Church leader in Madagascar calls on Christians in the military not to kill

By staff writers
March 18, 2009

The leader of the largest Protestant church in Madagascar has issued an appeal to Christian soldiers in the military not to kill, reports the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC).

In a message broadcast repeatedly on the radio station of the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar, the Rev Lala Rasendrahasina is calling on Christians in the military not to commit violence.

Rasendrahasina says the situation for church people is very tense. He has received two threats that his home will be “burned out”. There are reports on ENI and elsewhere that he had been arrested, but has now been released.

Speaking by telephone from Antananarivo earlier this week, Rasendrahasina said: “I have asked Christians in the military to remember they are baptised and that they are not supposed to murder nor to accept orders from superiors to kill.”

The Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar, a member church of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), is involved in an initiative by the Christian Council of Churches in Madagascar to mediate a peaceful resolution to the violent political crisis which has caused at least 135 deaths since a dispute over democratic reform broke out in late January.

The United Nations has been facilitating planning for the church-brokered meeting of all political parties and civil society.

The Christian Council of Churches is meeting in the midst of what is now being called a coup d’etat, in order to arrange a date and a list of participants for the national conference. Attempts to organize a meeting on 12 March 2009 failed because of concern expressed by the opposition group that the proposed list of participants included too many government supporters.

Recent tensions are exacerbated by the prominent role of President Ravalomanana in the Church of Christ in Madagascar where he serves as its lay vice-president.

Violence broke out on 26 January 2009 when the former mayor of Antananarivo, Andry Rajoelina, called a demonstration against the government’s closure of a private radio station which had been campaigning for democratic reform.

Although the radio station has since reopened, violent confrontations between Rajoelina’s supporters and those of President Marc Ravalomanana continue.

“We recognize the extraordinarily complex situation in which the church finds itself at this time in the country’s history,” says WARC’s world president, Clifton Kirkpatrick.

He added: “We are keeping the country and its churches in our prayers. We deeply regret the loss of life in this conflict, the destruction of property and the fear with which people are living. We pray that political and church leaders will agree to seek a peaceful resolution to their disagreements.”

WARC and the London-based Council for World Mission appealed for calm in Madagascar.

"Our concern at this time is for the peace and welfare of all the people of Madagascar. We recognise the role that churches in Madagascar might play in reconciliation initiatives at this time and we pray for wisdom and understanding to guide their way," said the statement from general secretaries the Rev. Desmond van der Water of CWM and the Rev. Setri Nyomi of WARC.

President Ravalomanana, who is also a senior lay official of the FJKM, announced his resignation on 17 March following a campaign by opposition leader Andry Rajoelina to force him out of office.

News agencies were reporting the following day that Madagascar's military had handed power to Rajoelina and that this had been approved by the country's constitutional court.

There was no immediate information about the circumstances of the release of the FJKM's Rasendrahasina. On 17 March, the Xinhua Chinese news agency, quoting a local radio station, reported that the church leader had been detained at the headquarters of the Christian Council of Churches in downtown Antananarivo, the island nation's capital. The agency also reported that a four-member military directorate, to whom President Ravalomanana had initially transferred his powers, had been detained at the same time.

Rasendrahasina had earlier reported that he had received two threats that his home would be "burned out", and that he and other pastors had hired security guards.

Some observers have said tensions have been exacerbated by the prominent role of Ravalomanana as the lay vice-president of the FJKM, which accounts for 3.5 million of Madagascar's 20 million people, while Rajoelina has been reported to have made no secret of his links to the numerically stronger Roman Catholic Church.

The Indian Ocean island nation has been gripped by a violent political crisis, which has caused at least 135 deaths since a dispute over democratic reform broke out in late January.

Rajoelina had been attempting to force out Ravalomanana, who came to power in a disputed 2002 election and who Rajoelina accused of being a corrupt tyrant.

The World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) brings together 75 million Reformed Christians in 214 churches in 107 countries. The WARC general secretary is Rev Dr Setri Nyomi of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Ghana. WARC's secretariat is based in Geneva, Switzerland.

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