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Peace Not Walls

The ELCA joins faith organizations from Middle East and around the world in urging restraint in Syria


Please pray for all the people of Syria, including Greek Orthodox Bishop Boulos Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim from Aleppo,
whose whereabouts are still unknown since they were kidnapped earlier this year. May the spirit of peace, justice and reconciliation fill the hearts and minds of all those in that troubled region.

An ELCA action alert today urged constituents to contact President Obama and Members of Congress to condemn the use of chemical weapons and to urge restraint and encourage non-violent means to resolve the 2-year-old civil war in Syria that has claimed 100,000 lives.  The US has recently threatened the Assad regime with military strikes in retaliation for alleged chemical weapons attacks, the most recent of which killed over 1400 people.  Early this week, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson sent a letter to President Obama asking him to continue diplomatic efforts rather than pursuing military action in Syria.  According to the statement:

The use of chemical weapons in Syria is heinous and inexcusable. These atrocities are an assault on human dignity, and violate international standards and law. However, the people of Syria, along with many others in the Middle East who are living through this time of profound instability, deserve our concern, compassion and accompaniment, not the escalation of an already horrendous war.

Write to President Obama Write to Members of Congress

Middle East Christians Speak out Against Military Action Against Syria:

According to Middle East expert Professor Juan Cole:

…these Eastern Christians are solidly against an American missile strike on Syria. Many US congressional representatives discussing the possibility of military action against that country invoked God and prayer in their remarks, lending the discussion a Christian ambiance. But they didn’t refer to any statements on the crisis by actual Syrian or Lebanese Christians (the two are closely linked). 

Read full story which references statements by the Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, the Bishopric of Damascus and the Maronite Catholic Patriarch of Lebanon that warn military intervention will increase the suffering of the Syrian people.

Earlier this week, the General Secretary of the National Evangelical Synod in Syria and Lebanon sent an urgent letter to its partner church, the Presbyterian Church USA, advocating a non-violent response to chemical weapons attacks in Syria:

We urge the international powers to refrain from the use of power against Syria as any strike from the USA or any other power will only multiply the suffering and human destruction.  We appeal to all who are able, by the name of the God of love, to help bring violence to an end.  Stop financing, arming and sending foreign groups to fight in Syria – help the Syrians to come together to build a new Syria.
Rev. Fadi Dagher, General Secretary of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon

ELCJHL Bishop Munib Younan, also President of the Lutheran World Federation, issued a similar call to the world community:

While the use of chemical weapons is wrong, the forms of intervention being predicted thus far can do little to bring a positive outcome…  Such military intervention threatens to bring even greater suffering and instability to communities throughout Syria and the region as a whole … The situation in Syria will be solved not with bombs but with diplomatic efforts and true dialogue among Syrians of goodwill … To choose the path of diplomacy brings the Middle East closer to the goal of peace. Such a choice is not weakness, but the sign of peace and security.

Kairos Palestine also released a statement:

The people of Syria deserve better, safer and more just lives based on more respect for their human rights – but these must be brought about, by Syrians themselves, within their own context. External intervention will cause further destruction and push the Syrian people further into relentless civil war.

Kairos Palestine condemns the calls for war, and we urge countries around the world – whether Western states or regional ones – to help Syria maintain itself, broker peace among all Syrian parties involved, and stop supporting any armed groups entering from outside the country.

Similar statements have come from:

The Lutheran World Federation
The World Council of Churches
The World Council of Reformed Churches
The National Council of Churches
The Presbyterian Church (USA)

Read religious leaders commenting on whether an attack on Syria would be considered a “just war.”

Please keep the people in Syria in your prayers, advocate for peace with justice with your faith, political and community leaders and ask that God strengthen and inspire the people who can bring justice, peace and reconciliation out of the chaos and brokenness.

UN report shows increasing violence from both sides in Syria

In its latest report, released Monday, the UN commission of inquiry in Syria finds that both pro- and anti-Government forces have become increasingly violent and reckless with human life as the conflict draws to the close of its second year. It emphasizes the urgent need for parties to the conflict to commit to a political settlement to end the violence.  The commission is to present its report to the UN Human Rights Council on March 11.

An estimated 70,000 people have been killed in the two-year conflict, and a rising number of internally-displaced people head toward refugee camps.  The numbers, however, are in dispute:

“‘“Syria is the largest IDP crisis in the world,’ said Clare Spurrell of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, the leading body monitoring internally displaced people worldwide. ‘The longer we underestimate the reality of what is happening on the ground, the further we are getting from an appropriate response.’

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees released new figures Monday showing 2.08 million people in urgent need in six provinces of northern Syria. That’s way below a partial survey of the same provinces that the Syrian opposition and 10 international aid agencies conducted over four weeks in January.

