leaders so important?

• They are community leaders.
• They influence people and civil authorities in the community.
• They are opinion and moral leaders.
• They speak regularly to a number of people who believe in them.
• They represent the religious world and are a source of information for the community leaders.

The local church has not been called to be an isolated island in the community, but to be light and salt. Its purpose is to build bridges with others and develop an efficient network of relations with officials. Most of us are aware that we must build relations with officials, but we neglect to develop relations with religious leaders from other faiths. This is a mistake. Religious leaders are part of the community. We cannot build an efficient network of relations by ignoring or neglecting religious authorities. It is important that they know us, not through rumors or prejudiced opinions, but through personal kindly contact.

2. Why are relationships with religious leaders important for us?
• We are a very small minority in most cities.
• We are often victims of prejudice because people don’t know us well.
• We need to protect our name and our institutions.

Our mission is to preach the good news, not only by words, but through our presence in the community. People will want to know if there is an advantage to having an Adventist Church in their city. It is almost impossible to accomplish our mission if we are unknown or marginalized.

3. What is the official position of the church regarding inter-religious relations? As elders, you must remember that you are part of a world church. There are three official statements which will guide you in this area:

Relationships with Other Christian Churches and Religious Organizations, General Conference Working Policy, O 100, paragraph 1, written in 1926.
Ecumenical Movement, June 1988.
How Adventists View Roman Catholicism, General Conference Administrative Committee, April 15, 1997.

What do we learn from these statements?

• We should avoid creating misunderstanding or friction.
• We should recognize the mission of other Christian churches.
• We should express a spirit of Christian courtesy toward other Christians.
• We should promote the principle of religious freedom.
• We should recognize the moral value of other churches.

4. Would Ellen G. White agree? Those who favor strict isolation will try to find support for their position in the writings of Ellen G White. But Mrs White did not isolate herself from others. She spoke in non-Adventist churches when she was invited. When she went to Switzerland, she preached in the little Adventist Church of Tramelaw in the morning and gave a lecture on temperance in the Baptist Church in the afternoon. She wrote, “Our ministers should seek to come near to the ministers of other denominations. Pray for and with these men, for whom Christ is interceding. A solemn responsibility is theirs. As Christ’s messengers, we should manifest a deep, earnest interest in these shepherds of the flock”—Testimonies, Vol. 6, p. 78.

The local pastor needs someone to represent him, someone who will consistently build bridges. This mission, which is the responsibility of the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Director, should be given to an elder. Among the board of elders, one should be responsible for external relations or inter-religious relations. A church without this function is like a government without a Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

5. What results can we expect?

• Our church will be more visible in the community.
• Our local leadership will have a better image.
• Our church will be less subject to prejudice.
• Our church will have a public voice in the community.
• Our church will appear more attractive.
• The community will better understand our beliefs and our testimony will become more relevant.

6. Be wise and do not provoke division. Meeting other religious leaders is an important part of our public ministry, but it can be a very sensitive issue. It must be done with wisdom. Most of our members will be proud to see your picture in the newspaper with the mayor or the governor. But a picture of you with the Bishop may create problems in some churches. Take time to explain, and don’t take the risk of dividing the church because too many members don’t understand. Of course, this ministry should not be avoided if only a small number disagree. In any case, you will likely have opposition. Remember that not all church members are called to this ministry, but those who are chosen must be well chosen. They will represent the church in the community. Remember Jesus’ admonition that we are to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Our ministry begins in our community through our local church.

John Graz, General Conference Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Director