CHICAGO (ELCA) — The United States and its president have a role to play to stop the atrocities in Egypt and allow for the self-determination of that nation to be practiced, according to top Middle East and U.S. Lutheran church leaders.

In a joint Aug. 19 letter to U.S. President Barack Obama, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and the Rev. Munib A. Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, expressed their concern to the president over the current situation in Egypt and its implication throughout the region.

“We hear from fellow Christian leaders and our Muslim friends that churches and mosques are being used as political tools,” wrote Hanson and Younan. “We are aware that there are some who are trying to transform the political struggles of the region into religious wars.”

The two leaders wrote that what is happening in Egypt is not only a struggle for democracy but that this crisis could transform “Egypt into a battlefield of extremist powers that will not allow the Egyptians to live in dignity. If not quickly resolved, the crisis there will affect the whole region, and we will enter again into another vicious cycle of hatred, bloodshed and war.”

Recalling the president’s speech in Cairo five years ago, where Obama emphasized the right of every nation to determine its own policies, Hanson and Younan wrote that the anarchy afflicting Egypt “is creating fertile ground for all kinds of groups to intervene, endangering the possibility for healthy self-determination.”

Hanson and Younan wrote that such a situation will “only endanger all moderate forces in Egypt — be they Coptic or Muslim — and will only give a boost for non-democratic groups to hold Egypt and the whole Middle East hostage.”

Making it clear that no religion has a monopoly on extremism, Hanson and Younan said that in the Middle East, people are confronted by religiously sanctioned political extremism — a threat to common citizens and persons of faith.

Hanson and Younan urged President Obama to define a clear line of U.S. policy toward the region in light of Islamic extremism. “The appearance that the U.S. is investing in one group alone has already exacerbated sectarian tensions. Not all Islamists are political extremists. Peace-seeking Egyptians, whether Coptic or Muslim, are committed to the well-being of all their neighbors and to the promotion of democracy and a vibrant civil society.”

They also urged the president to take every possible step to stop the violence, actively seek peace, play a constructive role in Egypt for the sake of humanity and encourage all groups to gather at one table to construct a road map toward reconciliation, which would make provisions for human rights and fundamental freedoms.


Full text of the letter to President Obama