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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Seminary celebrates human rights achievements

When The Lutheran Seminary at Philadelphia celebrated the 50th anniversary of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10, participants recalled the legacy of O. Frederick Nolde, a major player on the world's diplomatic stage during the 1940s and1960s. Nolde, who died in 1972, was a professor at the seminary.

Nolde "clearly changed the world 50 years ago for the better," said John Nurser, an expert on the formation of human rights perspectives globally. "He wasn't black-suitedly mournful. He was ruddy with twinkling eyes, the kind of man who cheered you up to see him. ... In a matter of a few years, between his 42nd and 49th birthdays, he changed from being a man who scarcely left his corner of the world to making a powerful contribution to the Declaration of Human Rights ... a Magna Carta for all humankind."

William H. Lazareth, distinguished visiting professor for the seminary, said Nolde stood out on behalf of safeguards for religious liberties when for centuries many Protestant churches had been part of an "ethnically shameful quietism."

"God has called us to loving service in the world not through the love of power but through the power of love," Lazareth told participants. He urged them to not be preoccupied by denominational differences in exercising concern for human rights.

"We don't fight with our allies when we've got this kind of enemy to fight," he said.

Susanne Riveles, director of the Africa desk for Lutheran World Relief in New York, spoke of the challenges in making human rights universal. "We need a vision that is foreign to no one and native to all," she said.

Riveles emphasized a focus on women's rights: "Gender blindness has led to gross violations. As a result, women and girls have suffered disproportionately from malnutrition [in parts of the world]."


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