|Mission Leaders Appeal for End to Violence against Christians in Pakistan|
New York, NY, September 4, 2009--Two top mission leaders of The United Methodist Church are appealing to the government of Pakistan to take measures to ensure the safety of a Christian minority under violent attack in some parts of the officially Islamic nation.
Bishop Bruce Ough of West Ohio, president of the General Board of Global Ministries, and Inelda Gonzalez of Harlingen, Texas, president of the Women's Division of the agency, also asked the United Nations and the United States to pursue protection for Christians in Pakistan. Further, their joint statement encouraged Christians to pray for Pakistani Christians and to ask governments to intercede with Pakistan.
"We encourage all United Methodists to offer prayers of support for the churches of Pakistan and for all the people of Pakistan that peace and respect for all religions may be achieved," the statement says.
The Ough-Gonzalez statement points to a series of recent attacks on Christian communities that have made hundreds homeless by arson and led to at least seven deaths. Christian leaders have also been charged as lawbreakers for protesting the violence.
Christians form a small percentage of Pakistan's population of some 180 million people. It is the world's sixth largest country in terms of population and the second largest predominantly Muslim nation. It obtained independent status in 1947, having earlier been a British colony.
Pakistan's original constitution made little distinction between Muslims and non-Muslims, but over the years the rights of religious minorities have been restricted. Episodes of violence cause a deep sense of fear among Christians.
Both Protestant and Roman Catholic churches can be found in Pakistan. The United Methodist Church relates to the Church of Pakistan, formed in 1970 by the union of Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Methodist denominations. It has some 800,000 members.
Anti-Christian violence and legal action seem to be linked to Pakistan's Anti-Blasphemy Law. The Ough-Gonzalez statement explains:
The statement from the mission leaders registers the long-standing support of The United Methodist Church for religious liberty around the world. It commends a late August 2009 appeal to Pakistan to end the violence from the policy-making Central Committee of the World Council of Churches. It notes that numerous other organizations and people of conscience are making similar appeals.
The statement's contents will be used in appeals to Pakistan, the United Nations, and the US Department of State to take action to uphold the rights of all religious minorities in Pakistan.
Pakistan was a major focus of a 2005-2006 mission study prepared by the Women's Division. As president of the Women's Division, Ms. Gonzalez also serves as national president of United Methodist Women.
The full text of the statement follows:
Global Ministries' Statement on Violence in Pakistan
In recent weeks, a disturbing number of violent attacks have been directed against Christians in Pakistan. More than 40 homes were burned in the village of Korian and more than 100 in Gojra City, with the result that at least seven Christians burned to death and some 300 families were forced to flee. Christian businesses and churches have also been targeted.
The General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church expresses prayerful solidarity with our Pakistani brothers and sisters in faith who have experienced violence and continue to live in fear. The agency has a mission partnership with the Church of Pakistan, formed by the union of Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian denominations in 1970.
We appeal to the government of Pakistan to take effective measures to end the violence.
These attacks are the latest in a growing pattern of violence over the past few years against religious minorities in Pakistan. Protests from Christian leaders can bring legal pressure upon them to keep silent. Such formal accusations have been filed against 29 named Christians, including several clergy, as well as another 100 unnamed Christians. While law enforcement officials speak words of reassurance to these Christians, the accusations deepen a climate of fear and intimidation for all religious minorities.
The attacks are closely linked to false accusations of blasphemy or desecration of the Qur'an. The Blasphemy Law in Pakistan, as amended in 1986, contributes greatly to a climate of fear and, tragically, promotes violence against religious minorities throughout the country. While ostensibly written to protect Islam, the law provides only a vague definition of blasphemy; it has been enforced selectively, and carries a mandatory death sentence for violators.
Christians, Muslims, and other people of conscience around the world have spoken out against the misuse of the Blasphemy Law and escalating violence against religious minorities in Pakistan. We join those calls in urging the Government of Pakistan to take swift, effective steps to condemn and counter religious hatred and the violence it foments, as well as to ensure the security of all religious minority communities within the nation.
The United Methodist Church has a long history of support for religious liberty. Our Social Principles affirm the rights of religious minorities in all societies: "We condemn all overt and covert forms of religious intolerance, being especially sensitive to their expression in media stereotyping. We assert the right of all religions and their adherents to freedom from legal, economic, and social discrimination." (Para. 162B, The Book of Discipline 2008.)
We commend the World Council of Churches' "Statement on the Misuse of the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan" adopted September 1, 2009, by the Council's policy-making Central Committee. We join in the statement's advocacy for the repeal of "section 295C of the Pakistan penal code which carries a mandatory death penalty for anyone found guilty of blasphemy." [Go to the World Council of Churches website at www.oikoumene.org.]
We urge United Methodists to join with World Council member churches to request that governments write to the leaders of Pakistan and "express their concerns on the security of religious minorities in Pakistan and also to request that misuse of the Blasphemy Law be stopped." We ask that appropriate offices of the United Nations and of the State Department of the United States urge Pakistan to amend the blasphemy law and to offer legal protection to all religious minorities.
We encourage all United Methodists to offer prayers of support for the churches of Pakistan and for all the people of Pakistan that peace and respect for all religions may be achieved.
Bishop Bruce Ough (West Ohio)
Date posted: Sep 04, 2009