I’ve often criticized the World Council of Churches for its craven refusal to defend Christians who are being persecuted around the world. So it is heartening that the new General Secretary of the WCC, the Rev. Olav Tveit, has written to the churches of Malaysia, which have recently been under attack by some Muslims in that country after winning a Supreme Court decision that allows Christians to use the word “Allah” as a translation for “God.” Tveit writes:

It is with profound sorrow that we heard the news of churches being attacked in different parts of Malaysia and of the nine church buildings firebombed during the past five days due to the controversy over the use of the word “Allah” for God by non-Muslims.

While Christians in majority Muslim countries all over the world, including your neighbouring country Indonesia, have used the word “Allah” for God for centuries, it is very disturbing to hear about this new controversy generated by a small sector of Muslims opposing the use of “Allah” for God by Christians. In fact, this action will only challenge tolerance and restrict religious freedom as well as negatively affecting the “One Malaysia” policy commitment made by the government which aims to ensure that racial harmony becomes a central policy for the country.

The World Council of Churches, as a fellowship of churches around the world, remains deeply concerned about these developments of communal disharmony.  We hope for an immediate action by both the government and civil society to resolve the conflict, in order to avoid renewed hostilities and escalation of violence in society.

While appreciating the statement from the Prime Minister of Malaysia that “violence has not been part of the practice of religion in Malaysia” we hope that immediate measures will be taken to resolve the problem and that all perpetrators of these acts of violence will be brought to justice. It is heartening to see that numerous Islamic organizations and leaders have publicly condemned these wanton acts of a small group of people.

As you pass through this time of trouble and anxiety, we express our solidarity with all members of the churches and we call upon churches in Malaysia to continue their search for peace.  We pray for peace and reconciliation among the people of different faiths and communities in your nation. May God Almighty strengthen you to “seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14).

There might be a few things that could be said stronger in this letter, but I’m sure Tveit is trying to be diplomatic while at the same time urging the government of Malaysia to action. It’s a good start to his tenure at the head of the WCC.