While I was in my twenties, I was active in a church that had been shunned by many mainline churches as heretical. Because of my religious affiliation, I experienced, for the first time in my life, a degree of religious intolerance and persecution that caused real harm to me and my young family. As a result of this experience, I became an advocate for religious freedom.
After Congress passed the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 I entered seminary, began work as a research associate for a Washington D.C. based advocacy group, and lobbied government officials like the then Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Robert Seiple at the U.S. State Department Office of International Religious Freedom and members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
My research in seminary and graduate school contributed to the first five editions of the Annual International Religious Freedom Report to Congress. This was a formative period in my life, and shaped my path to professional religious leadership. As I discerned my call, the long-standing Unitarian Universalist commitment to religious freedom is what resonated with me most and drew me into this faith.
This year our global religious community remembers and celebrates our commitment to religious freedom. On January 13, 2018, one of the world’s first statements of religious tolerance will have its 450th anniversary. In 1568, in the city of Torda, in what is now Romania, a religious gathering presided over by Unitarian King John Sigismund proclaimed:
“In every place the preachers shall preach and explain the Gospel each according to his understanding of it, and if the congregations like it, well. If not, no one shall compel them for their souls would not be satisfied, but they shall be permitted to keep a preacher whose teaching they approve…no one shall be reviled for his religion by anyone… and it is not permitted that anyone should threaten anyone else by imprisonment… For faith is the gift of God…”
Unitarianism was officially recognized for the first time in the history of the world in the Edict of Torda. And, that proclamation is the beginning of our legacy to be a spiritual tradition that resists hatred, oppression, and the narrow view that there is only one way to be faithful, to be religious, to be free.
This month I invite you to join me in the “Torda450 Celebration” through worship and reflection. I encourage you to join me in a year-long theological dialogue that will connect our global religious community by online video conference. Each month the UUA International Office has scheduled a specific opportunity for engagement. The focus this month is study and exploration of the history, context, and current relevance of the Anniversary of the Edict of Torda. Join me and others across the globe for a live webinar on January 17, 2018 at 8 p.m. US-Eastern.
If you are looking for ways to deepen your involvement in our religious community this year, I hope you will join this webinar and the special Martin Luther King Sunday Service on January 14 with the “wordsmith” Willie D. Jones, followed by a Black Lives Matter Community Forum with Mr. Jones and Vanessa Green of Black Lives Matter. Together, we are sure to create a life that matters and realize the best of our living tradition.
See you on Sunday,
Chris J. Antal