Statement on Attacks and Persecution of
Christian Communities in Asia
But they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
and no one shall make them afraid;
for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
For all the peoples walk,
each in the name of its god,
but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God
forever and ever.
Micah 4:4-5 (NRSV)
Throughout history, religious communities living in contexts in which other religions predominate have been among the most vulnerable groups in society. In many parts of the world today, Christians in such contexts are among the most persecuted communities. With the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace (PJP) focus on Asia this year, we observe the challenges faced by Christian communities in several countries and territories in this region. At the same time we lament that religious communities suffer severe discrimination and violent attacks in other contexts and regions, and denounce in particular the recent horrific attacks on Muslim communities in Aotearoa New Zealand and on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, USA.
In some contexts Christian communities are unfairly or mistakenly linked to the colonial histories of their countries, and/or not acknowledged as indigenous to the countries in which they have always lived. They are frequently scapegoated in the context of prevailing geopolitical and religious undercurrents and narratives of retaliation, and their dignity and freedoms violated, often with impunity. And they are increasingly targeted in brutal violent attacks.
The violence occurs in the context of systematic marginalization, unequal citizenship rights, and being subjected to discriminatory laws, including blasphemy laws. Such laws are often applied without due process or impartiality, and under threat of violence to the responsible civil, judicial and police authorities, even culminating in mob violence. In many contexts, the vulnerability of Christian communities is accentuated by their socio-economic situation, race, ethnic and or caste identity, and lack of access to land, resources, and education. Women are particularly vulnerable, being subjected to physical, and sexual violence, rape, abductions, forced marriages, and in cases of conversion, also to shaming, shunning, forced divorce and denial of custody of children.
Ecumenical Pilgrim Team Visits (PTVs) undertaken in the Asian region this year have witnessed such trends and circumstances in the current situation of Christian communities in Pakistan, Indonesia, India and Myanmar.
The massacre of 253 people and the maiming of hundreds more when suicide bombers struck churches and hotels in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, 21 April 2019, was a particularly shocking expression of the extremist threats facing Christian communities and those considered ‘foreign’ or ‘other’. A PTV to Sri Lanka is expected to take place later in the year.
The executive committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting on 22-28 May 2019 in Bossey, Switzerland, calls on:
- All governments in Asia and throughout the world to ensure equal citizenship status and rights for all their citizens, regardless of religious, ethnic or other identity, and to guarantee to religious communities free access to their holy sites and places of worship;
- Majority religious communities to be sensitive to the particular vulnerabilities and proactively pursue the welfare of religious minorities. We extend this call also to Christians in societies where they are in the majority, to lead by example, to reflect the love of Jesus Christ, unconditionally loving the other, the different, and the minorities in their midst;
- Religious leaders to promote peace and harmony among and between different religious communities, to work to overcome discrimination and violence perpetrated against the religious ‘other’, to reject the use of religion to incite hatred, violence, extremism, and blind fanaticism, and to refrain from using the name of God to justify acts of murder, terrorism, exile, exclusion and oppression;
- Religious communities to encourage communication and cooperation between religions at the grassroots level, not just at the level of leadership, and to educate for peace in multi-religious contexts;
- Governments to revise blasphemy laws and the way such laws are implemented, so that that they do not contradict international obligations with regard to human rights especially the rights to freedom of religion and freedom of expression;
- WCC to ensure that the planned PTV to Sri Lanka takes place at a time and in a form that enables the solidarity and support of the ecumenical movement to be made visible and tangible to the churches of the country in the aftermath of the recent terrible attacks.
In accordance with the prophet Micah’s words, may people flourish in their own lands, free from fear. May we work together, following God’s will to restore the world to justice and to peace!