Several weeks ago I wrote about the relationship between Pat Robertson and bishop Artemije of the Serbian Orthodox church. At that time a commenter asked why the evangelical community in Kosovo wasn’t reacting to Robertson’s precipitous comments (see the previous post and comments for the background). The protestant churches and several American missionaries met to formulate a response. I received an advanced copy of the open letter a few days ago, but didn’t know if I should post it until I was sure it was public.
After checking, 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.