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Minute on the Presence and Witness of Christians in the Middle East

The WCC Central Committee, meeting in Geneva 16-22 February 2011, approved this Minute on Christians in the Middle East.

22 February 2011

1. Two recent attacks against Christians in their places of worship in the Middle East have raised fears and concerns among churches everywhere. Close on the heels of the brutal attack against Christians praying in churches in Baghdad, Iraq in October 2010 came news that Christians who were praying were subject to an equally vicious and cruel attack in Alexandria, Egypt on New Year’s Eve, December, 2010. These two events resulted in a huge public outcry.

2. The World Council of Churches (WCC), which counts within its fellowship a sizeable number of Churches in the Middle East, several of whom are founding members of the WCC, is alarmed at the nature and consequences of these attacks. An equally major concern is that these incidents are being exploited by some political parties in several countries as well as by some religious groups to fuel islamophobic tendencies and negative images about Islam.

3. The situation could easily assume detrimental dimensions if, in the name of protecting their future and maintaining their security, the above trends were further advanced. The WCC’s approach to the presence and witness of Christians in the Middle East is radically different. Rather than allowing the situation to deteriorate into one of conflict and antagonism towards other citizens in different countries, the imperative is to find ways and means of bringing to the fore a genuine Christian spirit of solidarity.

4. The WCC seeks to reinforce a positive engagement for churches in the life of the nations to which they belong. The continuous presence and active participation of Christians in the life of the entire region has been a remarkable witness to the Christian faith regardless of the times of torment and suffering at various junctures.

5. Since its inception, the WCC has viewed the Middle East as a region of special interest, being the birthplace of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. For Christians, the region is the place where our Lord was incarnated and born, preached, suffered crucifixion, and was resurrected. It is also the land from where the Good News was spread to the entire inhabited world. Our living faith has its roots in this land, and is nourished and nurtured by the unbroken witness of the local churches who have their own roots from the apostolic times. Without this Christian presence, the conviviality among peoples from different faiths, cultures, civilisations, which is a sign of God’s love for all humanity, will be endangered. In addition, its extinction will be a sign of failure of the ecumenical family to express the Gospel imperative for costly solidarity.

6. Christians in the Middle East are facing unprecedented challenges now, and are attempting to respond through new forms of witness. They are more aware than ever that when they express together a common vision about their role in society and deliver a unified message, their voice is better heard and their presence and impact in their societies is more appreciated.

7. In the birthplace of the Lord Jesus Christ, Christians have come together from all church traditions and expressed their common word of “faith, hope and love” from the “heart of their suffering”. The Kairos Palestine document challenges the ecumenical family and the international community to put an end to the Israeli occupation. It is a call to the Palestinian community to remain steadfast in their land, witnessing to God’s love for all, while peacefully resisting the evil of occupation. The community is a sign of hope for the ecumenical family.

8. Christians in Iraq have suffered, like all citizens, from the disastrous and tragic consequences of the illegal, immoral, and ill-advised invasion of their country. After several years of occupation, they still lack security, including social security. Facing tremendous challenges, Christians have come together and formed a “Christian Council of Church Leaders in Iraq” with a vision that is unequivocally committed to the advancement of all Iraqi citizens, aiming at engaging in promoting ecumenical initiatives, dialogue, and partnership with Muslims.

9. The recent developments in Egypt have demonstrated that the democratic aspirations of a population cannot be suppressed and that the social struggle for transformation can lead to equal citizenship. Christians in Egypt, especially young people, were part of this struggle for dignity and freedom. Despite the recent attacks against them -even in their places of worship- from obscure forces that threaten their stability and dignity, they have remained steadfast and undeterred. They remain resolute and unwavering to make their Christian presence felt through acts of service that are life transforming for individuals and Egyptian society, as for example when Christians recently formed a living circle hand-in-hand for the protection of praying Muslims in Tahrir Square in Cairo.

10. However, an alarming trend is that in some parts of the region religious minorities, including Christians, do not enjoy equal citizenship and their presence is often challenged by open discrimination, especially when it comes to construction of churches. They continue to face restrictions on their practice of religion, and on their access to places of worship, and sometimes their historical existence is threatened through confiscation of church properties and disrespect of their cultural heritage.

11. The Middle East Council of Churches exists to be the rallying point that can mobilize churches in the region and provide genuine perspectives to the relations between churches in the region and the rest of the world. The need to maintain and strengthen this ecumenical tool is essential in the face of the increasing challenges and signs of hope that are opening up throughout the region.

12. Recent political developments in the region point to signs of hope for democratic changes, respect for human rights and the rule of law in several countries. However, the task ahead is arduous. Notions of a comprehensive just peace are not anywhere near being realized. The Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and of other Arab lands remains a source of unrest and tensions in the region and beyond, and a major obstacle to achieving a just peace that can bring security, stability, and prosperity to all peoples in the region. For the WCC, it remains a non-negotiable principle that peace and reconciliation must be conditioned by justice.

13. God’s justice and love for all of creation, the fundamental rights of all people, respect for human dignity, solidarity with the needy, and dialogue with people of other faiths have always guided WCC policy concerning the region. The WCC continues to believe that the core challenge for the churches, but also for the whole ecumenical family, is to witness to God’s justice in the midst of unjust occupations, deprivation of freedom, and oppression. The irrevocable call is to courageously challenge the sources and structures of these injustices, as well as the authorities that perpetuate them.

The Central Committee of the WCC, meeting in Geneva from 16 to 22 February 2011, therefore:

1. Calls for solidarity of WCC member churches with Christians in Iraq in multiple ways including:

a) Providing support to the newly formed Christian Council of Church Leaders in Iraq (CCCLI) so that it grows into a unifying force for churches to act in unity to rebuild war-ravaged Iraqi society;

b) Supporting churches to build capacities to serve Iraqi people to rebuild their lives;

c) Extending specific cooperation to Christian communities, especially those who have been disadvantaged by the war and occupation, in ways that make them self-reliant and encouraged to remain in Iraq as a continuing sign and affirmation of Christian presence and witness in the country.

d) Providing support to Iraqi Christian refugees living in neighbouring countries.

2. Urges WCC member churches to study and disseminate the Kairos Palestine document, and to listen and concretely respond to the Palestinian Christian aspirations and calls expressed in this document.

3. Encourages WCC member churches to examine and act on the substance and proposals of the conference on “Transforming Communities: Christians and Muslims building a common future” jointly convened by the WCC and a number of international Muslim organizations and networks in November 2010.

4. Endorses the call of this conference for the formation of a joint working group, which can be mobilized whenever a crisis threatens to arise in which Christians and Muslims find themselves in conflict.

5. Regards current events in various countries in the Middle East as an opportunity for peaceful positive changes in the societies and encourages all people in the region, including Christians, to continue to play their part in the common longing to secure human rights, peace and respect for all people of the region.

6. Calls for convening an ecumenical international conference in 2012 to address the new challenges Christians are facing in the Middle East, in collaboration with the churches in the region.

7. Invites churches and their agencies who are engaged in support and solidarity work in the Middle East to provide coordinated support in the re-envisioning and re-invigoration process of the Middle East Council of Churches so that its mission as a unique ecumenical tool rallying and coordinating church witness and action can be fulfilled effectively.

8. Pray and continue to be involved in proactive ecumenical advocacy in solidarity with the churches in the Middle East.

APPROVED