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NCC president finds fear, frustration in Lebanon

New York, October 20, 2006 Frustration, fear and a desire for a more balanced approach to Middle East peace is on the minds of many in Lebanon, finds a delegation of Christian church leaders from the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA. 

The nine person group was led by NCC President the Rev. Michael Livingston, who is also executive director of the International Council of Community Churches, one of the NCC's 35 member denominations.

"We wanted to express our solidarity with the Lebanese people, to listen to them, to ask them what we could do to help and what messages we could take to the members of our congregations and to our government in the United States," said Livingston upon his return home to New Jersey.

"And most importantly, leader after leader, political and religious, underscored the necessity of resolving the Palestinian and Israeli conflict as the key to resolving the deadly tensions in the region," Livingston said in an email interview.  The complete text follows.

The delegation spent five days (Oct. 10-15) in Lebanon visiting towns and villages.  They met with government and religious leaders and saw firsthand the effects of the 34 day war between Israel and Hezbollah. 

"They were deeply troubled that our government did nothing to influence the cessation of the relentless bombing," Livingston said.   "They simply could not understand how we could abide saying nothing to Israel while innocent people were killed, roads and bridges destroyed and oil storage facilities were bombed spilling oil and polluting the sea."

The Middle East Council of Churches made the arrangements for the meetings and tours.  The delegation will make a report to the NCC's General Assembly annual meeting in Orlando, Fla. (Nov. 7-9) and determine how best to communicate the findings to the U.S. government.

The visit also evoked some personal reflections for Livingston:  "As we were walking through Southern Lebanon, just outside Cana, there was a beautiful vista, a lovely view of a modest valley dotted with an occasional residence but for the most part was as natural as I suspect it was thousands of years ago.  I thought of the biblical verse, 'The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof...'  I remember thinking, here we are killing one another, too often in the name of God, because we cannot share the land that belongs to God and has been entrusted to us for our care." 

Other members of the delegation were:  Rev. A. Roy Medley, general secretary, American Baptist Churches USA; Thomas Swain, clerk, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers); Bishop Dimitrios of Xanthos, director, Inter-Orthodox and Ecumenical Relations Department, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America; Rev. Raymon Hunt, executive secretary, Christian Education Department, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church; Martin Kromer and Edward R. Moon II, representatives, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends; Patricia Finley, clerk, Peace and Concerns Standing Committee, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends; and Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, NCC's associate general secretary for international affairs and peace.

The NCC is the ecumenical voice of 35 of America's Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, African American and historic peace churches with 45 million members in 100,000 congregations in all 50 states.


Complete text of the Rev. Michael Livingston's email interview with NCC News:

NCC News:  What was the purpose of your delegation's visit to Lebanon?

Michael Livingston:  We went to Lebanon in the wake of the 34 day war between Israel and Hezbollah and the terrible destruction that resulted.  We wanted to express our solidarity with the Lebanese people, to listen to them, to ask them what we could do to help and what messages we could take to the members of our congregations and to our government in the United States.

NCC:  What did you find when you visited Cana and southern Lebanon?

ML:  We found the older graves and headstones of victims of what they call the 1996 massacre and we found the fresh graves of several families including children, who were killed in the last days of the bombing when the home in which they were all huddled was destroyed.

NCC:  Were there any particular words of Jesus or other bible verses that came to mind as you walked through the towns and neighborhoods?

ML:  As we were walking through Southern Lebanon, just outside Cana, there was a beautiful vista, a lovely view of a modest valley dotted with an occasional residence but for the most part was as natural as I suspect it was thousands of years ago.  I thought of the biblical verse, "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof..."  I remember thinking, here we are killing one another, too often in the name of God, because we cannot share the land that belongs to God and has been entrusted to us for our care. 

In the town of Cana, just below a home that had been so recently bombed, there were pictures of the several families that were killed lining the walls of the makeshift cemetery where the bodies were buried.  Many of the pictures were of children, one after another.  I got about half way through, walking alongside the mayor of Cana, and was overwhelmed with grief, I can feel it now, at this horrible loss; lives born in hope and lost in the horror of the senselessness of violence and war.  It was the pictures of the children that were most disturbing and I thought of Jesus saying, "Let the little children come to me..." I'm certain he meant in the fullness of life, not the tragedy of a premature death. 

NCC:  When you met with Lebanese government leaders, what message did they have for you and the churches your delegation represented?

ML:  I would add religious leaders to this as well, not just the government officials.  They were deeply troubled that our government did nothing to influence the cessation of the relentless bombing.  They simply could not understand how we could abide saying nothing to Israel while innocent people were killed, roads and bridges destroyed and oil storage facilities were bombed spilling oil and polluting the sea.  They were incensed that, by their estimates, a million cluster bombs were dropped in the last days of the bombing making thousands of acres of land unsafe for children to play and for farmers to harvest their olives and bananas.  And most importantly, leader after leader, political and religious, underscored the necessity of resolving the Palestinian and Israeli conflict as the key to resolving the deadly tensions in the region.  

NCC:  Was there any individual you encountered or story you heard that touched your heart in a special way?

ML:  I was moved by our meeting with Metropolitan Elias Aude of the Greek Orthodox Church.  We were seated in a great room in chairs along two walls when he came in.  He shooed out the photographers and gathered us around him a tight circle and talked to us about the frustration and fear of his people at the fragility of small, beleaguered Lebanon as a whole, subject as it is to the desires of more powerful nations.  He spoke also of the precarious existence of Christians in Lebanon and his sorrow at their dwindling numbers. He knew that we had little power to do anything, none of us really, and he affirmed the sovereignty of God and his trust in God's providence.  Even as he said this, I got the sense that he did indeed desire that we go back to the United States and challenge our government to act with justice toward the whole region, to balance its unqualified support of Israel with a more profound concern for the things that make for peace in a land that has long been home to Christian, Moslem, and Jew. 

NCC:  If you were still a pastor of a congregation here in the U.S., what would you tell them this Sunday they should be doing about the Middle East?  About the rebuilding of Lebanon?  About communicating to their elected representatives?

ML:  I would ask them to do some homework, to try to understand, not justify, but understand, why a young man would strap explosives to his chest and walk into public place to kill and to die.  And then to use that understanding to work for a more balanced approach to creating a lasting peace in the Middle East.  I would ask them to search their hearts for a good reason our government might sit on its hands while innocent people were bombed relentlessly in Lebanon and while people on both sides were dying.  I would tell them the people of Lebanon want to live in peace, to raise their children without the dread of the next attack.  I would tell them to agitate their representatives with calls, visits, emails, letters, until we begin to act as a responsible agent for the resolution of the Palestinian and Israeli conflict.


NCC News contact:  The Rev. Dan Webster, 212.870.2252, NCCnews@ncccusa.org


 

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