Christians Discuss Church Closures With Colombia FARC Rebels
By Eric Leijenaar
6/4/08 Colombia (BosNewsLife) – A Netherlands-based group defending reportedly persecuted Christians admitted Wednesday, June 4, that it has met the leadership of Colombia ‘s main left-wing rebel group to discuss the closure of over 130 churches and death threats against Colombian Christians.
Open Doors said in a statement from its headquarters in the Dutch town of Ermelo that investigators met an unidentified official of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) after it learned that “132 churches have been closed by left wing rebels and right-wing paramilitaries” since 2004. It did not name the other groups allegedly involved in the crackdown.
In addition, Open Doors said, FARC commanders can sentence Christians to death or threaten them, for allegedly violating the rebel group’s orders, forcing church members “to go into hiding.” It quoted the FARC leader as saying that “rebels will not start a fight with a church that obeys our rules.”
Open Doors stressed it was difficult for local Christian to follow the FARC regulations as they include a prohibition of preaching against violence. “The fighters believe they can solve their problems with violence, while the Christians want to preach peace. Rebels also believe that Christianity goes against their Marxist ideas and accuse pastors of promoting American imperialism.”
In remarks published by Open Doors a pastor in southern Colombia , apparently requesting anonymity, said: “Churches are preaching peace, while the FARC is trying to convince our youth to wage war.” The vicious conflict has killed 40,000 people in the last decade alone, according to estimates. “It’s impossible for us to obey the rebels because we can not go against Biblical principles,” the pastors was quoted as saying.
Churches are also not allowed to receive foreign financial support or to invite guest speakets from outside the FARC territory, Open Doors added. The rebels “believe that church leaders are only asking money to build churches, not to support the poor,” the group noted.
Open Doors said tensions with rebels are among several challenges faced by persecuted Christians in conflict zones. There was no immediate comment noticeable from FARC leaders to the Open Doors findings. Last week the founder of FARC, Manuel Marulanda, died of a heart attack after more than four decades fighting a fierce guerrilla war, fellow fighters said.
Under Marulanda, nicknamed “Sureshot”, the Communist-inspired group grew into a 17,000-member force controlling large parts of the country. It is not yet clear how his death will impact the situation of Christians and hostages.
The FARC still holds scores of hostages, including French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and three American contract workers, they say they want to exchange for jailed guerrilla fighters.
FARC rebels freed six hostages earlier this year but attempts to reach a deal over more kidnap victims are deadlocked over rebel demands that Colombian President President Alvaro Uribe demilitarize an area the size of New York City in southern Colombia to start talks. He refuses, but has reportedly offered a smaller zone.
Analysts say that despite the difficulties, Uribe’s US-backed security campaign has weakened the FARC as several top bosses were killed over the last year and a female commander became the latest to desert this month, saying the rebel force was “cracking”. (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).