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NCC Issues Plea for Nonviolence in the Middle East

New York City
July 18, 2003

The majority of Christians in the United States are of one accord in desiring a just peace in the Middle East. The National Council of Churches USA - 36 denominations with 50 million adherents - in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in other Christian communities, urges the peoples of the Middle East to take this moment to make peace a reality for themselves. We do so by calling upon all parties and individuals in the region, in the spirit of the profound commitments made and meaningful steps taken in recent days, to resist the temptation to violence, which threatens to subvert yet another road map to peace.

We have seen much death and destruction visited upon the land that people of many faiths call holy. Particularly when sanctioned in the name of the God of Abraham, whose descendents in Christian, Jewish and Islamic communities live on this land, such violence only makes the grief more profound. Does not the honor we each give to God require that we therefore respect the life of every human being made in the divine image?

Instead of resorting to acts of violence, we implore our brothers and sisters in the Middle East to discern in their respective faiths a tradition of nonviolence. And we remind them that it is through nonviolence that some of the greatest changes in history have taken place.

In the Judaic tradition, the Prophets are honored for proclaiming God’s authority through a nonviolent rebuke against the abuse of worldly power. In the Christian tradition, Jesus is worshiped for establishing God’s kingdom through a nonviolent victory over evil. In the Islamic tradition, Mohammed is remembered for overcoming challenges to his prophetic claim through a nonviolent resistance against religious persecution.

In modern times, and in other places, Mahatma Gandhi changed the plight of his people through a nonviolent campaign against institutional oppression. Martin Luther King, Jr., led the movement for civil rights for African Americans through a nonviolent struggle against deep-seated racial bigotry. Lech Walesa began the march to freedom for millions behind the Iron Curtain through a nonviolent demonstration against totalitarianism.

Cannot these ancient and modern examples point us in the right direction for the Middle East today? Cannot the way of nonviolence be the way to peace and justice? For, as the Koran instructs, "O you who believe! Be steadfast witnesses for Allah in equity, and let not hatred of any people seduce you that you deal not justly. Deal justly, that is nearer to your duty. Be conscious of Allah: indeed Allah is aware of what you do" (Surah Ma’idah, 8).

As we contemplate the answers to these questions, we implore our friends in the Middle East to also reflect on the tradition of coexistence and tolerance that characterized life in the region in generations past. Christians, Muslims and Jews lived there peacefully side-by-side for thousands of years. Cannot that history be instructive for us today? For truly, as the Hebrew Scriptures affirm, "How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity (Psalm 133:1)!"

Among those who think that this legacy may indeed be instructive are many courageous religious leaders - Christian, Jewish and Muslim - and their respective followers living in the region. They know that the current road map, though imperfect, offers hope. They also know that, for this hope to bear the fruit of genuine peace, all peoples living in the Middle East must genuinely be willing to reject violence.

The National Council of Churches USA affirms that a just solution to the conflict in the Holy Land will include the acceptance of both the State of Israel’s right to exist and the right of Palestinians to have a state. We do so recognizing that a just solution will also require difficult decisions to be made with regard to Israeli settlements, Palestinian militant groups, and security concerns. But we also know that a just solution will only come about if all parties renounce violence and terror, and instead embrace the ways of peace. For, as the Christian Scriptures remind, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God" (Matthew 5:9).

Christians, Muslims and Jews can live and work together toward peace. Our traditions tell us so. Our Father Abraham expects it. And our God demands it.

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