Subject: NCC Weekly News: Iraq, Fifteen Years Later (Revised)

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From Jim: Remembering 15 years of war in Iraq
Fifteen years ago, I helped to gather faith and peace leaders together to begin an effort to ensure the United States did not invade Iraq. We did so not because we were defending the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein but because Iraq had nothing to do with the tragic events of 9/11, was not planning to invade any other nation, and was cooperating with international weapons inspectors who were searching unsuccessfully for nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.

Further, we knew an American invasion of Iraq carried grave risks of destabilization for the entire region and for the Christian population of Iraq which at the time numbered more than 2 million. All these years later, our worst fears were realized. Despite the fact the war was hugely unpopular around the world and indeed, in our own nation, and the grounds for the war were wholly manufactured by the Bush administration, it went forward.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians were killed and the Christian population was nearly completely decimated. Ironically the United States, by its ineptitude, created a mess in Iraq which resulted in Iran, supposedly part of the ‘axis of evil,’ becoming the most influential nation. No American officials were ever held accountable for this tragedy. Trillions of dollars have been spent so far in this colossal, shameful, and continually unfolding failure.

Among the many Iraqis who suffered as a result of the conflict was a young Chaldean priest named Saad Sirop Hanna. Fr. Hanna, now a bishop, was kidnapped on August 12, 2006. Like so much that happens in the midst of war and the resulting societal breakdown, it is difficult to know, even now, exactly who the perpetrators were or what motivated them.

Many churches had already been bombed and attacked by that point. The identity of ordinary Iraqis had been reduced to their religious affiliation—Christian, Sunni, Shia. Fear and resentment ruled the land. Violence was everywhere.

A parish priest, Fr. Hanna was preparing his church to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption when his car was stopped and he was seized. At first, he thought a mistake had been made. He was not well known and had little money. However, Christians were assumed by the Jihadists to be associated with the American invaders, and Fr. Hanna was a victim of this narrative.

Ironically, the Americans were aware of his kidnapping and refused to send troops to rescue him.

What makes his book, 
“Abducted in Iraq: A Priest in Baghdad,” compelling is Fr. Hanna’s ability to convey what it feels like to be blindfolded and handcuffed, to be uncomfortable, terrified, confused, uncertain, bored, and hopeful. He endured beatings and demands that he convert to Islam. He quoted back to his kidnappers passages of the Quran that denounced forced conversions.

He was threatened repeatedly with death, and yet made a decision to hold fast to his faith. He writes, “My faith did not ensure I would be rescued but that God would be with me no matter the conclusion.” He refuses to denounce Islam but, rather, he finds fault with those who have concluded those of other faiths are inferior.

At one point, Fr. Hanna managed to escape and spent hours in the river but was recaptured. Eventually, after a number of weeks, his family paid a ransom and secured his release. He spent some time in Italy recuperating and working on his doctorate before returning to Iraq.

He continues to minister in a difficult environment. He concludes his memoirs with these words, “Christ is love and love was never meant to be easy. It is the hardest thing of all and yet it will always be the only answer.”

Grace and peace,
Jim Winkler
President and General Secretary
Faith leaders arrested as major religious groups rally against the GOP tax reform bill

Faith groups are rallying against the new GOP-led tax reform proposal currently making its way through the U.S. Senate, with some enduring arrest as they urge lawmakers to abandon a bill they say will primarily benefit the wealthy at the expense of vulnerable and low-income families.

On Wednesday, a group of more than 2,400 faith leaders hailing from Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist, and other faith traditions signed onto a letter addressed to Senate leadership decrying the bill. They listed a number of issues with the proposed legislation, such as how it would disproportionately benefit the wealthy, balloon the deficit, and eliminate the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate—a move that will increase the number of uninsured Americans by 13 million by 2025, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

National Council of Churches Mourns With Bir Al-Abd

The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA mourns the loss of life at the Al-Rawdah Mosque in Bir al-Abd, Egypt. We categorically condemn the terrorist attack that caused it. Indeed, this attack demonstrates the reality that all people are potential targets of extremist violence, and that in the case of terrorism perpetrated by the self-proclaimed Islamic State and other terrorist groups, the larger group of victims are Muslims themselves.

This terrorist attack targeted a Sufi Mosque. Sufi Muslims uphold enlightened views of tolerance, interfaith understanding, an appreciation for the openness to others exhibited at the beginning of Islam, and a voice of reason in today’s multi-religious context.

The NCC stands together with all of its Muslim friends and neighbors at this time of shock and sadness. We have participated for decades in fruitful Muslim-Christian dialogue, which continues to this day and has been the source of many interfaith friendships and initiatives building peace and harmony among peoples. In September, the NCC also led a delegation to Egypt (and Lebanon and Israel / Palestine), where we met with both Christian and Muslim Egyptians who are working diligently and faithfully for the same goals in their own society.

