Saturday, November 04, 2006

Kosovo evangelicals react to Bishop Artemije's claims

Few weeks ago media reported the claims of Serbian Orthodox Church that some key evangelicals in the USA are joining their lobby against Kosovo's independence. This sparked a reaction from the Kosovo Albanian evangelicals and American misisonaries working in Kosovo. Their reaction is below, as well as a personal letter of one of the pastors to Mr. Pat Robertson. I also attached a photo of the reaction of the Kosovo Albanians to the 9/11 terrorist attacts, because it is mentioned in the letter. I thank Jeff for posting the response and translating the personal letter from Albanian to English.

Reaction of Kosovo Albanians to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America, September 11, 2001, Prishtina (Pristina), Kosova (Kosovo).
(By the way, I was there, too, and saw the people crying.)

The protestant churches and several American missionaries met to formulate a response. The draft letter reads as follows:

30 October 2006

Dear Mr. Robertson:

Grace and peace to you in Jesus' name!

We the undersigned are national pastors and foreign missionaries serving in Kosovo. We represent several nations of the world and a wide range of denominations and doctrines within the evangelical spectrum.
We are writing to express our deep concern at reports we have read in various media outlets as well as on the website of Bishop Artemije of the Serbian Orthodox Church. According to these reports, the bishop met with you to inform you of the "destruction of Christian civilization" here and to warn that to grant independence to Kosovo would be to "permit the establishment of an Islamic state". In light of these warnings, the bishop claims that you promised to exert your influence to help keep Kosovo in Serbia.
Mr. Robertson, we who are on the ground working to spread the Gospel in Kosovo are convinced that the bishop has shown you a distorted picture. We would like to share with you some of our observations and to plead with you to listen to our perspective before taking any action in this matter.
First of all, we find it troubling that Bishop Artemije of all people would turn to American evangelical leaders for help. This same bishop has consistently proven as fierce a foe of evangelicals here in the former Yugoslavia as any Muslim leader. In an article in a Serbian Orthodox publication, he anathematized anyone who set foot in a Protestant church. Our brothers and sisters in Serbia still suffer discrimination and sometimes outright persecution as a result of the influence of church leaders such as Bishop Artemije. We wonder whether the bishop considers his efforts to stamp out evangelicalism as part of his defense against the destruction of Christianity in this part of the world.
Today in predominantly Muslim Kosovo, evangelicals have more legal rights than in predominantly Orthodox Christian Serbia. In fact, Both parliaments passed religious laws in the past year. The Kosovo law provides one of the strongest guarantees of religious liberty in all Europe, recognizing the Protestant community by name. The Serbian law favors the Orthodox Church and serves to legitimize longstanding discrimination of evangelicals.
The bishop's claim that an independent Kosovo would become an Al Qaeda base also strikes those of us here on the ground as absurd. Kosovar Albanians are by and large more pro-American than Americans themselves. The stars and stripes flies side by side with the Albanian two-headed eagle all across Kosovo. This past year, thousands of local people gathered in cities, towns and villages on the Fourth of July to share in America's joy then again on the 11th of September to share in America's mourning. A popular saying here is, "God in heaven; America on earth!"
Bishop Artemije has every right to speak out against the destruction of Serb religious sites and the persecution of Serbs. We join with him in condemning these attacks in the strongest possible terms. Nationalism is unquestionably an ugly, idolatrous force that has left in its wake countless victims of every ethnicity here in the Balkans.
However, the bishop's effort to depict this nationalism as "Islamic terrorism" is both deceptive and damaging. If attacks on Serbs and their churches are Islamic terrorism, then how should one describe the attacks on the Albanian population and their places of worship in 1998 and 1999? Or how does one account for the fact that these "Islamic terrorists" have never touched Albanian Catholic or Protestant places of worship?
We do not deny that there are Islamic fundamentalists working to gain influence here in Kosovo - as there are in the USA, Britain and just about everywhere else in the world. At the moment, these extremists are few in number and are strongly opposed by the vast majority of the population. But please hear us, Mr. Robertson! If you publicly oppose the independence of Kosovo you will play directly into Islamists' hands in two important ways.
First of all, the radical Muslims here would love nothing more than to find evidence of a link between evangelicals and the extreme nationalist elements of the Serbian Church. Crosses carved into the ruins of Albanian homes bombed and burned during the war reinforced the perception that Serb paramilitaries carried out their atrocities with the blessing of the Church. We hope that you will not make a statement that would cause us to accused of sharing in the guilt for those atrocities.
Secondly, if you were successful in persuading the U.S. to oppose Kosovo's independence, this would prove to be a huge victory for Islamic extremists. Then they would say, "You trusted in America, but America has betrayed you!" In such an event, a deeply disillusioned population would be ripe for Islamist propaganda.
Already the publicity arising from this case has resulted in serious threats against evangelical believers here in Kosovo. Mr. Robertson, you can be absolutely certain that if you align yourself with Bishop Artemije's agenda, your brothers and sisters in Christ here in Kosovo will pay a very high price . We plead with you in the name of Jesus not to give ammunition to the enemies of the Gospel!
God bless you

Mark Orfila, a friend and missionary with the Assemblies of God, drafted the letter. There will be a public press-release forthcoming later in the week.

