Infighting in the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan (PCP) is harming the overall image of the church in Pakistan and also resulting in financial difficulties for institutions affiliated with the mainline church denominations, sources said.
A source said that rifts in the PCP further widened when on July 19, Rev Asif Sardar, the general secretary of the Reverend Majeed Abel-led group of PCP, issued a letter terminating the services of PCP Moderator Rev Obaid Khokhar while terming his election to the office held on Feb 28, 2022, as illegal as per the direction of the church court.
“The letter directed Rev Majeed to resume his role as moderator and conduct fresh elections for the office within six months,” the source said.
Soon after the issuance of the letter issued by the PCP general secretary, Rev Obaid Robert, chairperson of a parallel PCP Judicial Commission, issued a letter terminating the services of Rev Majeed Abel as executive secretary of the PCP with effect from July 11, 2022.
The Presbyterian Church of Pakistan has fragmented into various factions over the years with each group jostling for power and stewardship of lucrative properties owned by the Presbyterian Church of USA. The leaders of the PCP factions are just interested in selling off PCUSA properties and making money rather than strengthening the church, the source claimed.
The source said that international donor organisations such as The Outreach Foundation had put an “operational hold” on all activities with the PCP and Gujranwala Theological Seminary (GTS) due to “unconstitutional practices and general lack of goodwill among the church leadership”.
“This is a matter of shame for the entire church body in Pakistan. The struggle for power has dismembered the PCP and now the global church and other Christian organisations are reluctant to work with the Pakistani church,” the source told Kross Konnection on the condition of anonymity.
‘NEPOTISM, LUST FOR POWER CAUSING LEADERSHIP CRISIS’
The “ousted” moderator of PCP, Rev Obaid Khokhar, while talking to Kross Konnection blamed former moderator Rev Majeed Abel for the leadership crisis.
“I was unanimously elected as the moderator by the PCP General Assembly on Feb 28, 2022. The general secretary’s letter terming my election void on the basis of illegality in the election is in fact a move by my predecessor to regain the office by hook or crook,” he claimed.
According to Rev Khokhar, the former moderator did not want to hand over complete authority of the PCP and affiliated institutions to him and continued to use illegal titles such as moderator emeritus and senior moderator during meetings with international donor agencies and churches.
“During his two consecutive terms as moderator, Rev Abel pushed all PCP-affiliated institutions to amend their constitutions to include the moderator as an ex-officio member on their boards. However, when I took office, Rev Abel stopped me from attending any meeting of the respective boards, saying he would continue to oversee their working.”
“I was a toothless moderator who was not even given the authority to operate bank accounts of the PCP and neither was I privy to the donors working with PCP. My only fault was opposing Rev Abel’s nepotism in the nomination of PCP members in various boards, and making efforts for reconciliation between the various factions. This obviously did not suit those who wanted to continue their hold on power through their own nominees in the boards,” he said.
Rev Khokhar said the judicial commission formed by Rev Abel in 2018 had no legal value as its chairman had exceeded his three-year term. “How can a chairperson consider the legality of the election if he himself has surpassed the constitutional term?”
“Most of the members nominated in various boards, including the chairperson of the Judicial Commission, belong to Rev Abel’s Naulakha Presbyterian Church or are his relatives. This is a case of clear conflict of interest and nepotism,” he added.
Rev Khokhar also alleged that some PCP members involved in selling off PCUSA properties were handed legal power by Rev Abel.
“Rev Abel has recently terminated the power of attorney given to Rev Samuel Massey in 2017, but the fact is that he already knew of his reputation and kept him on his side till it was revealed that he had struck two deals to sell off PCUSA-owned precious properties in Lahore,” he said.
Kross Konnection attempted to contact Rev Massey for his version but he could not be reached.
“Moreover, Rev Abel claims that he has spent over Rs5 million from his own pocket on the church and wants the money to be refunded but he has not provided any evidence of where the money was spent,” said Rev Obaid.
The “ousted” church official said that he had not moved the court against his “illegal termination” because he wanted to reunite the PCP.
“My objective is to unite all factions because this fragmentation is affecting the PCP on the whole. PCP’s registration has expired since long and could not be renewed due to litigation between the various factions. I’m willing to surrender my office if Rev Abel also stands down from his position in the larger interest of the church. No one person should be allowed unbridled power and hegemony over the PCP and its institutions,” he said.
‘NO UNCONSTITUTIONAL MOVES MADE’
Responding to the charges, Rev Abel told Kross Konnection that he had never stopped Rev Khokhar from exercising his authority as the PCP’s new moderator.
“In reality, he became the moderator due to my support. However, the PCP’s Judicial Commission had received objection on the electoral rolls by another contender which formed the basis of his termination,” he said.
Rev Abel rejected Rev Khokhar’s claims of making efforts for reconciliation with other PCP factions, saying his intentions were clear after he unilaterally nominated the chairperson of a parallel judicial commission.
“The tenure of Judicial Commission’s chairperson is constitutionally three years but if the PCP General Assembly does not change the chairperson, he continues to remain in office. It is a common acceptable practice in PCP that pastors and chairpersons continue to remain in office even after their retirement date,” he claimed.
On Rev Khokhar’s allegation that he was not allowed to participate in meetings of PCP-affiliate boards, Rev Abel said that he had built a personal relationship with the autonomous institutions affiliated with PCP during his two consecutive terms as the moderator.
“I asked Rev Khokhar to foment his own relations with these institutions but he told me to continue dealing with those boards while he looked after the PCP affairs.”
Rev Abel did not give a clear response as to why specific persons belonging to his church were nominated in boards of governors of institutions, including the Presbyterian Medical Board and the Presbyterian Education Board etc.
He also clarified that as soon as he came into knowledge of the illegal sale of PCUSA properties, he had cancelled the power of attorney of Rev Massey.
“PCP does not own these properties and is only acting as a steward to protect them from being sold off illegally. I cancelled Rev Massey’s authorisation immediately when news surfaced that he was attempting to sell two precious properties in Lahore,” he claimed.
Regarding the charge that he was demanding Rs5.5 million from the PCP executive committee, Rev Abel said he had spent the money on legal fee. “No donor organisation gives money to fight legal cases and the church’s financial position is also not such that it could afford long drawn legal battles over property matters. I spent the money from my own pocket and the lawyers concerned can tell how much I’ve paid them over the years,” he said.
Commenting on The Outreach Foundation’s decision to put an “operational hold” on grants to PCP and Gujranwala Theological Seminary, Rev Abel said he had registered a formal protest against linking the PCP’s internal affairs with GTS.
“Outreach Foundation does not provide any financial support to PCP therefore their concerns regarding our affairs are out of mandate. They do give financial assistance to GTS and if they had any reservation regarding the seminary’s affairs, they should have written to the GTS board directly,” he said.
The clergy leader also blamed some former faculty members of the seminary for portraying a negative image of the PCP and GTS in front of international donors.
Concerned stakeholders have, meanwhile, expressed concern over the deterioration of institutions operating under PCP. They say that nepotism and lust for power in PCP have ruined institutions like the Christian Hospital in Taxila where employees are reeling from non-payment of wages for the last several months and departments are shutting down due to maladministration.