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Baptist Leader at WEA Promotes Religious Freedom Worldwide

A Baptist leader from Lebanon is working to promote and protect religious freedom for all through his role at the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA).

Wissam al-Saliby joined WEA in January 2018 as one of the organization’s U.N. Geneva advocacy officers.

The Beirut native worked for Arab Baptist Theological Seminary (ABTS) in Lebanon from 2013 to 2017. Prior to that, he held positions with several organizations focused on human rights law and advocacy.

“Freedom comes first and foremost from God. And second, as Christians, we believe that all should have the freedom to access and hear God’s message and to decide to accept (or not) God’s love, grace and forgiveness – without pressure from the state or non-state actors in society such as the family,” al-Saliby told EthicsDaily.com via email.

WEA, whose origins date back to 1846, “seeks to strengthen local churches through national alliances, supporting and coordinating grassroots leadership and seeking practical ways of showing the unity of the body of Christ.”

Part of WEA’s work is defending the religious freedom of all people – as defined in Article 18 of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights – through its Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) and through its U.N. Liaison offices in Geneva and in New York.

The RLC focuses on “monitoring the religious liberty situation in more than 100 nations, defending persecuted Christians, informing the global Church, challenging the Church to pray and giving all possible assistance to those who are suffering.”

The WEA Geneva Liaison office complements the work of the RLC and seeks to promote and protect religious liberty worldwide through engagement at the U.N.

Al-Saliby is the first full-time WEA U.N. advocacy officer, joining a team consisting of Michael Mutzner, the WEA U.N. representative in Geneva (part-time), and advocacy officer Albert Hengelaar (part-time), who, in 2012 together with Mutzner, initiated the WEA U.N. engagement.

In this role, al-Saliby helps compile reports that are delivered to the U.N. on the status of religious freedom, mainly in the nations where the WEA has member alliances.

“Our Geneva office … engages with the various United Nations human rights mechanisms to relay the voices of our national evangelical alliances, and the voices of evangelical churches and organizations in countries where there are no alliances,” al-Saliby explained. “We are the only representative evangelical body in Geneva speaking into the U.N. system.”

The WEA has increased its U.N. reports in 2018, submitting 14 to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations (OHCHR) to date – up from five in 2017 and four in 2016. A full list of WEA’s U.N. religious freedom reports is available here.

Taking an ecumenical approach, WEA collaborates with a variety of groups in compiling its reports, including the Baptist World Alliance, Caritas Internationalis, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, The International Institute for Religious Freedom and the World Council of Churches.

“We need an evangelical voice for justice at the U.N. And we need to assert the reality that the evangelical church is mostly outside of the United States of America,” al-Saliby said. “Our values and motivation are deeply misunderstood, and I experience that whenever I’m at the U.N. Our presence and voice are challenging this stereotyping and are building bridges with the secular human rights organizations, U.N. bodies and mechanisms and with the diplomatic missions.”

Al-Saliby is a human rights expert with a master’s degree in international law from the University of Aix-en-Provence in France. He speaks Arabic, English and French.

During his time at ABTS, al-Saliby’s columns appeared regularly on EthicsDaily.com, and his “Profile in Goodwill” is available here.