CESNUR - center for studies on new religions

In memoriam Karen S. Lord 1967 - 2001

karen lord

by T. Jeremy Gunn

Preliminary Note: Karen Lord was the first person Gordon Melton and I met when in January 1998 we decided to contact the various federal agencies dealing with international religious liberty in Washington DC in order to exchange information about both Eastern and Western Europe. Young as she was, she immediately proved uniquely experienced in the field of religious liberty, guided us through the various Washington bureaucracies, and no doubt helped us to avoid a number of mistakes we would have otherwise made.
But she was much more than a brilliant public servant. She had a passion for religious liberty that was more than professional, rooted in a deep Christian faith. I was always impressed by her frequent reference to prayer as an important tool in political and diplomatic struggles. She came to trust CESNUR as a source of information, and delivered a memorable speech (together with Jeremy Gunn, the author of the following tribute) at CESNUR 1999 in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania. We came to regard her as a friend and a role model, and our admiration grew during her last years of illness and suffering. Enemies of religious liberty throughout the world regarded her as a formidable foe; they were, in fact, right. (Massimo Introvigne)

Karen Lord died in the early afternoon on Monday, January 29, 2001, after a long and courageous struggle against cancer. In her much too short, thirty-three years of life, Karen was known for her unflinching good humor, love of people, and unswerving devotion to the cause of religious freedom. She is already deeply missed by those who knew her and knew of her.
Karen received her Bachelor's degree in Political Science from Wheaton College in 1989, where she served as class Vice President. Immediately thereafter she attended the American University School of Law in Washington, D.C., where she received her J.D. in 1992. She was a member of the Maryland Bar, the District of Columbia Bar, and, incongruously -- unless one knew of her pride in her Latvian ancestry -- the Latvian Bar.
During the eight years of her professional life, Karen was deeply involved in work to promote religious freedom. For two years after law school, she worked with Sam Ericsson, her trusted mentor, on a number of advocacy and representation projects to promote religious freedom. During the last six years of her life she worked tirelessly with her close personal and professional friends as the Counsel for Religious Freedom at the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. From that vantage point, she traveled from Foggy Bottom to Uzbekistan, Russia, Turkmenistan, and France -- all in an effort to promote the rights of all people to worship and practice their religious beliefs. Only a few weeks before she passed away, and with substantial personal discomfort, she continued to advocate the cause close to her heart by traveling to Azerbaijan and Bulgaria. Whether by serving as a rapporteur at an international conference on religious freedom in Warsaw, or by serving on the Panel of Experts on Religion of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Karen was always deeply committed, and passionate, but never ruffled.
Karen's devotion to religious freedom came in no small measure from her deeply felt Christian beliefs. Her religious beliefs gave her life focus and meaning. Karen's religious beliefs were generous -- she deeply respected the right of others to hold beliefs different from hers. Those who knew her witnessed her passionate advocacy of the rights of Muslims, Orthodox Christians, Buddhists, and many of the new and smaller religious groups that suffer discrimination at the hands of prejudice. She often advocated the cause of those whose beliefs she could never have shared personally. When a senior French government official falsely and publicly accused her of being a member of one persecuted group in order to attack both her and the United States, she laughed at the absurd falsity of his allegation with respect to herself, but mourned how such intemperate comments by governments harm others who are more vulnerable to such unfounded allegations than she.
The last four years of Karen's life, when she struggled through medical treatments for her cancer and grappled with her worsening physical condition, were increasingly difficult. Everyone who knew something of what she was enduring physically was incredulous at the amount of stamina, unfailing courage, and good humor that she conveyed. Unless people were told that she was in the midst of a life and death struggle, they would have had no idea whatsoever of the pain, nausea, and discomfort she was experiencing. Even at the end, when she could scarcely breathe, and when discouragement could be so near the surface, she did not lose her faith, her ability to laugh, to smile, or to observe the good in others.

Postscript (by CESNUR, Feb. 1, 2001): The memorial service celebrating Karen's life of faithful service has been scheduled for Saturday, February 3, at 10:00 a.m. The service will be held at Washington Community Fellowship, 907 Maryland Avenue, NE, Washington, DC.
Contributions may be made in Karen's memory to Interdev, an organization which has a project advocating on behalf of human rights and religious liberty in Central Asia. Please note on your check that the contribution is made "In memory of Karen Lord." The check, payable to Interdev, may be mailed to their offices in Seattle, Washington, or the address in England:
Interdev, USA - PO Box 3883 - Seattle WA 98124-3883 USA
Interdev, UK - PO Box 210 - West Drayton - Middlesex UB7 8NN England

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