From September 6-16 2017, a delegation of ten representatives of the NCC’s member churches traveled to Lebanon, Egypt, and Israel / Palestine on our first such official delegation in ten years. Bishop Darin Moore, NCC board chair, and Jim Winkler, NCC president and general secretary, led the delegation which traveled to the region to mark the 50th anniversary of Israel’s Occupation of Palestinian land, express solidarity with our ecumenical colleagues, witness for peace alongside interfaith partners, and observe current on-the-ground realities so as to better inform our ongoing advocacy.
In Lebanon, we met with leaders of the Middle East Council of Churches and the National Evangelical Church. In Egypt, we met with leaders of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Protestant Churches of Egypt, and a church-related humanitarian NGO, as well as with the Grand Mufti and other Muslim leaders. We also met with the Egyptian president, and with senior US Embassy officials. In Israel / Palestine, we met with the Heads of the Jerusalem Churches, as well as the president of a prominent Jewish religious academic institution. We also met with senior Israeli and Palestinian government officials familiar with the situation of religious communities there, and with senior US Consular officials and an official at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Additionally, we met with leaders of various Israeli and Palestinian NGOs.
A Message from Christian Brothers and Sisters in the Middle East
In each of the places we visited, a primary message Middle East church leaders send to the churches in the USA is a request for prayer for them and to stand in renewed, more pronounced solidarity with them. Fear, frustration, and anxiety among Christians, whose numbers are dwindling in the region due to extremist violence, political instability, and economic hardship, permeated the messages we heard from leaders. They shared the common human longing to be recognized with dignity and respect.
In Lebanon, church leaders asked for us to remember them as they face a rise in religious extremism and continuing challenges due to the presence of millions of refugees. We were in the Lebanon at a time of national mourning for ten soldiers killed by Daesh (the Arabic acronym for ISIS) which brought home to us the intense desire for a respite from ongoing war.
In Egypt, church leaders shared their concerns about the future of their country, given the many pressures it is facing. They expressed their dismay as they watch the experience of Christians in Libya and Syria. Indeed, they shared these anxieties even as they continue to give witness to the power of Christ’s love. At the Coptic Orthodox Church of St. Peter, we worshiped at Sunday mass in the sanctuary where thirty worshipers died and forty-seven were injured in a terrorist bombing last December 11. We heard the powerful message that families of the martyrs publicly announced forgiveness to the families of the suicide bomber. We were honored as well to dialogue with Orthodox and Protestant Christians and with Muslims, and to listen to their vision of respect for all faiths and opposition to fundamentalist extremism.
In Israel / Palestine, church leaders from Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant traditions asked American churches to come to their support. In Israel, they called upon us to stand in solidarity with them as they feel under siege by a government that is encroaching on holy places in Jerusalem. In Palestine, they described for us the intensity of oppression in every area of life that they experience as second-class persons under occupation.
A Message from Christian Pilgrims of Peace to the Middle East
We believe that peace can only come from the transformative power of prayer to God.
We believe that our faith calls us to be active in the world, remembering our Lord’s teaching, “Blessed are the Peacemakers.”
We believe we are united with our brothers and sisters of the Middle East and must make their struggle our struggle.
We believe that Christians in the United States must be made more aware of the dire situation of our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Middle East and that education about their situation must be our priority for action.
We believe that that Christians of the United States must engage in pilgrimages both to the holy places and to the Christian communities in Palestine and Israel, to meet with the “living stones,” those Christians who live in those communities and are suffering discrimination and oppression.
We believe that Christians of the United States must engage in public policy advocacy that supports the well-being of our church members of the Middle East. This includes constructive remedies for the extremist violence and responses to human rights violations throughout the region.
We believe that Christians of the United States must more forcefully speak out against the oppression of the Israeli Occupation of Palestine that has weighed heavily on the churches and denied the rights and dignity of their members as well as of their Muslim brothers and sisters there.
We believe that Christians of the United States should explore new financial investment opportunities to support housing and job creation for Christians in the region.
We, the representatives of the 2017 National Council of Churches delegation to the Middle East, commit ourselves to be in solidarity with Christians of the Middle East and work for peace throughout the region as one of our highest priorities, and we invite member churches to work collaboratively with us to make real these words.