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Discrimination in Peru - God has delivered us

Discrimination in Peru - God has delivered us

By Ian Montgomery
Special to Virtueonline
January 30, 2013

In July 2011, on his last day in office, President Garcia of Peru signed a regulation that defined a "religious entity" as a body needing 10,000 verifiable adult adherents. This law regulated most religions and churches other than the Roman Catholics out of legal existence as recognized religious entities.

This regulation came into effect on January 18, 2013. It addressed non-Roman Catholic religious groups: Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and most Christian churches in Peru. The history is as follows: In December 2010 the Peruvian Government passed the Law of Religious Freedom and Equality - Ley Nº 29635.

This law guarantees all religions and churches equality before the law. What was then required was a regulation, which would define a "religious entity." The Ministry of Justice, we are told, had prepared such a regulation that would have continued the recognition accorded to religious groups and churches as we already had in Peru.

However, this was not the regulation that was signed. It is suggested that at the last minute some ultra conservative Roman Catholic persons substituted another regulation, which was then signed by the departing president, probably without too much scrutiny as there were about three hundred documents to be signed on his last day in office.

The effect of this regulation was that other religions such as Judaism and Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism would no longer be recognized. Nor were other churches such as Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian and the scores of independent Evangelical Churches likely to fit the requirement. They would simply become civic associations like a football or cricket club. It also means that they would no longer be able to have foreign missionaries as legal residents. Interestingly the day January 18, 2013 is the first day of the week of prayer for Christian unity.

The good news is that President Humalla signed a new regulation that will over-ride this punitive one. He signed it on the last day of the week of Christian Unity. We do not yet know the exact wording of the new regulation. We do know that as of Monday, January 28, the Ministry of Justice showed its list of approved "Entidades religiosas." The list was updated on January 28, 2013, and looks just like the previous list under the old regulations.

The Anglican Church in Peru - with which I am a missionary - is the result of an intergovernmental treaty made in 1846.

The new law of religious freedom specifically gives place to religious entities where there are intergovernmental treaties with countries having an official religion. The new law grants freedom of the people to choose their religion and to practice the same.

Peru is a country where there is a special relationship with the Vatican. Unofficially, it can be hard to progress in life here without being a Roman Catholic.

I heard just this week of a Navy officer who had to be a practicing RC in order to be promoted. Ministry here is hard when the middle and upper classes attach negative attitudes towards non-Roman Catholics.

On the other hand, there is total freedom to work among the poor who often feel abandoned. I believe that there is also a rising middle class that is increasingly intolerant of this religious control. In addition there is a significant increase in membership in the Evangelical Churches in Peru.

The effect of this is like that of the Methodist Churches back in England. Initially among the lowest social groups the followers of Wesley rose socially and economically. Peru has had significant ministry from Roman Catholic groups such as the Franciscans and Maryknoll communities.

Liberation theology made deep inroads here. These groups have been sidelined. Under the present Roman Catholic regime power seems to attach to very conservative groups such as Opus Dei.

This has led to disaffection among thinking Roman Catholics. While we were seeking signatures many signed in our support. This is an interesting and fascinating country to work in.

As Anglicans we are glad to be on the official list of "Entidades Religiosas" and it is a privilege to be here. We thank God that this regulation has been revoked. We thank God for our deliverance from this horribly discriminatory and punitive regulation, and we are blessed every day.

Thank God for those who worked hard with the Ministry of Justice, on diplomatic levels and to collect signatures. Thanks for all the prayers. Prayer works. To God be the glory.

The Rev. Ian Montgomery is a missionary with the Anglican Church in Peru. He is based in Lima

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