The Christian Conference of Asia gathered in Jakarta for its 14th Assembly from May 20th to May 27th 2015. The Assembly invites us all to affirm that we are ‘Living Together in the Household of God’. We listen to each other, share our burdens and struggles, celebrate our joys and give voice to our concerns.
The delegates of the churches councils of Asia present these concerns and issues to the Assembly. We outline them on behalf of those who approached the committee and wanted these particular issues to be taken seriously by the CCA in its program planning and by the CCA members.
This is not an exhaustive or complete listing of the issues being faced in Asia today. These matters are the concerns of our hearts and point to the reality that not all people live in the joy and justice of the Household of God. We claim our prophetic voice as the member churches and councils of CCA. We must not be silent. God calls us to listen, watch and speak and so be responsive to the concerns that follow and those that will come to our attention in the future.
The Suffering of People
Human trafficking has a serious impact of a social, political, cultural and economic nature. Human trafficking, and the global trade in human lives across the world, is a truly transnational issue and denies the God given worth of each person and destroys lives. When people are trafficked they are commodified and treated as objects of trade and valued in commercial terms.
It is overwhelmingly women and children who are poor, marginalised, uneducated or stateless that are most vulnerable to human traffickers. Anti-trafficking NGO ‘Not For Sale’ estimates that there are approximately 35.8 million people enslaved in the world today. There are now more slaves in the world than at any other time in history.
A growing problem in some other countries is the marriage of very young women from situations of poverty to older men who have been unable to marry, live in remote rural settings and may have physical or emotional disabilities. Women make this choice so that they can send money to their families to alleviate their poverty. Such marriage is a poverty trap.
Human trafficking generates approximately $150 billion USD in revenue per year. The law alone cannot fix this problem; the economic basis of this problem needs to be addressed, and the church must play a role in eroding the financial profitability of human trafficking. When drug trafficking rides on the back of human trafficking the burden and plight of the trafficked person is made worse.
We acknowledge also the impact of sex trafficking destroying the family unit and in exacerbating the spread of HIV/AIDS. We acknowledge the links between forced prostitution and forced drug addiction, where victims are plied with drugs to make them more compliant.
It is critical that we address the growing problem of human trafficking so that we, as the church in Asia, can mend broken communities and restore victims to their families, and become truly whole within the Household of God. Failing to address this issue affects all our humanity, and we urge CCA to think prayerfully about possible solutions, both at an international and local level.
The globalization of the world economy has generated the conditions in which informal economies can thrive, including the trade in people and so there are massive increases in the movement of both goods and services and people.
Such movements have exacerbated the commodification of human lives and the commodification of the labor and services. A just and sustainable resolution of forced migration requires us to address fundamental inequalities in wealth and resources between and among countries in Asia. No one should be forced to migrate for employment. Such resolution should lead to the development of national economies and the democratization of national politics so that in the end no one is forced to migrate and get displaced.
People from less developed countries are the focus of flows of low wage labor into more developed countries to undertake the ‘dirty, dangerous and demeaning’ work others won’t do. In 2013 there were 232 million people, or about 3.2% of the global population living outside their country of birth, a dramatic increase compared to 154 million in 1990.
The boundary between sex trafficking and labor trafficking is often blurred and many women are recruited as waitresses or service workers and on arrival are forced into prostitution, with debts incurred to recruiters and subject to confiscation of travel documents, threats, and violence. They experience exploitative labor conditions. In some situations construction and domestic workers are contracted to one country only to find they are destined for another third country.
In come countries in Asia Dalits and tribal people are subject the harsh treatment in employment. In India, even though prohibited by law manual scavenging (the manual cleaning of soak pits, sewage lines and non water based public toilets) is a practice that continues. This outlawed occupation is focussed upon the most vulnerable groups from generation to generation. At present members of the scavenging communities are challenging the continuation of this practice across India.
The Marketing of Motherhood
With the rapid advance of science and due to new technological innovations a growing number of Asian women are being paid to carry the babies of western or affluent families. This is a growing problem in several countries, especially in India and Thailand. It has a dehumanizing impact on the women involved and an unknown impact on the children born of such arrangements.
The poverty faced by these women creates the environment where they feel forced to sell their bodies and are impregnated, many women do this as a job and deliver babies in succession. It is having an impact on the dignity of women and on family life. It is a negation of the sanctity life endowed from God.
There is a global shortage of donor organs for people with significant health needs. This shortage has created an illicit market trade in human body parts, particularly in China and other parts of Asia. In several Asian countries people disappear never to be heard of again. It is suspected that they have been murdered for their body parts. This is a growing concern that requires research and investigation.
