Relatives of slain Pakistan Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti cry near the site where he was shot by gunmen in Islamabad.
Image by: REUTERS/Mian Khursheed
New York, NY, March 3, 2011--The United Methodist Church's chief mission leader has expressed solidarity with the Christian community in Pakistan in the wake of the assassination of the most prominent Christian in that country's government.
Thomas Kemper, general secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries, also remembered all the Pakistani people in a March 3 letter to Bishop Samuel Azariah, presiding bishop of the Church of Pakistan, a united Protestant church with historic Methodist participation. Pakistan is predominantly Muslim.
Shahbaz Bhatti, minister of minority affairs, was shot and killed on March 2, reportedly by militant Islamists who objected to his advocacy of the rights of religious minorities. Mr. Bhatti was a member of the Roman Catholic Church.
Kemper joined other religious leaders, Christian and some Muslim, in deploring the murder. He echoed an appeal of the World Council of Churches, asking the Pakistani government to "take all measures to provide safety and security" to all minorities in the country.
"Shahbaz Bhatti…was by all accounts a man of great integrity and dignity," Kemper wrote. "He served his country with loyalty even as he opposed strict interpretation of a blasphemy law that would make the fact of being Christian punishable by death."
The Church of Pakistan is a mission partner of the General Board of Global Ministries. The mission agency shares the cost with the Pakistani church of several Pakistani Christian service workers. It also responded through the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to recent floods in Pakistan, receiving more than $700,000 for that cause in 2010.
The full text of the Kemper letter follows.
March 3, 2011
Dear Bishop Azariah:
The prayers of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries are with you, the Christian community of Pakistan, and all the people of your country in the wake of the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, the federal minister for minority affairs and the most visible Christian in the government.
We join with you and the leaders of the World Council of Churches in deploring this senseless act and in calling upon the government to protect Christian and other minorities within the majority Islamic nation. We applaud your courageous statement raising questions about why religion is being allowed to be distorted by a few, and why the majority remain silent.
We understand the sense of vulnerability felt by Pakistani Christians when public officials, such as Minister Bhatti and Governor Salman Taseer of Punjab, a Muslim, are murdered for their support of religious minority rights.
Shahbaz Bhatti, a member of the Roman Catholic Church, was, by all accounts, a man of great integrity and dignity. He served his country with loyalty even as he opposed strict interpretation of a blasphemy law that would make the fact of being Christian punishable by death. We are remembering his family, with thankful prayers for his faith and example.
We join the Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, in urging the "government of Pakistan to take all necessary measures to provide safety and security to the Christian minority in Pakistan, and other minorities, and not to be deterred by the violent crimes committed by religious extremists."
Global Ministries is thankful to count the Church of Pakistan, the major Pakistani Protestant community, among our constant mission partners, sharing with you support of persons in Christian service within the country and assisting with recent flood relief.
May God's grace through Jesus Christ sustain and strengthen you in this time of trial. You are not alone in faith and hope. You and your people will be in our prayers throughout the coming Lenten season, leading to the glorious resurrection of our Lord at Easter.
In Mission Together,
The following clip is said by the BBC to have been released by First Step Forum four months ago:
>> Video Interview of Shahbaz Bhatti
Mar 03, 2011