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Bishop says Christians in Malaysia are ‘fearful about the future’

Bishop John Sherrington with members of the Catholic Church and the World Methodist Council in Malaysia

Auxiliary Bishop John Sherrington of Westminster has said Christians in Malaysia are fearful about the future amid growing intolerance.

Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country with a Christian minority. It is virtually impossible for a Muslim to convert to Christianity and potential converts face isolation and pressure to return to Islam.

Believers from a Muslim background have faced the threat of divorce and having their children taken away.

Last year the High Court declared that the term “Allah”, which Malay-speaking Christians use to refer to God, was restricted to just Muslims.

The ruling has since led to Bibles being seized and hymn books being taken and desecrated.

Then in November last year plans were brought in to put sharia law courts on an equal footing with civil courts.

In response to the ruling Archbishop Leow, in a pastoral letter, wrote: “We do not know what the future holds or what the repercussions of the decision of the court of appeal will be on rights of the minorities to practise their faith in the manner they consider in keeping with their religious practice, but we do know that we are a people of faith and Hope.”

Bishop Sherrington, who was visiting Kuala Lumpur for the fourth Joint International Commission for Dialogue between the World Methodist Council and the Catholic Church, encouraged people to pray for Malaysian Christians.

He said: “I met a number of Christians in Kuala Lumpur who were fearful about the future …

I encourage you to pray for the Christians in Malaysia and to find out more about the situation.

“In a country with a small Christian minority, the ecumenical need to pray, understand one another and serve together because we share a common baptism is a necessary imperative.”

During his time in Malaysia Bishop Sherrington helped prepare a document for the World Methodist Council meeting in Houston in 2016.

The document, The Call to Holiness: From Glory into Glory, will focus on the ways in which Catholics and Methodists understand the call and path to holiness.

The decision to meet in Malaysia was made to show support for the Christians living there.

Christians in Malaysia make up nine per cent of the population of 28 million. About 61 per cent of the country is Muslim, 20 per cent Buddhist, and six per cent Hindu.

Bishop Sherrington added he came away “with a much greater understanding of the situation of Christians in Malaysia and the need to find out more and to pray for the Church in a difficult situation”.