Episcopal Life Convention Daily
Friday, 14 July 2000  

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Christianity death sentence for some

Religious persecution overseas can seem like a very distant problem. But it's quite personal and real for some Episcopalians who testified to the National and International Affairs Committee about human rights abuses in Pakistan.

Elizabeth Vice from Florida, was spending a summer in Pakistan when the Blasphemy Law, which has been used against Christians in the Muslim state, was enacted. She recalls visiting an Anglican church where traditional baptisms by immersion were no longer held because the water has been cut off. Molotov cocktails had left the church's windows in shards. Since her return to the United States, two of the church's clergy have died.

Vice, 30, personally experienced religious intolerance nine years ago in Charleston, S.C., when her then-fiance decided she must die after converting from Islam to Christianity. Since then, she has become involved in combating religious persecution, authoring two resolutions for General Convention concerning persecution in Pakistan and another on persecution in Indonesia.

"I was touched by what she had to say," said Myra Augustine, who also testified before the committee. She and her husband, the Rev. Patrick Augustine moved to the United States more than 15 years ago.

Rector of St. John's in Waynesboro, Virginia, Patrick Augustine is involved in the struggle against religious persecution in Pakistan and Sudan and has testified before Congress. In Pakistan, he was vicar of Christ Church, Rawalpindi, established in 1851, and an Army chaplain. He also was friendly with then-President General Zia Ul-Haq, who supported the Christian community. When he and the Pakistani government began enforcing the Blasphemy Law she said, "We were very much upset and hurt."

The law is "like a sword that hangs over the head of every Christian," she said. "I worry about my family who lives there."

Her brothers, successful businessmen, could be accused under the law out of professional jealousy. During a recent visit to Pakistan, she learned a cousin's family fled their home after the husband was accused of being an Indian spy. "They were going to burn their house and kill them all! We don't even know how many people are in the jails," she said.

After Patrick Augustine met with Pakistan's current leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf,they believed Musharrafwould get rid of the Blasphemy Law, but that hasn't happened. Noting Musharraf is scheduled to visit the United States, she said, "Christian delegations should meet him and challenge him."

As of the close of business Thursday, neither resolution had come up before the House of Deputies

The House of Bishops adopted B053 with minor changes. They also adopted B047, removing specific references to the Blasphemy Law but still calling for humanitarian reforms and calling on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to investigate the country.

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