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Bishop: Pressure remains on Christians in Pakistan

ICC Note: This report from a meeting that the Church of Pakistan Bishop had with United Methodists and Episcopalians in New York confirms that the problem of Muslims viewing the West as a Christian society is a cause of Christian persecution in his country.

By Linda Bloom

9/13/07 Pakistan (UMNS) – Six years after the tragedy of Sept. 11, Christians in Pakistan remain under intense pressure as religious extremism has increased, according to a bishop there.

“Christians in Islamic countries are viewed with suspicion,” said Bishop Alexander John Malik during a Sept. 10-12 visit with United Methodist and Episcopal leaders in New York . He presides over the diocese of Lahore and is moderator of the Church of Pakistan .

Immediately after Sept. 11, “our churches were attacked, institutions were attacked, Christians were killed,” he told staff at the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. Part of the problem, he added, is the mindset among Muslims “that all Christians are westerners and all westerners are Christians.”

Buoyed by opposition to the U.S. war on terror, as well as U.S. intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq , Osama Bin Laden “has become a hero” to some people in Pakistan , the bishop said. “Capturing Osama will not solve the problem. (He) is an ideology now.”

Malik said Christians have regained some rights under Pakistan ’s current president, General Pervez Musharraf, including the ability to reclaim church-related schools and colleges that had been nationalized in 1972. About 50 percent are now run again by Christians, although they face competition from Muslim-run schools, he said.

“He (Musharraf) has brought back the Christians and other minorities into the mainstream,” Malik said.

The result of a union in the 1970s of the Methodist, Anglican, Lutheran and Scottish Presbyterian denominations, the Church of Pakistan has eight dioceses presided over by eight bishops. Malik, formerly of the Anglican Church, estimates that Christians make up about 3 percent of the population of Pakistan .

The bishop said the union has had its problems, particularly with issues of property and personalities, but noted that the new generation of Christians in Pakistan do not identify themselves by a previous denomination.

Women still are not ordained in the Church of Pakistan , although the topic has been under discussion. Malik said he personally is in favor of women’s ordination but believes it should not occur until a majority of church members approve it.

He noted that one of his three daughters is theologically trained and married to a Baptist pastor in England . She does not wish to seek ordination in the Church of England, however, until the Church of Pakistan changes its policy, he said.

The growing Muslim extremism in Pakistan is leading some Christians to live abroad. “We are losing our intellectuals and professionals at a big rate,” Malik said.

Malik receives threatening letters for speaking out in support of Christians in Pakistan . “But I have to defend my community,” he said. “I have to give them hope.”

The bishop wants to share that hope with others. “We have a message for the world — a message of love, peace and light — which we must spread,” he said.