Foreign Policy Blogs

Christianity in Central Asia

Most of you have probably heard the reports of Christian-targeted violence in Iraq in recent weeks. Religious minorities face many uphill battles, some higher and harsher than others, in most societies. Just this last week we heard people, though on a very marginal scale, at McCain rallies shouting derogatory Muslim references toward Barack Obama. It is in this light that I came across these two pieces regarding Christianity and its spread in Central Asia: Pope Benedict's meeting with CA Catholic Bishops and leaders and observations from a group of American Southern Baptists who recently completed a missionary trip to the region.

Pope Benedict XVI hosted the bishops of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan and the heads of church missions in Turkmenistan and Tajikistan at the Vatican on Oct. 2. The Pope encouraged these Christian leaders to keep the faith and remain united in their mission to ‘find new ways of ministering and sharing the Gospel taking into account the language and culture of the faithful entrusted to you.’ The report acknowledged the difficulties of spreading any type of religion in the region as most their government's keep them under tight control, mainly fearing a radical Islamic uprising. Pope Benedict, who early this decade made a controversial speech regarding Islam, did not shy away from discussing Islam and the region's ‘plague of violence and terrorism and the spread of extremism and fundamentalism.’ He also cautioned against any measures that would or do repress religious freedom: “Law must never be transformed into inequity, nor can the free exercise of religion be limited because to profess one's faith freely is a fundamental and universally recognized human right.”

Now I’m not exactly sure where I came across this next piece, but I hope you find it of interest. It is report of and by the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who sent a group of about a dozen missionaries, mainly students, to the CA region, unfortunately it never says exactly where, to promote Christianity. The groups leader, Shawn Wright has made numerous missionary trips to the region attempting to spread the Gospel and pass out native-tongue New Testaments to the Muslim dominated population. The missionary group on this trip attended a Friday prayer service at a large Mosque and recorded their thoughts. Here is a interesting and enlightening quote: “It was eye-opening. This mosque had between 5,000 and 6,000 men, so there were more people worshiping there at that moment than there are believers{Christians} in the entire country. For several of us, it was a shock, but a very good shock, because as you watch these very devout people, it forces you to ask yourself, ‘How do I know that what I believe is right?,’ It was a great time for me to reflect upon the Gospel and its truthfulness and fullness while I was watching these people who are deceived. It is also very sad.” This group of Southern Baptists was also surprised at what they called the ‘nominalism’ or lack of knowledge of many of the CA muslims they came across, especially in regards to the Koran.

So two very different pieces discussing nearly the same thing. What does the Southern Baptists’ observations say about American religious views? What do say about religion in Central Asia? What effect may the Pope's statements about Islamic extremism have? What about his comments regarding religious freedom?

On a side note here is an update about the legal situation of those 17 Uighur Guantanamo Bay prisoners. Make sure to go back and read a comment left by one observer, he provides a more detailed legalistic argument than I could. What are your views of the situation? What would you do if you were the Bush administration? Judge Urbina?

 

Author

Patrick Frost

Patrick Frost recently graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science - International Relations. His MA thesis analyzed the capabilities and objectives of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Central Asia and beyond and explored how these affected U.S. interests and policy.

Areas of Focus:
Eurasia, American Foreign Policy, Ideology, SCO

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