PAKISTAN: Persecution of Christians could threaten future of church leadership

December 2, 2010

Pakistan's first and only female Anglican priest, the Rev. Jane Shaw, has warned that persecution of Christians in the country is prompting talented potential future church leaders to settle abroad.

Jane, who four years became the Church of Pakistan's only female presbyter-in-charge, said she knew of four young pastors sent overseas for training who decided not to return to Pakistan.

She said that while there have been incidents of Christians being attacked and killed, the majority of persecution was more insidious. "It's largely low-level harassment," she said, "not being short-listed for jobs because you're a Christian, or, if you do get the job, your colleagues making you so miserable that you have to leave. Also, in some cases Christian businessmen have been told that they'll only get the most lucrative contracts if they convert to Islam."

Other harassment includes Christian children being teased or bullied at school, Christian workers being assigned excessive workloads, Christians being evicted from accommodation without notice, and influential community members occupying Christians' land with impunity.

Shaw said that after the anti-Christian riots in Gojra in 2009 (resulting in the death of eight Christians), she found families in nearby Korian living in a graveyard after being evicted from their homes. She also was told that Christians in the area who had been kicked out of their jobs during the riots were never reinstated.

One significant result of such harassment is that those families with the resources to do so are either moving abroad themselves or sending their children overseas to study. Too few members of her former congregation can see a future for their children in Pakistan; most already have relatives in the U.K., New Zealand, Canada, or the United States.

"Many go and don't return," she said. "I recently lost two families from my congregation. I know of four young pastors sent overseas to gain experience. None have come back [to Pakistan]."

"It's difficult to see where the next generation of church leaders will be coming from," she said.

Shaw, who was jointly supported by Church Mission Society, USPG-Anglicans in Mission and several churches, led an English-speaking congregation that meets in a school chapel in Lahore, dedicated in memory of Bishop Clement Rockey, an American Methodist bishop in the 1930s.

Despite the challenge of ministering in a place where violent attacks are common, and where women are treated as second-class citizens by the more traditional sections of society, she talks fondly of her life as a priest and as a part-time health management adviser at Lahore's United Christian Hospital.

She has nothing but praise for her former bishop, Rt. Rev. Samuel Robert Azariah (bishop of Raiwind and moderator of the Church of Pakistan) who she says is doing all he can to promote the role of women in society and the church. Azariah also is significantly involved in Christian-Muslim dialogue.

Speaking part-way through a tour of churches and agencies that supported her placement in Pakistan, Shaw went on to make an appeal to the Anglican Communion to spend its energy focusing on "pressing issues."

"I agree 100 per cent with Archbishop [Desmond] Tutu when he says not to obsess about secondary-level issues such as sexuality and gender, but to concentrate on the pressing issues," which she believes to be tackling poverty and injustice, and "getting out the message that God loves you."

The Church of Pakistan is a united church, which is part of the Anglican Communion and a member church of the World Methodist Council. It was established in 1970 with a union of Anglicans, Scottish Presbyterians (Church of Scotland), Methodists, and Lutherans. It is the second largest church in the country after the Roman Catholic Church. Christians form two percent of the population of Pakistan, which is approximately 140 million; 97 percent are Muslims.