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Papua New Guinea - Religion

Names are very sacred in PNG. No one actually says anyone's real name, including their own, for fear of drawing the attention of bad spirits or sorcerers.

The country’s constitution and other laws protect religious freedom while the predominant religion is Christianity. The constitution provides for freedom of conscience, thought, and religion and the right to practice religion freely. Political, civil society, and faith leaders continued to criticize the speaker of parliament’s plans to remove indigenous artifacts from parliament and replace them with Christian symbols and a Bible. The Catholic Professionals Society referred the speaker to the Ombudsman Commission in October for misuse of office related to the plans. Limited discussions continued under the nationwide consultation, approved by parliament in 2013, on the question of whether to ban non-Christian religions.

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 6.7 million (July 2015 estimate). According to the 2000 census (the most recent available), 98 percent of citizens identified themselves as Christian. Approximately 27 percent of the population is Roman Catholic; 20 percent, Evangelical Lutheran; 12 percent, United Church; 10 percent, Seventh-day Adventist; 9 percent, Pentecostal; 5 percent, Evangelical Alliance; 3 percent, Anglican; and 3 percent, Baptist. Other Christian groups, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Salvation Army, together constitute 9 percent. Bahais make up less than percent of the population, and 2 percent hold indigenous or other beliefs. Many citizens integrate Christian faith with some indigenous beliefs and practices. The Muslim community numbers about 5,000 and consists of a mix of local converts and expatriate workers primarily centered in Port Moresby.

In October 2015 the Catholic Professional Society referred the speaker of parliament to the Ombudsman Commission for misuse of office related to the attempted removal of a totem pole from parliament’s main hall in 2013, and for using government funds to travel to the United States with a large delegation to accept an antique Bible for placement at parliament. The speaker planned to replace the totem pole with a “Christian unity pole” with the Bible at the base. The Catholic Bishops Conference condemned the removal attempt and issued warnings about the rise of religious fundamentalism as a risk to the country’s traditional identity.

Controversy continued over whether to ban non-Christian religions. Starting in July 2013, parliament tasked the minister for religion, youth and community development and the Constitutional Review Commission to set up a bipartisan team to consult with the public to determine whether or not the government should “prohibit the worship of non-Christian faiths.” The argument was that the national pledge and the constitution specifically state the country shall be a Christian country. Several church conferences and religious associations spoke out against the proposed ban as a violation of religious freedom, declaring that it was against Christian principles.

The proliferation of new missionary movements–especially charismatic Christian groups– and the growth in the Muslim community, led some established churches and public figures to question whether such developments were desirable. In September 2015 a crowd threw stones at a Catholic bishop who attempted to disrupt evangelical street preachers who reportedly made accusations about the Catholic Church. Police responded and asked the preachers to avoid defamatory remarks.

Many Christians tend to integrate indigenous beliefs and practices where it is common for people to seek assistance from traditional healers when western medical treatment or prayer is perceived to have failed to cure an illness. Fear of witchcraft and evil spirits is still widespread. Traditional beliefs are still strong where people give respect to certain species of animals, birds or plants that are believed to have souls that possess supernatural or magical power. Clan rituals to appease their spirits vary according to tribe and provide people with another perspective for interpreting social reality.

Unlike Christianity that views death as the end of earthly existence, Melanesians consider that their ancestors have a living presence and are keeping a watchful eye over community affairs. Many groups have built ‘spirit houses’ where food can be left to sustain the ancestor and prevent harm to the community.





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