Posted by: Titus Presler | January 31, 2011

Religious relations in Pakistan addressed by Anglican primates

Treatment of religious minorities by the Muslim majority in Pakistan was addressed by the just completed Dublin meeting of Anglican primates through a “private letter to Pakistan’s leaders.”

In Sunday’s news conference, according to the podcast, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said the letter went to the president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, and addressed the persecution expressed in rising violence against Christians.  He said the primates deplored the recent assassination of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, the assassin openly stating that he carried out the killing because the governor had been outspoken against how the country’s anti-blasphemy laws were being used to persecute religious minorities.

An Anglican Communion News Service story said the letter was to “Pakistan’s leaders on the blasphemy laws.”  An Episcopal News Service story said the letter addressed “Christian persecution in Pakistan.”

The choice of a “private letter” over an “open letter” – the tack taken by the primates in connection with climate change,  earthquake relief in Haiti,  the murder of Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato, and violence against women and girls – was probably made to avoid further provoking religious parties in Pakistan.  During my January visit there, Pope Benedict XVI’s public statement decrying the blasphemy laws and the persecution of Christians, with particular reference to Aasia Bibi, a woman who has been condemned to death supposedly for blasphemy, prompted public denunciations and added energy to marches launched to oppose any modification of the blasphemy laws.  The newspapers were full of commentary on the issue, much of it openly critical of what the analysts saw as a rightward shift in the country’s politics.

It is good and important that the primates addressed the issue, and the mode they chose was doubtless undertaken in consultation with the leadership of the Church of Pakistan.  It may help to make a difference in a very difficult situation, and it will encourage the Christian minority.  It is noteworthy that, although they are a small minority, estimated variously at 2 or 3% of the nation’s population, Christians are the largest minority in Pakistan, far exceeding Hindus and Sikhs, and they manage a far-reaching network of educational and medical institutions.  What happens to Christians in Pakistan matters not only to them and to the outside world, but also to the mainstream of public opinion within the country.

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