A coalition representing most Christian churches around the world launched a rule book on Tuesday for spreading their faith that aims to reduce tensions among themselves and with followers of other faiths. The pioneering code of conduct, under negotiation for five years, was unveiled by the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Vatican and the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), which together claim to represent over 90 percent of Christianity.
Islamic countries set aside their 12-year campaign to have religions protected from “defamation”, allowing the U.N. Human Rights Council in Genea to approve a plan to promote religious tolerance on Thursday. Western countries and their Latin American allies, strong opponents of the defamation concept, joined Muslim and African states in backing without vote the new approach that switches focus from protecting beliefs to protecting believers.
The United States and NGO campaign groups say diplomatic shifts on highly-charged issues like religion and Iran in the long-polarised U.N. Human Rights Council could turn it into a more effective body.
The World Council of Churches, the main global grouping of Protestant and Orthodox Christians, revealed on Wednesday it aims to scrap the communist-style name of its governing body, the Central Committee. The name, identical to that of the policy-setting body of the old Soviet Communist Party and of other anti-religious hard-left parties around the world, is long known to have embarassed many WCC member churches and their leaders.
News of the planned change — 63 years after the WCC was set up as the East-West Cold War was born — was outlined at a Geneva meeting of the committee by its moderator, Brazilian Lutheran Walter Altmann. “We should not underestimate (the change’s) importance in terms of visibility and of identification with our churches and partners,” he said. As far as he knew, no individual church had a “central committee”.
Ecumenical News International, an award-winning agency reporting on religion and based at the World Council of Churches (WCC), has been temporarily closed and had its two top editors removed, one of them said on Monday. The decision, taken at a meeting of its executive committee last week, comes after the Geneva-based WCC cut the agency’s funding and its former head criticised its coverage.
The suspension and leadership changes led to the resignation of the ENInews president and its treasurer, both senior figures in Scandinavian Protestant churches, a report by the agency said. WCC officials said the agency was not being closed but would resume some time in 2011 with one part-time editor.
(Photo: Delegates at the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva on March 22, 2010/Denis Balibouse)
Muslim states that say what they call “islamophobia” is sweeping the West and its media have demanded that the United Nations take tougher action against it. Delegates from Islamic countries, including Pakistan and Egypt, told the United Nations Human Rights Council this week that treatment of Muslims in Western countries amounted to racism and discrimination and must be fought.
Pakistan, speaking for the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), has tabled a resolution at the council instructing its special investigator on religious freedom “to work closely with mass media organisations to ensure that they create and promote an atmosphere of respect and tolerance for religious and cultural diversity”.
Official discrimination in Pakistan against the Ahmadi Muslim sect fuels hatred of the community and prompts violent attacks against them, according to three U.N. human rights investigators.
In a statement issued by the United Nations in Geneva following deadly bombings last Friday of two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, the three said the authorities had failed to head off the attacks despite many signs that they were coming.
Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, the new general secretary of the World Council of Churches, aims to give the organisation a higher profile as a focus for action by Christian bodies on global issues like humanitarian relief in crises, climate change and the Middle East impasse. But at his first news conference this week since taking over on January 1, the Norwegian Lutheran cleric also made it clear that the constraints imposed by a widely diverse organisation that makes its decisions by consensus limit his options. It’s unlikely we’ll hear him taking a public stand on two of the main issues making religion headlines these days, the sexual abuse charges against the Roman Catholic Church and the disputes over homosexuality straining relations in several Protestant churches.
Tveit left no doubt that the 349-member WCC, which groups many of the world’s Christian churches but not the Roman Catholics, will not join in widespread criticism of the Roman Catholic Church for its continuing problem with clerical sexual abuse of children. These have surfaced most recently in Ireland and Germany.
