by Jeff Boyd
From a news release by the Trans-European Division, October 26, 2014
From September 9-11, 2014, religious leaders from Russia and Ukraine gathered in Oslo, Norway, for dialogue to agree on a common communiqué regarding the situation in eastern Ukraine. Given the different perspectives of the two delegations, that was not the most likely outcome. Adventist leaders played important roles in the interreligious dialogue.
The religious leaders present at the conference included Orthodox, Pentecostals, Adventists, Baptists, Methodists, Jews and Muslims. They all condemn “violence committed toward clergy and lay people, religious buildings and houses of prayer of any denomination.”
In the one-page long communiqué, the religious leaders support the efforts of the two countries and the “international community directed toward termination of the bloodshed and establishment of peace in Ukraine.” Further, the communiqué appeals “to all participants of the conflict not to allow, under any circumstances, actions that would lead to humiliation of human dignity, use of torture, kidnapping (including those for the sake of ransom) and looting.”
Religious freedom is another concern of the religious leaders for Ukraine and Russia. In the communiqué they state: “As religious leaders we want to pay special attention to this need to ensure the freedom of religion in the war zone.” Participants in the roundtable conference told of gross violations of human rights. Believers in Eastern Ukraine have been picked at random by rebel forces only to be killed and dismembered. During the conflict many houses of worship have been totally destroyed.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church was represented both in the Ukrainian and the Russian delegations. Pastor Victor Alekseyenko, president of the Ukrainian Union, was part of the Ukrainian delegation, while Pastor Vasilii Nichik, director of the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty department of the West Russian Union, represented the Adventist Church in the Russian delegation.
The 25 members of the Ukrainian delegation chose Pastor Alekseyenko as one of three persons to form a working group collaborating with four members of the Russian delegation to propose a final communiqué.
The Norwegian Bible Society hosted the conference, which was financed by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Bible Society had asked Pastor Tor Tjeransen to function as the moderator of the conference. Pastor Tjeransen is currently the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty director at the Norwegian Union and is a former board chairman of the Norwegian Bible Society.