SCOTLAND: International director of World Mission Conference 'suspended'

June 1, 2010

The international director of the 2010 World Missionary Conference, South African-born Daryl Balia, says he has been suspended from his job, two days before the start of the gathering in Edinburgh to commemorate a conference of the same name held 100 years ago.

Balia, who circulated two messages strongly critical of the conference in recent weeks, told Ecumenical News International on May 31 he had received a letter the same day saying he had been suspended from his job at the University of Edinburgh and barred from attending the 2010 conference.

Balia said the letter stated that the university had suspended him on full pay and asserted that his "alleged misconduct" is now the subject of an inquiry because the university authorities are satisfied that this case is "sufficiently serious" to potentially constitute "gross misconduct" under the Edinburgh University Disciplinary Policy and Procedures for non-teaching staff.

He said the letter asserted that he might have brought the university and the Church of Scotland, its long-standing collaborator for the 2010 conference, into "disrepute" by distributing publicly communications which could be regarded as defaming staff of the university and the Church of Scotland.

The two documents circulated by Balia criticized the way certain people at the Church of Scotland and the University of Edinburgh had handled the 2010 World Missionary Conference.

The documents were addressed to the Edinburgh 2010 General Council, the gathering's organizing group. One -- dated May 28 -- was called, "To Catch a Thief: No Mission Without Repentance", and the other, dated May 16, "To Steal a Conference: No Mission without Justice."

Balia told ENI, "It was ridiculous to have a conference of this nature at this time in Edinburgh. The WMC has been hijacked by the Church of Scotland whose partner in this project is the University of Edinburgh ... At this conference the voices that will be heard are not the voices of those who are suffering."

In an earlier email communication with ENInews on May 28, Balia, an ordained Methodist pastor who holds a doctorate in theology and is educated in South Africa, Germany and the United States, said he had been "dismissed from my duties," after working on the conference for three years.

"Last year I was also threatened with redundancy for failing to keep proper accounts, which is the Church of Scotland's responsibility," Balia said in the May 28 e-mail communication.

The Edinburgh conference runs from June 2-6 and will be attended by more than 300 delegates representing 30 traditions from 60 countries. Its closing ceremony includes a sermon by the Church of England's Archbishop of York, Ugandan-born John Sentamu.

He is expected to issue a call for Christian unity and a re-dedication to the world missionary movement in the 21st century.

Asked about the row between Balia and the University of Edinburgh, university spokesperson Joanne Morrison told ENI, "An investigation into these matters is underway and therefore it would be inappropriate for us to comment."

Stuart R. Wilson, head of media and communications at the Church of Scotland, said in response to a query about Balia's criticisms of the church, "We completely refute the allegations being made against the Church of Scotland and its involvement in Edinburgh 2010. As this matter is currently being investigated by the University of Edinburgh, we would not comment at this stage."

After receiving the news of his suspension, Balia told ENI, "It's disgraceful ... My suspension will shock many of the people. Apartheid is alive and well ... and it has arrived in Scotland."

Explaining a point of difference with those who have set the program, Balia told ENI, "Human sexuality is of importance. It's not on the agenda and at one point there was an attempt to bring in a homophobic bishop from Uganda and make him one of the three keynote speakers. Thank goodness, he has been replaced by one of the world's great authorities on missions and missionary history, Professor Dana L. Robert of Boston University."

A row between Balia and the Church of Scotland's representatives at Edinburgh 2010 had been simmering since the middle of March according to Dalia, but some people close to the conference said it surfaced earlier than that.