Subject: NCC Weekly News: Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad

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Adopted by the NCC Governing Board, November 17, 2015

Statement on Recent Middle East Violence and Acts of Terrorism

Over many years, the National Council of Churches has often expressed our aspirations and sorrows, our confidence and fears, related to an eventual peace in the Middle East. 

At this time, 
  • Inter-communal violence is consuming Israel and the Palestinian Territories
  • Terrorism and civil conflict are raining fire upon Syria and Iraq
  • Horrific acts of terrorism have recently taken place in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad and many other cities around the world
  • Afghanistan is sliding back into chaos
  • Refugees are fleeing the region and entering Europe in large numbers with no end of suffering on the horizon
  • Religious minorities are being persecuted, and sectarian strife is affecting Christian, Muslim and Jewish populations 

As we approach the celebration of the birth of Christ our hearts are filled with sorrow and fear that peace will remain out of reach in the Middle East for much longer than we could ever have imagined.

We have no illusions that establishing peace will be easy. We lament that the two-state solution for Israel and Palestine is ever more elusive and negotiations are not taking place. We pray for a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict. We call upon religious communities to build upon their historic legacies of inter-religious relationships, dialogue and action. When all these are in sight, we can envision peace. And yet such a vision seems hard to fathom today.

Still, we remain people of hope. The Lord we follow, Jesus Christ, died a violent death. But he was resurrected from the dead in the singular miraculous event that is at the core of our belief. Thus the hope of resurrection, and of the eternal life and profound peace it symbolizes, permeates our being and calls us to be vigilant in our hope for peace in the region where he lived among us. 

We witness to this hope for peace with our fellow Christians in the region. We stand together with our Muslim and Jewish and other sisters and brothers of goodwill who seek peace there. As the National Council of Churches, we will continue to encourage our churches and congregations to support a renewed peace settlement as the only option. And we call upon the United States government and the United Nations to enforce previous commitments towards a just peace and do everything to ensure that a just peace has a chance to emerge from today’s chaos and destruction. 


Statement on the Election-Year Cycle:
Keep our Elections Free from Hateful Rhetoric

“Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul 
and health to the body.” (Proverbs 16:24 NRSV)

The National Council of Churches calls on all candidates for office to refrain from utilizing speech that reflects hatred of others and results in the division of society as a way to promote their candidacies. We similarly call on media outlets covering the candidates and their campaigns, debates, and addresses to exercise care not to sensationalize such rhetoric at a time when we should be lifting up our best values, living out the democratic process.

Our democracy has many building blocks. It is not perfect, but these blocks together define the national effort to form a “more perfect Union” (preamble, U.S. Constitution). The preeminent witness to this national effort is the democratic election process that provides opportunity to anyone to seek office, including the presidency.

Among the current candidates for president are corporate leaders and government leaders; children of immigrants; men and women; rich and poor; and people of different ethnicities and races. This diversity reflects the heterogeneity of America and the value we place on it.

And yet we have also heard hostile rhetoric, most unfortunately by some of the candidates themselves, aimed at undermining the rich complexity of our society. Immigrants have repeatedly been denigrated and even threatened with expulsion. Suspicions have been cast upon religious minorities. Racially bigoted statements have been made by candidates even as we struggle to confront the wave of violence against unarmed black men, women, and children in our communities.

We express our deep concern about language of requiring a religious test for public office as deeply prejudicial and contrary to the founding principles of our Republic. We also ask for an end to anti-immigrant rhetoric that dehumanizes some members of our human family.

In recent weeks, candidates for office were called upon to “pledge and commit to the American people that [they] will uphold and defend the freedom of conscience and religion of all individuals by rejecting and speaking out, without reservation, against bigotry, discrimination, harassment, and violence based on religion or belief.” (The Pledge: A Commitment to Religious Freedom, October 23, Washington National Cathedral). We support this pledge and encourage candidates to do so as well.

We call for an end to hostile and demeaning rhetoric based on race and gender. In the 21st century, such rhetoric should be a thing of the past, read about in history books and not part of the history we make today.

We, the member communions of the National Council of Churches, admit we have much to confess about our own hostile actions and demeaning language about race and gender. We have become critically aware of how our own language has contributed to the divisions in this country. We ask the candidates to engage in the same kind of self-reflection, to speak to our highest common ideals, and to work together with those who elect them to form a more just society.

Shock, solidarity after Paris attacks

United Methodists and other religious leaders are expressing shock over the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris and feelings of solidarity with the French people but cautioning against condemnations of Muslims or a dangerous escalation of military action.

And the World Council of Churches and others have pointed out that equally disturbing attacks are occurring elsewhere, including the Nov. 12 bombings in a Beirut, Lebanon, shopping area that claimed 41 lives.