This appeared in the Kosovo weekly Java:

An open letter to Pat Robertson

Dear Mr. Robertson:

Grace and Peace in the name of our Savior. I hope this letter finds you enjoying His blessings!

Allow me to introduce myself. I have been working among the Albanian people as a servant of the Gospel since 1995 -- first in Albania, later in Macedonia, and since 1999 in Kosovo. I am from the state of Louisiana, and my sending organization is the Assemblies of God

I was deeply alarmed last week to read an article in the Financial Times entitled US evangelists 'join campaign to keep Kosovo within Serbia'. According to the article, Bishop Artemije of the Serbian Orthodox Church claims to have enlisted from you a promise to use your influence to oppose the independence of Kosovo on the grounds that an independent Kosovo would “provide a base for an ‘extremist Islamic jihad’.”

Upon reading the article carefully, I noted that while your name was invoked, you were nowhere quoted directly. Therefore, I’m writing in order to request a clarification from you. I would also welcome this opportunity to share with you some of my insights gained from almost 12 years of working in this part of the world.

Mr. Robertson, I wish you could have been here with me in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 and watched as people stood in line to give their own blood for the victims of the attack. I wish you could have experienced for yourself not only the mass rallies and marches but also the flood of personal telephone calls and visits I received expressing solidarity and support with the USA. I wish you could have been with me this past July 4th as hundreds of local people gathered in the town square to celebrate American Independence Day as though it were their own. I wish you could have seen the cities, towns and villages all across Kosovo illuminated by candles this past September on the fifth anniversary of the 2001 attack as our friends here shared our grief.

Kosovar Albanians are probably the most pro-American people outside of America itself. In fact, they may be more pro-American than Americans. American flags flutter from one end of Kosovo to the other. Hardly a day goes by here that someone doesn’t tell me, “God in heaven, America on earth!” (Admittedly for me as a Christian, this statement causes a bit of an embarrassment; I love my country, but this comes a little too close to idolatry for my comfort.) In fact, Albanian devotion to America has roots that go far deeper than the 1999 NATO intervention. Every schoolchild here learns that were it not for U.S. president Woodrow Wilson, the nation of Albania would have never existed.

There are, of course, Islamic extremists here -- as in the USA and everywhere else. (I was physically attacked by one of them last year; he was tried and sentenced by a local court the very next day!) Bishop Artemije is attempting to spread alarm that if Kosovo becomes independent then these extremists will gain ascendancy. This claim is deeply ironic. If the US were to oppose Kosovo’s independence, the Albanians would feel betrayed by their only friends. Then the jihadists (who are currently a tiny and despised minority) might have a chance of gaining a wider hearing!

There is a further irony in Bishop Artemije’s appealing to American evangelicals for support. This is the same bishop who once wrote an article in which he anathematized anyone who darkened the door of a Protestant church. Local pastors remember that when Serbia ruled here, evangelicals were labeled a “satanic cult”. Even today evangelicals in Kosovo have far more legal protection than our brothers in Serbia proper. Kosovo and Serbia both passed religious laws in the last year. The Kosovo law should be a model for Europe; it guarantees the rights of Protestants by name! The Serbian law, by contrast, institutionalizes the longstanding discrimination against evangelicals.

Even graver than the persecution of evangelicals is the way in which many Serbs invoked the name of Christ and the symbols of Christianity as they carried out atrocities in the wars of the 1990s. I’ll never forget traveling around Kosovo after the war in the summer of 99 and seeing thousands of burned Albanian homes with the cross carved into the charred ruins. The ultimate emblem of love and self-sacrifice was turned into a symbol of hatred more akin to the swastika. The sad fact is that elements of the Serbian Orthodox Church blessed this kind of behavior, and in so doing, they severely undermined their claim to be the defenders of Christianity here.

Of course Albanian attacks on Serbs and Serbian religious sites such as those which occurred in March 2004 must also be acknowledged and condemned. I certainly want to see a Kosovo where Serbs, Albanians and everyone else are fully free and secure. I’m convinced that the vast majority of Albanians want this as well and that it can be achieved.

Mr. Robertson, I am sincerely praying for you that if you do speak out on the situation in Kosovo that your words will be well-informed, wise and humble.

God bless you!

Mark Orfila

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Just a clarification, I didn't translate the letter but received a English copy from the author which I posted.