NCC expresses thanks for statement by prominent Mideast and other religious leaders condemning violence against religious minorities in the region
Washington, July 25, 2014 – Officers and staff of the National Council of Churches USA expressed thanks today for a statement by prominent Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders from the Middle East and outside the region that condemned the use of religious justification for violence, especially violence aimed against religious minorities.
These leaders expressed horror at the mistreatment of minority Christians in Iraq, the desecration of Christian holy sites there, and the forced removal of Christians from ancestral homelands.
They also lamented the suffering of other religious communities in the region, including those engulfed in conflict in Syria, Israel and Palestine.
“The protection of faith minorities is a vital concern for all persons of faith, especially as we think about all of the violence going on today in the Middle East,” said Jim Winkler, president and general secretary of the NCC.
Winkler cited recent NCC statements and advocacy calling for constructive debate and meaningful action to end the violence in the region.
Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, associate general secretary of the NCC for interfaith relations, added, “This statement by Muslim, Jewish and Christian religious leaders makes it clear to all that the oppression of minority Christians, like the oppression of religious minorities everywhere, is universally deplored by all persons who truly seek to live out God’s message of justice, peace, and love.”
Kireopoulos said the statement included profound truths, particularly its observation that “the pressure of living under the threat of violence can cause the minds and moral compass of not just the military and seekers of power, but also that of ordinary citizens, to atrophy,” and that “when people turn to their religious leaders for advice, they must not receive rigid statements drawn from the misinterpretations of religious beliefs [but] they should be able to draw inspiration from the clear ethical standards that have been set over time.”
The full statement:
MEDIA RELEASE: Religious Leaders Unite In Joint Appeal On Acts of Violence In The Name of Religion
Amman (July 24, 2014): In recent days, we have read with horror about Christians being asked to leave the town of Mosul within twenty-four hours. We have also heard about the desecration of Christian holy spaces and their symbols – the bombing of churches and a cross being removed from St. Ephrem’s Cathedral, the seat of the Syriac Orthodox archdiocese in Mosul.
These actions are an appalling blot on the proud tradition of pluralism in a region which has been home to Chaldeans, Assyrians and other Churches of the East for more than 1,700 years. Indeed the destruction caused by the violence has engulfed all of the diverse populations that make up Iraq – the Turkmens, the Yazidis, the Sunnis and Shias, Kurds and tens upon thousands of Arab families who have been uprooted from the region in fear of their lives. These horrors continue to unfold on a daily basis and follow a brutal period of fighting in Syria. Today, the United Nations estimates that one out of every three Syrians is in need of urgent humanitarian aid. We cannot stand by and watch idly, as the lives of the most vulnerable, our women and our children are destroyed in the name of religion.
We have also viewed with concern the ongoing situation in Gaza and Israel, and leaving aside the horror of that situation for a moment, have been particularly distressed by how the name of religion has been invoked to justify the murder of ordinary people. Statements posted by young people on social media justifying the taking of innocent lives as “commandments from God” are a testament to how the pressure of living under the threat of violence can cause the minds and moral compass of not just the military and seekers of power, but also that of ordinary civilians to atrophy. We should do all that we can to end the violence even as the numbers of casualties rise on a daily basis. Now, more than ever, we should all remember the quote of Malachi 2, verse 10 - "Have we not all one father?"
In these troubling times, when we bear witness to a moral crisis of unparalleled dimensions, we should recall the Islamic concepts of haq el hurriya and haq el karama, the right to freedom and the right to human dignity that are to be enjoyed by people of all faiths. To quote the words from the Quran: “We have honored the children of Adam and carried them on to land and sea.” (Surah (17) al-Isra’: Verse 70).
It would behoove us to remember the words of Rabbi Magonet citing the Hallel: “To get out of this narrowness, I called on God; God answered me with a broader vision. Give thanks to the eternal who is good, for God’s love is la-olam: for the whole world.”
And we should pay close attention to His Holiness Pope Francis’ remarks on the situation in Mosul, “May the God of peace rouse in everyone an authentic desire for peace and reconciliation. Violence cannot be overcome with violence. Violence is defeated with peace!”
Religious leaders and their followers must draw strength from the ethical precepts that have been set over the course of our civilizations. When people turn to their religious leaders for advice, they must not receive rigid statements drawn from the misinterpretations of religious beliefs. Rather, they should be able to draw inspiration from the clear ethical standards that have been set over time, the standards that are born out of the timeless concepts of justice, compassion, generosity and imagination.
In this spirit, we appeal to the leaders and brokers of power in Mosul, the Middle East region, and indeed around the world that the holy spaces, both in our sites of worship and in our hearts, should not devolve into venues that separate us from each other. Instead, they should be venues for dialogue and for conversation, so that we may recognize the values of human dignity and solidarity to which we all subscribe. Only by having these shared conversations, we will be able to better understand each other.
Now, more than ever, it is time that we heed the words put forth in the Qur’an: “There shall be no compulsion in religion.” (Surah (2) al-Baqarah: verse 256). If we ignore this call for conciliation, attitudes will continue to harden, and we will witness the people Iraq being torn asunder – within Muslims and between the people of different faiths in the region. We cannot allow this tragedy to unfold in a land that is home to one of the world’s most ancient civilizations. We must repay the debt we owe to Mesopotamia.
HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal, Founder and Chairman, Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies (RIIFS) and Co-Founder & Chairman of the Foundation for Interreligious and Intercultural Research and Dialogue (FIIRD)
Mr. Jamal Daniel, Co-founder, Vice President and Trustee, Foundation for Interreligious and Intercultural Research and Dialogue (FIIRD)
Chief Rabbi René-Samuel Sirat, Co-Founder & Secretary, Foundation for Interreligious and Intercultural Research and Dialogue (FIIRD)
Mr. Michael L. Fitzgerald, Board Member, Foundation for Interreligious and Intercultural Research and Dialogue (FIIRD)
His Eminence Metropolitan Emmanuel of France (Ecumenical Patriarchate) Board Member, Foundation for Interreligious and Intercultural Research and Dialogue (FIIRD)
Dr. William Vendley, Secretary General of Religions for Peace
Dr. Ahmed Al Kubaisi, Founder of Scholars Association, Iraq
Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for shared ecumenical witness among Christians in the United States. The NCC's 37 member communions -- from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches -- include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.
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