Bossey’s ministry continues, now inviting applications for 2018-19

With deadline on 30 November, the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey now invites applications for the study year of 2018-19.

“As long as we remain united in one heart and mind and walk and serve together in the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, we will be strong and our institute will continue its valuable ministry,” says Fr Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca, World Council of Churches deputy general secretary and director of the Ecumenical Institute at Château de Bossey, in the recently released 2017 issue of Beyond Boundaries.

The newsletter, which portrays the life and work of the Ecumenical Institute at Château de Bossey, highlights among other things a recent visit to Rome with an exposure to the Roman Catholic Church and an audience with Pope Francis in Rome, the successful defence of several doctoral theses produced by Bossey students, and the Institute’s continued engagement with ecumenical and inter-religious partners in Switzerland and around the world.

The Ecumenical Institute offers three study programmes with certificates from the University of Geneva. The courses offer basic knowledge of the history of the modern ecumenical movement and insights into contemporary key issues in the ecumenical work. But the concept of these programmes goes beyond academic learning and is based on life in an ecumenical community.

UCC's 'Podcast for a Just World' connects faith, justice and community building

Another tool for UCC clergy, community activists, and people who want to find a way to promote justice and deepen their faith debuts this week, in the form of a new podcast from the Congregational and Community Engagement ministry.

'Podcast for a Just World', a weekly 20 to 30 minute podcast with a Tuesday release date, will be bringing the weekly lectionary into a conversation about issues in the world today. The Nov. 28 launch date coincides with the new liturgical year and pastors writing sermons will now be able to listen in to an enlightening discussion with a UCC connected artist, activist, minister and/or faith leader, tied to the church calendar or events happening in the world.

The goal of the podcast – to equip clergy and people of faith to read the story of God in the streets of where we live in the world today, to make deep connections between faith, justice and community building.

"We hope the podcast helps people engage in the complex realities of the world grounded in beauty, community and the faith commitments of our tradition, to help them grow, awaken and be a part of creating a just world for all," said the Rev. Tracy Howe Wispelway, UCC Minister for Congregational and Community Engagement (MCCE), and the podcast's host. "It should also help people recognize interlocking injustice and critique the false spiritualties of our 21st century globalized world."

Presbyterian environmentalists react to recent South Dakota oil leak

Cleanup continues in South Dakota after an oil leak in the Keystone Pipeline earlier this month spilled more than 210,000 gallons of oil approximately three miles southeast of Amherst. The state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources says it is the largest Keystone oil spill to date in the state.

“We know the leak is incredibly dangerous and impacts peoples’ health and environment, but they are not uncommon. It happens on a fairly regular basis and is the reason a lot of Presbyterians and Americans have been concerned about oil pipelines,” said Rebecca Barnes, coordinator for the Presbyterian Hunger Program, which includes the church’s Environmental Ministry. “Our consumption of fossil fuels, oil and gas is huge in this country. We depend on lights, electricity, cellphones, computers and cars and our demand for energy continues to go up.”

Barnes says Presbyterians have a huge moral mandate to understand that the way society consumes energy is creating these situations, challenging the church on how to fully respond to emergencies when they happen.

“I think we are at a crossroads over how social and environmental justice work alongside our own lifestyles and what we expect in terms of our daily energy consumption as people,” she said. “We could be investing a lot of resources in renewable energies and things that don’t cause public health crises or environmental contamination.”

The Keystone pipeline extends more than 2,600 miles from Canada to Texas. Company officials say the damaged section affects the line running from Hardesty to Cushing, Oklahoma and to Wood River, Illinois.

A World Uprooted: Responding to Migrants, Refugees and Displaced People


We live in a time of upheaval and uprootedness – a world in which each year millions of people cross borders in search of more secure and sustainable lives, while white supremacist ideologies continue to impede the fight for justice and peace for all of God’s people. As we witness historically high levels of migration, we also find that racism, sexism, Islamophobia, xenophobia and other forms of discrimination are also on the rise in our communities and used for political gain. At the root of this global upheaval and migration are the push factors of violent conflict, climate change, and corruption which often intersect with one another. At a time when there is such need around the world, we grieve that the U.S. has greatly reduced its refugee admittance numbers while smaller, poorer countries are stepping up to welcome and provide refuge for those in need. As people of faith, we know we can do more. We believe God is with Dreamers, the migrant and the outcast and calls us to create places of sanctuary; to offer hospitality to the stranger, to welcome all – regardless of faith, race, gender or nationality – and to break down the dividing walls that separate us.

Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2018 will focus on the uprootedness of our world. We will analyze current policy and envision ways to more fully and justly respond to the global and local needs of displaced communities. Through prayer, worship, advocacy training, and networking, we will seek policy changes that advance hope and overcome the devastating impacts of conflict, climate change and corruption on God’s people.

Serving as a leading voice of witness to the living Christ in the public square since 1950, 
the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) brings together 38 member communions 
and more than 40 million Christians in a common expression of God’s love and promise of unity. 
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