Violence Against Women, Youth, Children and Gender Minorities
No one should become a victim of violence. Violence against humans is a denial of their God given identity as part of family, church, society and country, and is a violation of human rights. Violence hampers people’s creative powers, humanness, freedom, choice and decision-making.
Violence has many faces like death, exploitation, predjudice, oppression, forced migration, human trafficking, caste based discrimination and war. Conflict and war are destructive. Many people are refugees in their own homeland.
Factors that lead to violence include the structures of globalization, imperialism and privatization that create large gaps between the rich and the poor. The household may become the center of violence where immediate family members experience many kinds of sexual, mental, psychological and physical abuse. Women, youth and children are among the most vulnerable to the impact of violence and dehumanizes them physically, mentally, psychologically and socially and has an horrendous impact on their personhood, wellbeing and health.
Gender minorities have been neglected and marginalised in the church and society because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. They are vulnerable and do not receive adequate protection from society.
During the year 1915-1916, about 1.5 million Armenians were massacred and thousands more were displaced or deported from the Ottoman Empire in present-day Turkey. The Armenian people continue to demand recognition and reparation for the suffering and injustice inflicted upon their ancestors. What follows is an extract from a CCA Statement made on April 24th 2015, the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.
‘We the members of the Christian Conference of Asia, share the sorrow and pain of our brothers and sisters of the Armenian Church. We revere the memories of their past and share their anguish at the inhuman treatment that was meted out to their ancestors.
While we commemorate the genocide and understand it as a fascist attitude that resulted in deliberate ethnic cleansing and the destruction of an ancient civilization and culture, let us also remember with pride that the presence of the Armenian people in the world is a constant reminder of the tremendous resilience and strength that people of faith have. Their life saga of courage, faith and hope, kept alive by paintings and books and other souvenirs, offer strength and comfort to the millions who now suffer similar atrocities of victimization and war’.
Refugees and Displaced people across the Asia-Pacific region
The reality of people moving across international country borders seeking refuge cannot be avoided. There are many people, some stateless, others displaced by ethnic and religious tension that seek refuge.
Some countries are taking action to close their borders to refugees. This forces those seeking refuge to take extreme risks as they seek safety. As this assembly met we heard of the tragedy of the treatment of the Rohingya, a stateless people, seeking refuge and safety in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
We demand safe and dignified settlement programs for the displaced populations in the region while they wait for the determination of their refugee and asylum seeker determination and subsequent resentment or repatriation.
“Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt,”(Exodus 23:9) says God. Thus, the CCA Assembly expresses support for a cooperative and regional approach to the needs of displaced persons refugees and asylum seekers. Therefore we request that the CCA and the member churches advocate for a compassionate response to those seeking asylum and an increase in the resettlement intake of refugees across the region.
The assembly expresses deep sympathy to the people of Nepal for the devastation caused by the recent earthquakes. We urge the government of Nepal and all national and international agencies involved in rescue and relief work to give priority to human lives and human dignity while carrying out their work.
We recommend that the Christian Conference of Asia:
Geo-political and military developments in Asia-Pacific, over recent years, have seen significant changes and alarming developments in the regional military and security situation.
The refocusing of the security interests of the United States of America on what has been referred to as the ‘pivot to Asia’; renegotiations of joint security agreements between the United States and many countries; Extended U.S. troop positioning and access to some Asian countries; The heightened tensions in the South China sea, as claimant states seek to protect their claims under United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS); The increased capacity and more frequent posturing of China in regard to military engagement in the region.
Militarization North and Southeast Asia
Christian communities in Northeast and Southeast Asia in particular are deeply concerned that the United States and China have been intensifying their belligerent military activities. This growing militarism and interventionism has seen an alarming rise in the resurgence of base-building, military occupation and rotational troop deployments and joint military exercises with allied countries including Japan and Korea.
This includes the building of a major naval base in Jeju Island, South Korea; plans to build another base in Kyoto, Japan; war games near the waters of North Korea; interoperability weapons systems exercises, conducting a substantive site survey for possible stationing of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea, the signing of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) in the Philippines; and the whipping up of anti-China sentiments across the entire region. The U.S. has over 67,000 overseas troops in around 225 bases in Japan, South Korea and in the Philippines. There are forces in Thailand, access agreements with Singapore and military exercises in actual combat zones in the southern Philippines. Japan alone is host to more than 80 U.S. military bases and facilities. There is a plan to permanently locate US warships in Darwin, Australia.
The posturing of China through political and military power and the rise of the influence of the Chinese economy in Asia is part of a growing sense of insecurity in many parts of Asia.
To our regret, recently, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has reinterpreted Article 9 of the peace constitution that redefines the function of Japanese Self-Defense Forces making it deployable outside of the country to assist allied forces to fight a common enemy.
