The National Council of Churches Governing Board, meeting at the close of the NCC’s first Christian Unity Gathering, has issued urgent calls for human rights, peace, and security for Christians in the Middle East and Sudan.
In a pastoral statement on the Middle East, the NCC said it stood “in solidarity with all communities of faith impacted by violence,” and “we are particularly saddened when this violence impacts our sisters and brothers in Christian communities around the world.”
“Conflict abounds” in the Middle East, the NCC said, noting that the Council has stood in solidarity with Christian churches in the area for decades. “While the qualitative presence of the Christian communities is robust, as they fulfill their ministry, offer social programs, foster interfaith relations, and support peacemaking efforts, they are nonetheless impacted by such conflict. We therefore remain steadfast in our solidarity.”
In Israel and Palestine, where conflict has continued for decades, “Many Israelis and Palestinians to live in fear of the other,” the NCC said. “It leaves Jews, Christians and Muslims vulnerable to the words and actions of extremists within each of their communities. And, in particular, it leaves Palestinian Christians of all churches vulnerable, especially as their numbers wane due to these pressures.”
The Council called upon “relevant parties both inside and outside Israel and Palestine to seriously engage, despite ever-present setbacks, in the search for a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians, as a way toward ending this conflict.”
In Syria, where civil war “has torn society apart,” the Council stressed the needs of Syria’s Christian communities and expressed particular concern for two Orthodox bishops who were kidnapped a year ago while doing humanitarian work, and the destruction of two Armenian villages in a rebel attack.
“People in all of the religious communities there are affected by the crumbling of their society; Christians, in particular, have suffered gravely, if not disproportionately,” the statement said. “It is also why we so fervently pray for the ministry of our friend and colleague, His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, who has long served on the NCC governing board and who now assumes the mantle of leadership as Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch and All the East.
The Council called on “all relevant parties both inside and outside Syria to identify appropriate means for ending the armed conflict in Syria, so that peace may be established, and so that the nearly 45 percent of the population that has been displaced, internally or as refugees in neighboring countries, can attempt to reconstitute their lives with a sense of security and hope for the future.”
In Egypt, which has faced three years social unrest and violence since the hopeful promise following the peaceful overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, the Council expressed particular concern for the minority Coptic Christian community.
“While this situation affects all Egyptians equally,” the pastoral statement said, “some religious tensions between Muslims and Christians are exacerbated by such upheaval and leave the Christians, perhaps most notably the Coptic Orthodox Church, the largest and most visible Christian community, vulnerable to more and more violence.”
The Council “has long upheld the rights and well-being of the Coptic and other Christian communities” in Egypt, the pastoral letter said. The NCC urged “all relevant parties both inside and outside Egypt to foster respect for, and ensure the security of, all religious communities in Egypt, and to return to constructive civil engagement as a way toward ending this unrest.”
In a resolution, the NCC also lamented the dire history of violence and genocide that has continued in Darfur in the two decades since the horrific Rwandan Genocide, “and may happen again soon in other contexts.”
“Among the many places where crimes against humanity, mass atrocities, and other warning signs of genocide are occurring, is South Sudan,” the NCC resolution said.
“The world looked on with hope when South Sudan became the world’s newest country in 2011. After 22 years of civil war, which took the lives of nearly two million people in the south and left another four million displaced, there was hope that the horror of war would not cast a shadow on South Sudan’s future. Sadly, the country remains mired in conflict.”
The NCC and member communions have declared solidarity with partners working to end the suffering, including Church World Service, the World Council of Churches, the All Africa Council of Churches, the South Sudan Council of Churches, the Baptist World Alliance and United to End Genocide.
“The National Council of Churches, is an advocate for peace, as it has been since its founding,” the resolution said. “In moments of crisis such as the one now facing South Sudan, the collective voice of the communions that comprise the NCC have been clear and strong in calling for policies and actions to prevent violence, to cease hostilities when the occur, and to foster reconciliation as a means of transforming conflict and injustice into justice and peace.”
The NCC resolution also urged Christians to stand in solidarity “with the churches and all people of good will in South Sudan, as a sign of our mutual hope in the God who is [our] strength and [our] might, [and who] has become [our] salvation.’” (Isaiah 12:2)
By Philip E. Jenks, National Council of Churches News