Minister accuses 'bullies' of costing him conference role

AN AFRICAN minister has accused his fellow churchmen of "bullying and intimidation" after he was removed from his role in charge of a major church conference in Edinburgh.

Around 350 Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox delegates from around the globe are due at the event, which opens tomorrow, to mark the centenary of the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, widely seen as one of the most important gatherings in the history of modern Christianity.

South African Methodist minister Dr Daryl Balia, who spent the past three years planning the event, said he had now been banned from attending.

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Dr Balia claims he was effectively dismissed from his job as international director for Edinburgh 2010 in March.

In a report to the conference's organising committee, Dr Balia complained of "repeated acts of harassment, intimidation and bullying by former missionaries working in connection with the project".

He claimed he was removed from his post two days after an incident at Church of Scotland headquarters when a former missionary told him to "keep quiet" and he responded: "No, you keep quiet".

"The moral of the story is that the missionary is free to abuse the native convert unto eternity but dare the convert stand up to defend his rights, he will be put in his place."

He said the organiser of the original 1910 conference had apparently been "dismayed at finding preparations for a supposedly international conference lodged in the hands of what was in practice almost exclusively a Scottish committee".

He claimed in the run-up to Edinburgh 2010, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches had complained about the same "overbearing Scottish influence".

Dr Balia said: "We are trying to turn round the tide of mission history where people of colour were really treated as second class. This conference is meant to overturn that legacy, but we seem to be caught up in the same process. I just happen to be caught in the crossfire."

He has lodged a grievance with his employer, Edinburgh University, over his treatment and a hearing has been set for 7 June, the day after the conference ends. He has also been warned he could face disciplinary action over the report he circulated.

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He said he was considering taking his case to an industrial tribunal.

The Rev Andrew Anderson, chairman of the organising committee, referred inquiries about Dr Balia to the university.

But Mr Anderson said: "The 1910 conference was largely western, Protestant and male. This conference, we hope, will be very different. We hope the whole Christian family is being represented."

A university spokeswoman said an investigation was under way and refused to comment further.