I’ve traveled to the Republic of Georgia more times than I can count since 2004. Rusudan Gotsiridze has become one of my closest friends and colleagues. When I brought the two volumes of Interfaith Heroes she asked if she could produce a Georgian version. Read The Spirit quickly agreed. The Georgian editors selected stories from the two volumes, wrote four new chapters, and had me do an introduction on the Georgian interfaith context. It was all in the Georgian language with its unique alphabet. The Georgians have distributed more copies of Interfaith Heroes than we have here in the U.S.! We’d love to see other countries and language groups produce their own version of Interfaith Heroes. Contact us if you are interested in such a project—we are!
IN THE NEWS (Updated March 2014)
RUSUDAN GOTSIRIDZE RECEIVES
U.S. INTERNATIONAL WOMEN OF COURAGE AWARD
The U.S. State Department is honoring Bishop Gotsiridze with its International Women of Courage Award. (See the story from the U.S. Embassy in Georgia.) The announcement says, in part: “Bishop Gotsiridze’s award recognizes her advocacy work on behalf of tolerance, opportunity, and equality for all her fellow Georgians. … This is the first time a Georgian citizen has won this prestigious award.” You can read about all 10 of the 2014 honorees on the U.S. State Department’s website.
Rusudan Gotsiridze is the first woman to be a Georgian Baptist bishop, and the only female bishop of any kind in Georgia. Though Georgia was evangelized by a woman, St. Nino, in the 4th Century, recognizing women in ministry is still an issue in most of the Christian denominations, including the dominant Orthodox Church. She has become one of the most visible figures in Georgia for religious tolerance and human rights.
The Orthodox Church has dominated Georgian religious life since the fall of Communism. But most disturbing has been how the Orthodox leadership has stood by while radical priests and laypeople to use violence and arson against religious minorities. Baptist churches have been burned. Armenian Apostolic and Catholic buildings were handed over to the Orthodox Church by the government after the fall of Communism and never turned over to the denominations that built them. Yazidis (followers of an ancient Kurdish monotheistic religion) have been denied the right to build a temple. Worshipers of many faiths have been victims of Orthodox radical violence.
Rusudan is on the staff of the International Center for Conflict and Negotiation, where she engages in grassroots training and advocacy work related to issues of religious freedom (“religious tolerance” is the term most used in Georgia) and gender justice. She serves on the Religious Tolerance Council, a government-related body established as an ombudsman for religious rights issues.
In 2011 the Georgian Parliament agreed to allow Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Lutherans and Baptists to be legally recognized as legitimate religious bodies along with the Orthodox Church. Though the Baptists were being offered the long-sought recognition, Bishop Rusudan refused to accept what the parliamentarians were offering unless all religious groups were included. She became a leading public voice for religious freedom, frequently appearing in various Georgian media. Due to her firm witness and the pressure she helped mobilize the final legislative agreement granted legal rights to all religious groups, a victory for religious freedom.
Legislation has not made religious tolerance a reality. In June 2013 Orthodox radicals prevented Muslims from gathering for prayer at a village in eastern Georgia. Negotiations produced little result as the government provided either unwilling or ineffectual in countering the radicals. So the Georgian Baptists led by Rusudan and her other bishop colleagues mobilized an interfaith demonstration for the right for all people to pray. Though they had been personally threatened and attacked, the Baptist bishops were visible in their purple robes leading the interfaith protesters calling for respect of all people’s religious rights.
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Learn more about Daniel Buttry’s series of books on global peacemakers.