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Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

Nellie Hamura-Oa is the Adventist chaplain at the University of Papua New Guinea. But there is something a lot more interesting about her. She is standing up for the religious liberty of women accused of sorcery in PNG.

Even if someone is involved in sorcery—it doesn’t mean a mob should assault them or kill them! If they’ve committed a criminal act then the justice system must deal with it.

At a recent religious liberty symposium at Pacific Adventist University, Chaplain Hamura-Oa presented her research on the reality of the persecution of those accused of sorcery. In a calm voice, she went down the possible punishments—ranging from complete exclusion from the family, to sexual and physical assault, all the way to cruel deaths.
 

University of Papua New Guinea chaplain Nellie Hamura-Oa with International Religious Liberty Association general secretary Dr John Graz (left) and Papua New Guinea Union Mission president Pastor Leigh Rice (right). [Photo courtesy: James Standish]

Is there really an outbreak of sorcery among young women in PNG? “I don’t think so,” says Pastor Leigh Rice, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in PNG. “We’ve looked at research on this question, and what we’ve found is that those accused of sorcery are always on the margins of society. It can be old men, young single women, or women whose husbands want to get rid of them. You never see someone who is powerful accused of this. That fact alone should give you a clue about what this is really all about. But, in truth, you are asking the wrong question. Even if someone is involved in sorcery—it doesn’t mean a mob should assault them or kill them! If they’ve committed a criminal act then the justice system must deal with it. But in the cases I’m aware of, no criminal act has been committed. Religious freedom requires ending these gross abuses of human rights.” 

But how does the Seventh-day Adventist Church do its part to stamp out this abuse?

“We haven’t done enough. We need, in our local churches across this great nation, to preach clearly and repeatedly that the practice of persecuting others for their religious beliefs, even when we do not agree with them, is an affront to God,” says Dr Rice. “Christ was a friend to those on the margins of society. We must be too. We have no right to call ourselves Christians if we sit quietly while people are persecuted!”