The leader of the Methodist Church in Britain has welcomed moves by Church leaders in Pakistan which call on the Pakistani government to end religious violence in the country.
Throughout 2009, violent attacks against Christians have left many dead and made hundreds of families homeless, as many more fear for their safety. Church leaders in Pakistan have formed a Christian Action Forum to address the problem and are lobbying their Government to act to end the violence.
The Rev Dr Martyn Atkins, General Secretary of the Methodist Church in Britain, said: “I welcome this announcement and want to add my voice to theirs in calling for serious and credible efforts from the Government to stem the violence against religious minorities. I also want to extend my sympathy to the families of those who have lost loved ones in the recent violent attacks.”
Atkins affirmed the right of all people to live in safety and worship freely, encouraging Christians to pray for the Church and people of Pakistan, especially on Sunday which is the 39th anniversary of the founding of the United Church of Pakistan.
Steve Pearce, the Methodists' Partnership Coordinator for Asia, is currently in Pakistan and yesterday attended a press conference given by the Moderator of the Church of Pakistan, Bishop Samuel Azariah, and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Lahore, Lawrence John Saldanha.
At the conference, Church leaders called for the repeal of laws which encourage crime and discrimination, especially the controversial blasphemy laws, which have been used to justify violence against Christians.
Pearce declared: “There is considerable tension in the country following indiscriminate suicide bombings and the assassination of a provincial government minister. All schools must now have armed guards, establishments where girls are educated are particularly worried and many church meetings are being cancelled. It is late in the evening now, and I can hear gunfire in nearby streets.”
Speaking after the press conference, Bishop Azariah commented: “The most important thing about the new Forum is that Christian leaders are now struggling together for the establishment of democratic values in Pakistan and fighting against the discriminatory laws being used against the religious minorities.”
Dr Atkins also invited Methodists in Britain to lobby their representatives at the national and European parliaments to question the Pakistan government about the protection of the rights of minorities in the country.
He welcomed the contribution of Pakistani Christians to the life of the Methodist Church in Britain and encouraged local congregations across Britain to offer pastoral support to them during this difficult time.