PNG Churches must face the demonic
By Fr Philip Gibbs SVD – CBC Social Concerns
Whilst I appreciate many of the points made by Fr Franco Zocca SVD in his article “Science not Religion to defeat Sorcery”, I do not fully agree with his conclusions.
I think the fact that Christian leaders in Papua New Guinea are divided on this issue only contributes to confusion among the people. This is a very good reason why the Churches should convene for dialogue on what religious institutions can do to prevent people from accusing others of causing sickness, death, and disasters by sorcery practices.
Perhaps belief in the demonic in PNG resembles the pre-enlightenment worldview of Europe in the Middle Ages. But PNG is not Europe and we are now in the 21st Century. Surely we can learn from the scandalous complicity of the Church in accusing and killing witches in Europe. Hence Churches cannot be silent or simply wait for the educational and health institutions to bring about change. The Churches have a crucial role to play along with other institutions.
Fr Zocca notes that many people, including a majority of Christian leaders in the country believe in the negative influence of sorcery practices. When it comes to beliefs, theology has an important role to play. In the common mind we are not dealing just with evil powers attributed to a human being, but particularly with some forms of witchcraft such as that from Simbu and other parts of the Highlands, it includes belief in humans being possessed by demonic power. We cannot disregard what people believe. In my experience mature Christian belief in the power of Jesus Christ can offer the most powerful conviction to counter such demonic beliefs. At the same time Christians must rely on mature discernment lest we succumb to fundamentalist misunderstandings as has happened recently in the destruction of carvings in Parliament.
In my view the Churches have a very important role to bring the plight of the voiceless casualties into the current academic and judicial discussion. Also the Churches would be betraying their prophetic God-given role in PNG today if they do not make every effort to take an in-depth, united and proactive stance on the issue of belief in demonic powers.