Murder and persecution of women and children accused of being witches is spreading around the world and destroying the lives of millions of people, according to United Nations officials, civil society representatives from affected countries and non-governmental organization (NGO) specialists working on the issue.***
(Photo: An ojha, or witch doctor, in India’s northeastern state of Assam, 7 Sept 2006/Utpal Baruah)
***“This is becoming an international problem — it is a form of persecution and violence that is spreading around the globe,” Jeff Crisp of the U.N.’s refugee agency UNHCR told a seminar organized by human rights officials of the world body in Geneva.******Aides to U.N. special investigators on women’s rights and on summary executions said killings and violence against alleged witch women — often elderly people — were becoming common events in countries ranging from South Africa to India. And community workers from Nepal and Papua New Guinea told the seminar, on the fringes of a session of the U.N.’s 47-member Human Rights Council, that “witch-hunting” was now common, both in rural communities and larger population centres.******Read the whole story here.******Click here for a statement to the meeting by the International Humanist and Ethical Union.******Following are three Reuters videos about children and women beaten and killed on suspicion of practicing witchcraft. These are disturbing documents but they provide background to the issue being debated at the United Nations in Geneva.******The first video (12 Sept 2008) shows the fate of children in the Democratic Republic of Congo accused of sorcerery and bringing bad luck to their families:************This video (22 May 2008) reports on eleven mainly elderly people suspected of being witches being burned to death in western Kenya:************In thisvideo from Bihar state in India (28 March 2008), a woman accused of witchcraft is tied to a tree and beaten in her village:*********
Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan live in fear of persecution and even execution or murder on false charges of blasphemy against Islam, the World Council of Churches (WCC) has said. The Council, the Geneva- based global body linking Protestant and Orthodox churches in 110 countries, has called on the Pakistani government to change a law promulgated by military ruler General Zia-ul-Haq that allows for the death penalty for blaspheming Islam.
(Photo: Christians in destroyed home in Gojra, 2 Aug 2009/Mohsin Raza)
Since the law was adopted in 1986 religious minorities in the country have been “living in a state of fear and terror … and many innocent people have lost their lives,” the WCC said in a statement.Pakistan is an overwhelmingly Muslim country where religious minorities account for roughly 4 percent — three quarters of whom are Christians — of its 170 million people.In early August, the WCC head, Kenyan Methodist Samuel Kobia, protested to the Pakistani government over violence in Punjab province when Muslims torched Christian homes and 8 people were killed, seven of them burned to death. Reports at the time said the attacks in Gojra town were sparked by allegations, denied by church leaders as well as Pakistani government officials, that Christians had desecrated the Koran.Pakistani government officials said the violence, which also brought protests from Pope Benedict, was the work of Islamist groups linked to al Qaeda and the country’s Taliban movement.
(Photo: Christians grieve after funerals of Gojra attack victims, 2 Aug 2009/Mohsin Raza)
Read our report from Geneva here.Charges of oppression of Christians in Pakistan are frequently heard in international meetings such as the WCC session. Complaints often surface at United Nations meetings. What do you think? Are these charges justified?Before responding, consider the following articles in the international secular and Christian press. Are they accurate? If you think they don’t portray the real situation in Pakistan, how do you think international media should report about the Christian minority in Pakistan?– Six Christians burnt alive in Pakistan violence (Reuters, 1 Aug 2009)– Pakistan hurt by killing of Christians: church head (Reuters, 4 Aug 2009)– Christians demand repeal of blasphemy laws (UCANews, 6 Aug 2009)– Scrap blasphemy laws which bring shame on Islam and Pakistan, Muslim scholar says (Asianews, 10 Aug 2009)– Some 20 million Christians to mark ‘black day’ against persecution in Pakistan (Asianews, 11 Aug 2009)– Violations of human rights in Pakistan: 75% of cases remain unpunished (Asianews, 21 Aug 2009)– Intolerance is sweeping across Pakistan (The Guardian, 24 Aug 2009)– Pakistan gains from defending diversity (Daily Star, 24 Aug 2009)– Punjab: Christian victims of the massacres in Gojra reported by police (Asianews, 25 Aug 2009)– PAKISTAN: Attacks on Christians Spotlight Blasphemy Laws (IPS, 25 Aug 2009)– Pakistan: Christians want blasphemy laws repealed (SperoNews, 26 Aug 2009)– Memo to U.N.: Stop Muslims from killing Christians (WorldNetDaily, 27 Aug 2009)– Church dissatisfied over slow prosecution of rioters (UCANews, 2 Sept 2009)