Adversaries urge prayer for religious freedom

10/28/2010

5:00 P.M. EST Oct. 27, 2010

The United Methodist Board of Church and Society and the Confessing Movement within The United Methodist Church have issued a joint letter urging participation in the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church on Nov. 14. A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose.
The United Methodist Board of Church and Society and the Confessing Movement within The United Methodist Church have issued a joint letter urging participation
in the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church on Nov. 14.
A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose. View in Photo Gallery

The United Methodist Board of Church and Society and The Confessing Movement agree on one point: United Methodists need to pray for persecuted Christians.

In a joint letter, the frequent adversaries acknowledge their disagreements on some issues facing society and The United Methodist Church.

But the groups share a desire for “the Church to prayerfully and publicly stand with the members of the Body of Christ who are suffering right now.”

The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is Nov. 14.

The letter cites countries such as Saudi Arabia, China, Vietnam, Pakistan and Iran where Christians are being “economically and politically marginalized, physically brutalized and even killed because they follow Jesus.”

Bill Mefford, the director of civil and human rights for the Board of Church and Society, and the Rev. Bill Bouknight, associate director of The Confessing Movement, signed the letter.

The Board of Church and Society, with offices at the United Nations and on Capitol Hill in Washington, is an agency of The United Methodist Church that promotes the denomination’s Social Principles. Its primary areas of ministry are advocacy, education, leadership formation and international affairs.

The Confessing Movement, based in Indianapolis, is an unofficial United Methodist organization that focuses on renewal in the church.

The Confessing Movement frequently has criticized the church agency as too liberal. However, the two groups “don’t disagree about the need for the church to focus more on the plight of persecuted Christians,” Bouknight said. He approached Mefford with the idea for the joint statement, and Mefford agreed.

Mefford said the board often works with varied groups on shared policy goals. The agency has worked with the evangelical Prison Fellowship on issues of criminal-justice reform and has cooperated with the Southern Baptist Convention to secure federal regulation of tobacco.

Religious freedom is something on which United Methodists across the theological spectrum often agree.

“(Persecution) should be a top priority of the church,” Bouknight said. “And we don’t hear enough about it.”

The Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, advocates for the rights of all religious minorities, stating: “We urge policies and practices that ensure the right of every religious group to exercise its faith free from legal, political or economic restrictions.”

But for many believers, religious freedom is far from reality. In its annual assessment of international religious freedom, the U.S. State Department lists Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam as “countries of particular concern.”

These are countries where Christians and/or other religious groups face “torture, degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges, abduction or clandestine detention, or other flagrant denial of the right to life … .”

Bouknight said he and Mefford are hoping that each month, United Methodists around the world will focus on a country where persecution is particularly egregious.

Mefford said he is glad to work with The Confessing Movement on this issue and feels “quite sure that there are other issues that all sides can work together on.”

*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.

News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.