The Southern Asia-Pacific Division (SSD) Public Affairs and Religious Liberty (PARL) Department, in collaboration with the Adventist Lawyers Association in the Philippines, organized the third Adventist Lawyers and Church Leaders Convention on January 12–15 at the Life Hope Impact Center1 in Silang, Cavite, Philippines. Adventist lawyers, law professionals, and law students gathered for three days under the theme "Summoned" to share compelling stories of religious liberty in their respective territories, plan various PARL initiatives, and organize various platforms to educate delegates on the importance of practicing religious liberty.
“We are all here because every one of us has been called for a reason and a purpose, and regardless of our profession, we all participate in the church-wide mission to proclaim Jesus' imminent return,” said Pastor Roger Caderma, president of the Southern Asia-Pacific Division. “Your presence here is encouraging, knowing that in legal practice, we have individuals who stand on the side of law and the side of God.”
Atty. Karnik Doukmetzian, general counsel for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland, honored the event and joined delegates in this crucial gathering. In his plenary address, Doukmetzian discussed the numerous legal difficulties affecting the global church and how these scenarios can be contextualized and referred to when encountering comparable cases in the delegate's particular field of work.
“This generation has witnessed a massive paradigm shift in our membership … While these changes are taking place in a world where our churches exist, we must remember that we are not above the law,” Doukmetzian said.
According to Doukmetzian, the church has faced various organizational challenges in prior years. These legal issues include discrimination advancements on social legislation and orientation, congregationalism, policy application, sexual abuse, disaster preparedness, religious liberty concerns, judicial challenges, and Adventist branding and identity. While these challenges persist in this generation, the church remains unwavering in its pursuit of ecclesiastical and legal means to remedy them.
On Sabbath morning (January 14), the assembled lawyers discussed how they had witnessed God at work in their lives and careers. Due to his reserved personality, Atty. Fritz Tagalugin didn't participate actively in any church activities or ministries during his formative teenage years. Tagalugin claimed that God inspired him to become more outspoken and actively involved in their church's mission activities by allowing him to pursue his chosen career path. He spoke as part of an evangelistic series organized by the Adventist Lawyers of the Philippine Association during the height of the pandemic. At that time, this online effort was a powerful method of evangelism since it allowed people to hear the message from the comfort of their own homes.
“No matter what career path we have chosen, the Lord has entrusted us with the important responsibility of spreading the gospel. We should take part and be used as God’s instrument in reaching out to individuals within our spheres of influence,” Tagalugin said.
Many invited visitors from the city government were given an overview of the many church programs that are helping to further the city's humanitarian goals. The PARL Department of the SSD is leading these efforts to establish a lasting relationship and interfaith dialogues to introduce the Adventist Church to the community and discuss the many ways in which it can collaborate with the state to improve governance and provide comprehensive social services.
Atty. Kevin Anarna, the current mayor of Silang, Cavite, was in attendance at this meeting of Adventist lawyers and gave a brief talk about how his upbringing in the Adventist faith influenced his career as a public servant.
At the conference's Sabbath service, Doukmetzian gave some insightful remarks about the delegates' careers as lawyers based on the story of Naaman. He encouraged the delegates to never underestimate what their little voice of faith could do. “The life story of an individual can be impacted by a life of few words,” Doukmetzian said. He added that while we share how the Lord worked in our lives, it is also crucial that “we place our confidence in Him who empowers us.”
1 The Life Hope Impact Center is a recently built center of influence within the Southern Asia-Pacific Division territory that also houses the offices of Adventist World Radio, Center for Digital Evangelism, General Conference Auditing Services, and SunPlus. This facility also has a large convention and meeting space.