That survey, undertaken by teams of researchers who met with local relief committees, religious leaders and local police, among others, estimated that the number of people in urgent need totaled at least 3.2 million in those provinces: Idlib, rural Aleppo, Latakia, Raqqa, Hasaka and Deir el Zour. That’s nearly three-quarters of the 4.3 million people thought to be living now in the surveyed areas of those provinces.”  Taken from McClatchy newspaper, read more here

Read about the ELCA’s response to the Syrian crisis.

LWF works with Jordanian NGO to prepare Syrian refugees for winter

LWF President Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan (left) and LWF General Secretary Rev. Martin Junge (right) meet Nabeel, one of the children who make up 52 percent of Za’atri’s population, during a visit to the camp in late September. © LWF/Thomas Ekelund

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), a founding member of the ACT Alliance, has recently started offering emergency assistance in the Za’atri Refugee Camp in Northern Jordan, which is growing rapidly and now houses over 90,000 people, the largest number of Syrian refugees in all the neighboring countries.  The primary aim of the assistance is to provide shelter and clothing for children, as winter now hastily approaches.  In Za’atri, 52 percent of the refugees are below the age of eighteen.

The Jordanian government has given the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization (JHCO), the largest non-governmental organization (NGO) in the country, the mandate to manage the camp. Under a memorandum of understanding with the JHCO, the LWF will provide the refugees with winterized tents, prefab containers and warm garments for 10,000 children. The focus will be broadened in the coming months to include assistance to refugees in organizing community-based groups at the camp.

An LWF delegation comprising LWF President Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan and General Secretary Rev. Martin Junge visited Za’atri camp on 27 September and witnessed firsthand the conditions there and the humanitarian response supported by the global Lutheran communion.

Junge said he was impressed by how the different NGOs are working together. But he noted, the needs are there and it takes great efforts to overcome the challenges.

“We are facing difficulties and hardship. I see traumatized people that have escaped violence, and how violence is shaping the way people relate to the situation. Fifty two percent of the population here are children, facing a winter soon to come with low temperatures and rain,” he said.

“We will have to scale up our efforts jointly so that people can live in basic dignity,” Junge added.

Others on the delegation are Rev. Eberhard Hitzler, director of the Department for World Service (DWS), the LWF’s humanitarian relief arm; and Rev. Mark Brown, who heads the Jerusalem-based DWS operations for the Middle East region.

The group’s itinerary until 30 September includes a visit to the LWF-run Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem, and meetings with ecumenical leaders and with the Palestinian Prime Minister Dr Salam Fayyad.  Read more about the LWF response   |  Give now through ELCA disaster response

Syrian and Lebanese Christian partners of PCUSA speak about recent violence and unrest

Presbyterians have had partnerships with Christians in Syria and Lebanon since the early 1800s. Two of their partners recently spoke in New York about how the church is responding to the current crisis in Syria, a crisis that impacts Lebanon.

Watch the 30 minute video featuring the Rev. Dr. Nuhad Tomeh, Associate General Secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches and the PC(USA) Regional Liaison for Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and the Gulf, and the Rev. Fadi Dagher, the General Secretary of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon.


LWF President urges Syrian-led dialogue and aid for refugees

The president of the Lutheran World Federation, Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, has called for a Syrian-led dialogue to resolve the current conflict there and has urged the international community to provide emergency aid for refugees fleeing from the violence.  He encouraged world leaders:

“to pursue a Syrian-led process of dialogue and peace-building as diligently as they have pursued military conflict and the preservation of their supposed geopolitical interests.”  They should “avoid the temptation to manipulate sectarian divisions in pursuit of their interests,” he added.

His statement reiterated the LWF’s commitment in assisting Syrian refugees. A Memorandum of Understanding with the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization (JHCO) signed in August includes support to the JHCO in providing shelter, psycho-social support, education services and camp management at the Za’atari refugee camp, inside the Jordanian border with Syria.

Younan urged the United Nations and its member states to spare no effort in delivering the appropriate aid to refugees and to those displaced within Syria. He said efforts “must not waver” in finding a peaceful and just solution to the conflict.

The ELCJHL bishop expressed support for a September statement on Syria by the World Council of Churches’ Central Committee calling for an end to the violence, encouraging urgent humanitarian response and a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Read more about it Read full statement by Bishop Younan

ELCA responds to needs of Syrian refugees in Jordan

The ELCA is responding to the growing refugee crisis in Jordan resulting from Syrians fleeing recently-escalated violence in their home country.  A year of brutal violence is believed to have taken over 10,000 lives thus far in Syria with no end in sight.  An estimated 200,000 people have fled to Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey.   

Jordanian officials recently invited the Rev. Munib A. Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and president of The Lutheran World Federation, into the process of addressing the needs of Syrian refugees. Younan has built a strong relationship with the royal family of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and Younan is now helping to identify ways the ELCA and The Lutheran World Federation can deepen their participation in relief efforts.