Another issue of concern is the potential for a further nuclear crisis to emerge, and the CCA calls on the nations in Asia to build a nuclear free area.
Peace and Justice in Myanmar
In Myanmar the peace talks between government and ethnic armed groups are in the initial stages. In the past when such talks have broken down great pain has been inflicted on the ethnic minorities including the Kachin people who are still suffering today. Recent violence has been experienced in Rakhine State and in Kokant. In Karen state the military controls the agenda and peace talks are yet to begin.
The people of Myanmar seek agreements that will benefit all people. Churches and communities need time and assistance to prepare for the resettlement of refugees and internally displaced people.
Real peace will come as communities gather and share their experiences and develop new visions for a pathway to the future. The people will also need sustainable exploitation of land and natural resources in a manner that respects the environment and the rights of peoples and communities to land and livelihood.
Peace and Human Rights for West Papuans
In the Household of God we are one, there is no discrimination and all are secure and loved. When human rights are abused the values of the Household of God are denied and people suffer and are discriminated against.
The people of West Papua live with the impact of its integration into the Republic of Indonesia in 1963. Since then human rights have been violated, social and human development has been degraded and people are living in poverty and have no means of giving voice as part of determining their own future.
The churches of Asia seek an end to the tensions between the Indonesian authorities and Papuans so that they can live with justice, peace, dignity and security. We hear the cry of the people of West Papua as they seek to give voice to their desire to determine their own future and support this desire.
The Rise of Religious Fundamentalism and Violence
The rise of fundamentalism in all religions is changing the environment in which people live and serve. Fundamentalism leads to isolation, an absence of communication and a loss of religious freedom and diversity. In some Asian countries this problem is made worse with the rise of ISIS and a growth in Islamic extremism.
Resulting tensions have led to the bombing of places of worship and the deaths of people of faith in Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Southern Thailand and Indonesia. In Malaysia churches and Christians are experiencing a loss of freedom to do with increased Islamisation in Malaysia. This is a reality in Iran. There are indications that Christian communities are also being increasingly persecuted. In many countries Christian communities are marginalized and are vulnerable due to their being in the minority.
Blasphemy laws in Pakistan made words of accusation as the basis for the 100s of people being imprisoned and stuck in jail. The blasphemy laws are creating religious tensions and are a cause of fear for Christians in Pakistan.
Iran has been a home for Christians from the very beginning of Christianity. The Armenian Orthodox Church and other Christian denominations lived in Iran for centuries. It is only after the Islamic revolutions, the rights of Christians are protected officially in the constitution of the country. In recent times Christians continue to live peacefully with their Muslim sisters and brothers. It is rightly noted that the peaceful coexistence of Christians and Muslims has been a characteristic element of Iranian Society.
We proclaim Jesus Christ is our peace and our hope for just and abundant life for all people and thus resist the reliance on a build-up of military arms, threat to human security and fundamentalist terrorism in Asia. As churches, communities of faith and Councils of Churches, we join our hands together to work for disarmament in the region, confront belligerent powers to respect national sovereignty of countries and promote people’s security and economic justice in marginalized communities.
We recommend that the Christian Conference of Asia:
The changing patterns of climate are having detrimental impacts in many Asian countries. Increased natural disasters, such as drought, flood and cyclone, shortage of food and water, increased pollution, water related diseases, melting of glaciers and snow, and change in eco-systems, are exacerbated by climate change. Rising sea levels, increased frequency of extreme weather conditions and changes in rainfall and temperature are affecting the countries of Asia. People who live from what they grow, and those whose houses are near the oceans or in areas prone to flooding are vulnerable. This changing climate has also had a negative effect on natural flora and fauna in Asia.
It is estimated that there are some 25 million climate refugees in the world today, and many are in Asia and Africa, and by 2050 there will be 150-200 million climate refugees in the world, and Asia is likely to be home to a large number of them. Very often the people most affected are among the poorest in the community and lack the freedom to choose where they live. Bhola islanders in Bangladesh, are considered to be among some of the first climate refugees in Asia, the in 1995, half of Bhola Island became permanently flooded leaving some 500, 000 people homeless and forcing them to move into slums in the country’s capital city of Dhaka and into a life of poverty. We join with the Pacific Council of Churches in their concern for Pacific nations, such as Tuvalu, whose very future is under threat.
This loss of identity, destruction of houses, fields and livestock create circumstances that people find very hard to recover from. It is our hope there will be high level commitments to address the root of these problems and develop renewable and clean energy sources, promote strategies to mitigate the impact of these ecological issues on populations and communities.
We recommend that the Christian Conference of Asia:
We bring these Public Issues to the Assembly out of our vision and understanding of what it means to live together in the Household of God in the prayerful expectation of them being taken seriously.
19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God. Ephesians 2:19-20 (NRSV)