Presiding Bishop stands in solidarity with Pakistani Christians, signs blasphemy law petition
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has written to the moderator and bishops of the Church of Pakistan assuring them of the Episcopal Church’s “ongoing prayers and attention concerning the ever-changing situation” in the South Asian country.
She was referring to the increased persecution of Christian minorities in Pakistan and a recent surge in terrorist activity in the Swat valley and neighboring regions that has displaced more than three million people.
On August 21, the Presiding Bishop also signed a petition -- sponsored by the Anglican Communion’s Network for Inter Faith Concerns (NIFCON) -- that calls on the government of Pakistan to repeal a blasphemy law that has been used by extremists to justify violent attacks on Christians.
The petition and the Presiding Bishop’s letter come three weeks after at least seven Christians in Gojra and Korian in central Punjab were killed by a Muslim mob, the latest in a series of attacks that have intensified over the last two years. The attacks followed rumors that Christians in the region had desecrated a copy of the Quran, which is forbidden by the blasphemy law and punishable by life imprisonment. More than 70 Christian homes were reported to have been burned and demolished in the attacks.
“I join with others who have expressed sorrow over lives lost and homes destroyed in the Diocese of Faisalabad, and the Episcopal Church also joins in solidarity with the ongoing work of reconciliation in the Punjab and beyond,” Jefferts Schori said in her August 21 letter.
The Church of Pakistan is one of the united ecumenical provinces of the Anglican Communion. It was established in 1970 with a union of Anglicans, Scottish Presbyterians (Church of Scotland), Methodists, and Lutherans.
“Part of being in ’full communion’ with other churches is that we stand in solidarity with one another in times of distress,” Bishop Christopher Epting, deputy to the Presiding Bishop for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations, told ENS. “The government of Pakistan needs to know that we are not only watching but, in some sense, are part of the Church of Pakistan. When one member suffers, all suffer.”
At the 76th General Convention, the Episcopal Church expressed its “solidarity with the Church of Pakistan and the whole Christian community in Pakistan and especially the Diocese of Peshawar, which borders Afghanistan.”
Jefferts Schori noted in her letter that at the time of the General Convention resolution, the tragic events in Korian and Gojra had not yet taken place.
She cited resolutions from previous General Conventions and the Executive Council “which provide the policy base for advocacy, education and prayer regarding religious freedom worldwide and the victimizations of Christians in Pakistan.”
A resolution passed by the 73rd General Convention in 2000 expressed “anguish over the victimization of the Christian minority in Pakistan, including imprisonment, political disenfranchisement, and other forms of harassment and persecution.”
The 72nd General Convention in 1997 stood in “solidarity with those who experience persecution by reason of the practice of their faith.”
More recently, the Executive Council, in a 2005 resolution, said it “deplores the desecration of any religious sacred text or space and calls upon all people of faith to respect religious diversity and never to defame or abuse that which is considered holy by others.”
The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), the communion’s main policy-making body, at its May 2-12 meeting in Kingston, Jamaica, passed a resolution remembering people in places of conflict and injustice everywhere, especially in Pakistan, “where blasphemy laws allow persecution … of Christians, and encourage religious extremism.”
The ACC encouraged the provinces of the Anglican Communion “to support prayerfully and practically fellow Christians and all who live in situations of conflict, hostility and injustice.” The resolution also called upon the provinces “to pursue, with their governments and all other parties, the end of these and all other conflicts and injustices.”
“The Episcopal Church is deeply committed to working with the United States government to promote religious freedom in all parts of the world,” Maureen Shea, director of the Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations, told ENS. “The U.S. State Department currently is monitoring the situation in Pakistan carefully, and our ongoing work with the Department’s religious-freedom office allows us to convey the firsthand accounts of our brothers and sisters in the Church of Pakistan. These voices provide a witness both to the unfolding tragedy as well as to a community working continually for justice and reconciliation. We will continue to support this witness in the days ahead.”
In her August 21 letter, the Presiding Bishop said that the Episcopal Church will continue to seek ways to support the Church of Pakistan in its work for justice, peace and reconciliation.
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