NCC Statement on Religious Minorities in Iraq, ISIS, and Killing of James Foley

Washington, August 22, 2014- The National Council of Churches USA grieves for the plight of Christians and other religious minorities, including Yazidis, Turkmen, and Shabaks, in Iraq. In the early part of the last decade, there were some 1.5 million Christians living in that country. Today, it is estimated that less than 400,000 remain, with the numbers dwindling in the midst of ongoing unrest. The evolving disappearance of the Christian community from that ancient landscape, as well as the displacement of neighbors of other faiths and traditions, is a cause for great alarm.

The suffering of the Iraqi people is not limited to religious minorities. Already long-oppressed by the harsh rule of Saddam Hussein, and still impacted by sectarian conflict after the misguided US-led invasion and war there, all people of Iraq are now suffering horrific violence caused by extremist elements, especially the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” (ISIS). There is absolutely no justification for this kind of extremist violence, and the NCC denounces it in the strongest possible terms.

In doing so, we condemn the killing of James Foley, the courageous journalist who was recently beheaded by ISIS. His killing demonstrates the utter depravity of violence motivated by corrupted religious fervor. We pray the captors will not carry through with their threat to kill another journalist still held, Steven Sotloff.

As Pope Francis has recently stated, this unjust aggression must be stopped. While the NCC commends the US Administration’s desire to end this aggression, it is hesitant to endorse the military campaign underway that is intended to do so. As NCC president and general secretary, Jim Winkler, said, “There is no true military solution to resolving the crisis in Iraq. But as it is necessary to halt the assault of ISIS on the Iraqi people, and to help the displaced return to their ancestral villages, it would be better for the United Nations to undertake this task. The world community is horrified by this violence; the world community must share the burden of ending it.”

Even with the present need to end this particularly insidious extremist aggression, moving forward the continual reliance on military action as the default solution to conflict must be called into question, and alternative, more far-reaching solutions to the vicious cycle of violence must be found. As we reflected on the war in Iraq eight years ago, “we believe that freedom, along with genuine security, is based in God, and is served by the recognition of humanity's interdependence, and by working with partners to bring about community, development, and reconciliation for all.”

Earlier this year, in a pastoral statement the NCC reiterated its longstanding commitment to peace in Iraq and all the Middle East. Citing the instability and conflict throughout the region – including in Israel and Palestine, Syria, and Egypt – and the precarious situation of the churches in this context, we noted, “There are very few places in which such violence is more visible than in...the region where our faith began and all of our respective churches are ultimately rooted…And it is there that the churches of the Middle East, the heirs of those first Christian communities, continue to live in fellowship and ministry. It is these same churches…that the US churches and the US and worldwide ecumenical community have accompanied, through prayer, humanitarian assistance, and advocacy, for decades, and indeed longer.”

This solidarity is aimed at fostering a climate that will allow for the flourishing of peace and justice, not only for our Christian brothers and sisters, but for all. We offer prayers of gratitude for the life and faith of James Foley and for all victims of the current violence. Let us all continue to work for justice as we look with hope toward a new day of peace.


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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.

NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 646-853-4212 (cell), cruzandjenks@gmail.com