Bishop Patrick Streiff, who oversees the small number of United Methodist congregations in France as the episcopal leader of central and southern Europe, pointed to his horror over “the depth of violence despising human lives” and to his conviction of the need to follow the model of Christ as peacemakers.

WCC gravely concerned over violent confrontation in Israel and Palestine

Horrified by recent developments in Israel and Palestine, the Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) has expressed again “the WCC’s rejection of violence and injustice” and has reiterated “its frequent call for respect for human rights for all people of the region, regardless of their national, ethnic or religious identity”. The action was taken at the 13-18 November meeting of the Executive Committee in Geneva, Switzerland.

The committee expressed grave concern over violent attacks against both Israelis and Palestinians, and over “measures entailing long-term time division of access to Al-Aqsa mosque and affecting access to other holy sites.” Such measures, the statement underlined, diminish hope in the realization of peace.

The WCC reaffirmed “the vision of Jerusalem as an open city, a city of two peoples and holy to three religions.”
Paris Terror and Tragedy: Crying in solidarity! Calling for peace with justice!

There are too many of us who know what it means to have terrorism touch our lives, our loved ones, and our sense of connection with the people around us. Today, France and Lebanon are in the midst of that fog of tragedy. Even if we aren’t directly affected, we still feel some of the pain of the families of those killed and injured. And so even the National Council of Churches in India expresses our solidarity with our brothers and sisters in France, Lebanon and across the world that are mourning, suffering, experiencing rape, being rendered homeless, running and struggling for refuge, going through an excruciating sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Bold speeches are being made and solidarity statements are being uttered, such as “We all are France!” One wonders whether we would be concerned enough to declare, “We all are Afghanistan! We all are Iraq! We all are Syria! We all are Rohingyas!”

The frightening sense of vulnerability that the attack has induced is shared by every citizen and every government in the alliance of countries – European, American and Arab – part of a coalition formed to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, in Barack Obama’s words.

Choose welcome, not fear

We are a world grieving. We mourn the many deaths, not only in Paris, but also in Beirut, Baghdad, and Egypt. Any sense of security we have had is badly compromised by these horrific events; moreover, our fear of ISIS grows with every successful execution of its violent agenda.

Much has been taken from us but we still hold the choice as to how we react in our grief and fear. Many politicians have rushed from grief to fearful judgment. More than half of the governors of our states have attempted to protect their citizens by issuing declarations denying entry of Syrian refugees into their states (as if all of the potential terrorists are Syrian). Some have gone so far as to call for denial of entry to all refugees at the present time, as if that will guarantee safety to the citizens of their state.

As U.S. governors pledge to refuse Syrian refugees within their states and some presidential hopefuls promise to abandon the refugee program altogether, we the people have a choice to make. We can choose to follow those who would have us hide in fear or we can choose hope.

Not Terrorists; Not Tourists: Refugees are Human Beings

Disciples, UCC make joint statement on refugees

In the past few days, we have shared in the public and global outpouring of sympathy and support for the victims, their families, and the people of France, Lebanon, and Russia. We reiterate that expression of solidarity, and our condemnation of these acts of violence, all of which have been claimed by the “Islamic State.”

We unequivocally deplore and mourn the senselessness that leads people to believe that violence will bring peace and justice, much less honor or blessing. Whether carried out by non- or quasi-state actors in the name of an ideology or religion, or by states in the name of national security, we have seen repeatedly that the largest numbers of victims are innocent of any crime, and undeserving of any such fate. We are not blind to the real threats that exist in our world. We have seen attacks and assaults perpetrated by individuals and groups, states and coalitions take the lives of many, and destroy the hopes and dreams, aspirations and futures of many more. We, too, desire safety and to be free of fear.

An unfortunate consequence of these attacks is the strident rhetoric of many politicians—including United States mayors, governors, and members of Congress—that effectively calls for the closing of the door and borders to innocent victims of the war in Syria. The Syrian war is the worst humanitarian crisis of our generation, and it has no resolution in sight. More than half the Syrian population has been forcibly displaced from their homes, and more than four million Syrians are now refugees in neighboring Middle Eastern countries and Europe. Over half of Syrian refugees are children. The people of Syria did not choose such horrific suffering. The “Islamic State” and the Asad regime are now the main visible protagonists, but they are surely not the only parties.
An Opportunity for Pastors to Apply to the Lilly Endowment’s Clergy Renewal Programs

The Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs at Christian Theological Seminary provide funds to congregations to support renewal leaves for their pastors. Congregations may apply for grants of to $50,000 to underwrite a renewal program for their pastor and for the pastor’s family, with up to $15,000 of those funds available to the congregation to help cover costs for ministerial supply while the pastor is away. There is no cost to the congregations or the pastors to apply; the grants represent the Endowment’s continued investment in renewing the health and vitality of American Christian congregations.

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