GENEVA (RNS/ENInews) — Afghan officials have ordered two international church-backed humanitarian groups to suspend operations while they investigate allegations of illegal proselytizing, which the groups strongly deny.
Afghanistan has suspended the activities of Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) and the U.S.-based Church World Service (CWS) pending an investigation into allegations they were preaching Christianity, which is prohibited in the Islamic state.
“Norwegian Church Aid does not proselytize in any of the countries in which it works. This policy is also enforced in Afghanistan,” NCA said on its website. Norwegian Church Aid has been working in Afghanistan since 1979 and has since 1995 mainly implemented its programs through Afghan organizations.
Church World Service, the affiliated humanitarian arm of the National Council of Churches, also denied the allegations on proselytizing, which can carry a maximum sentence of death.
“Our work is entirely humanitarian — meaning we are impartial, neutral, and independent,” CWS programs director Maurice Bloem said in a statement on the group’s website. ” … We have never and will never engage in any religious proselytism. Such activities are contrary to our mandate as a humanitarian organization, and we fully respect the religion of the communities we serve.”
The Geneva-based ACT Alliance, an umbrella group of 100 churches and related humanitarian organizations, counts both groups as members and on June 1 said that the suspension is expected to last only a few days.
“A local TV station has for a long period criticized NCA for proselytizing,” ACT said in a statement. “The government has ordered the investigation to clarify what the church-based organizations are doing.”
NCA general secretary Atle Sommerfeldt said he looked forward to the investigation, being undertaken by a government commission.
“For us, this is a simple case. We don’t have a mandate from the church to preach the gospel, and as a professional international agency we also follow the international rules on religious neutrality in our operations. It will be good to get government proof of our operations, which are purely nonreligious,” Sommerfeldt said.
— Peter Kenny
©2010 Religion News Service. Used with permission
Posted June 4, 2010