 ELCA Disaster Response has committed $250,000 to help support The Lutheran World Federation efforts to provide the lodging for 300 families — about 1,400 people — with adequate housing within the refugee camp in Jordan while providing expertise in camp management to ensure people receive health care, food and water. Earlier this year, ELCA Disaster Response allocated $200,000 to provide food, clothing and other materials to support Syrian families and individuals displaced by the conflict.

Bishop Younan stated:   “I am grateful that, in addition to humanitarian aid organizations, the ELCA was one of the first churches to respond to the needs of the Syrian people, both inside the country and in refugee populations in neighboring countries,” said Younan. “I am grateful for the (ELCA’s) strong accompaniment of my own church, the ELCA’s robust participation in The Lutheran World Federation and for your church’s response to this and other disasters throughout the world.”   Read ELCA news report   |   Go to ELCA’s Disaster Response coverage and donate now   |   Read more on Syria from the BBC    |    Read more about the LWF response

Religions for Peace in the Middle East and North Africa Council Release Statement on Syria

Religions for Peace Middle East/ North Africa (MENA) Council, an international and independent NGO committed to peace, convened a meeting of Muslim Ulemas and Christian Clergy, in addition to a number of researchers and concerned persons from Syria and other countries, in Larnaca, Cyprus, on 22-23 February 2012.  The meeting built on the Religions for Peace MENA Marrakesh Declaration (16-17 November 2011) that rejected violence, the misuse of religions, and acknowledged religious diversity and respect for human dignity.  The group released a statement that contained these conclusions: 

Given the recent bloody developments (in Syria) that stir conscience, and based on their religious and human responsibility as well as their belief in God Almighty, the participants agreed on the following:

Our faith in the Lord inspires us:
1. To support the quest for a peaceful solution, mainly based on national dialogue and the rejection of all forms of violence regardless of its sources.
2. To reject the use of military and security measures by all parties after they proved inefficient and exacerbated the problem.
3.To call upon the authorities to the immediate release of prisoners of opinion to respect human dignity.
4.To refuse all forms of foreign interference given that the Syrian crisis is an internal issue which should be solved only by Syrians with the support of others.
5.To call Syria to embrace all its citizens, with no distinction or discrimination, as a mother nurtures its children within its territory and abroad.
6.To reject absolutely the violation of the territorial integrity of Syria or its ethnic, religious and denomination diversity.
7.To reaffirm that Christians and Muslims are historical components of the Syrian social fabric that should be preserved to guarantee the future, prosperity and coexistence in this country.
8.To acknowledge that the values of justice, freedom, dignity and equality are the basis of citizenship. Citizenship is not a grant but a right for every Syrian citizen.
9.To reaffirm the responsibility of religious, political and cultural elites to face all forms of religious incitement, and cooperate in disseminating a message of moderation, tolerance and rejection of hatred.
10.To call upon all countries involved in economic sanctions imposed on Syria to reconsider these sanctions, which have affected the Syrian people, exacerbated the crisis and undermined stability and growth.

Bishop Hanson sends letters of support to Syrian church leaders

In letters to Christian church leaders in Syria, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), offered his support of the churches’ collective call for an end to violence and his prayers for the people in the region.

“In these difficult days, I will continue to pray and encourage members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to pray for you and your efforts to sustain the courage and faith of your communities,” wrote Hanson. In addition to prayers for the people of Syria, the presiding bishop said he mourns the recent death of a priest there, “who died serving others.”

Participants in the WCC meeting on Muslim-Christian Relations

As the violence in Syria continues, Hanson acknowledged in his letters that there are no simple answers to resolve the current situation, and therefore agrees with many Syrian church leaders on the need for dialogue instead of further fighting.

“We who are at ‘the ends of the earth’ cannot forget the importance of Syria for the growth of our faith or the communities of disciples keeping the faith in the land of Christianity’s birth,” Hanson wrote. “We affirm, with you, that the Christian communities in Syria are an essential component to the fabric of Syrian culture and history.”

At the conclusion of his letter, Hanson said he will pray for the efforts of Syrian church leaders toward renewing and strengthening their relationships with Muslim neighbors, and he asked how the ELCA might assist church leaders and the people of Syria.

“We know that well-meaning actions can sometimes result in unintended negative consequences, thus we seek your guidance. In this critical time, we hope to do all we can to strengthen your callings to be ministers of reconciliation in your land,” wrote Hanson.

The Rev. Robert Smith, Area Program Director for the Middle East & North Africa, was attending a World Council of Churches on Christian meeting in Beirut about Christian and Muslim relations when the letter was released. He read the message to the group of about 40 Christians and Muslims gathered from throughout the region, including participants from Syria. The letter was received as an important message from a church leader in the U.S. that respected the complexity of the ongoing situation in Syria while offering heart-felt solidarity. Since then, Bishop Hanson has received responses from Syrian church leaders expressing similar thoughts.

Read the ELCA news release