IRD was founded 31 years ago because too many churches were silent about or actively abetting religious persecution around the world. Our frequent targets included groups like the Geneva-based World Council of Churches and the New York based United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.
A typical IRD moment was in 1985 when the United Methodist Council of Bishops unusually critiqued Nicaragua’s Marxist Sandinista regime for its “increasing intimidation” against the church. United Methodist missionaries, backed by the missions board, decried the bishops’ stance, insisting Nicaragua’s churches were “relatively unaffected.” That same year, the board’s directors rejected a resolution defending religious freedom in Nicaragua. (Read more in my new book Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth Century.)
The World Council of Churches also defended Nicaragua’s Marxist dictatorship and was silent about religious persecution throughout the Soviet empire, preferring dialogue for peace with repressive regimes and the often puppet domestic church groups that had no choice but to defend them.
Since the Cold War’s end, this pattern for Mainline church groups persisted, with prelates commonly declining to criticize repressive Islamist regimes and movements, preferring dialogue and accommodation.
Maybe this sad, 40 year trend of silence about religious persecution is winding down, at least momentarily. In late September the WCC is hosting hearings about Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy law, which forbids any perceived criticism of Islam, and whose victims are often Christians. The latest target is an 11 year old Christian girl, Rimsha Masih, who’s been jailed for supposedly defiling a Koran. Almost certainly she was framed, and her plight has prompted the WCC’s concern.
United Methodism’s GBGM has done a news release about Rimsha Masih and announced it’s donating $6000 to the WCC hearing, called the “Misuse of the Blasphemy Law and the Plight of Religious Minorities in Pakistan,” set for September 17-18 in Geneva, Switzerland. GBGM noted this law is used to “suppress or frighten religious minorities in Pakistan,” which is 95 percent Muslim. And it noted the law also undermines moderate Muslims who favor religious freedom.
“We have a long-standing commitment to religious liberty globally and to the beleaguered Christian minority in Pakistan,” said GBGM chief Thomas Kemper. “We are in solidarity with our mission partner, the Church of Pakistan, in working toward greater freedom for all the people in that country. We welcome the opportunity to support the September hearings.”
The GBGM news release recalled denouncing arson attacks on Pakistani churches in 2009 and also speaking out in 2011 when a prominent Pakistani Christian statesman was assassinated.
Back in the 1980s IRD criticized GBGM for its grants to the WCC, especially for its funding of violent revolutionary groups. But we can heartily affirm its grant towards spotlighting the plight of Pakistani Christians. And we pray it will usher in a new era of solidarity with the persecuted around the world.