genocide alliance forms
York, November 9, 2007 – An effort to eliminate genocide around the
world began in a conference room at the Interchurch Center today near
the campus of Columbia University.
Representatives of churches, the United Nations, and human rights
organizations brought their ideas, concerns and hopes together in an
effort to forge an alliance to abolish genocide.
In his opening prayer Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, president of the
National Council of Churches USA (NCC), called upon God to "grant rest
to all who have perished in genocide."
The archbishop is the
diocesan legate and ecumenical officer of the Diocese of the Armenian
Orthodox Church of America. He was installed in his two-year elected
office the previous night at St. Vartan's Armenian Cathedral in New York
"Inspire our leaders with wisdom, compassion and resolution in the face
of evil," the NCC president said concluding his prayer.
long as I am General Secretary of the NCC this will be a living concern,
not a one-time symposium," said the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, the NCC's
new general secretary, in his remarks welcoming the participants to the
all day consultation.
The event was sponsored by the NCC, Genocide Watch, the Center for
International Conflict Resolution at Columbia University, and the
Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason
One panel discussion focused on the political challenges to abolishing
genocide. The group heard from the Honorable Francis Deng, the United
Nations' special adviser for the prevention of genocide and mass
atrocities. A former member of the government of Sudan, Dr. Deng
described how the politics of identity is now being defined in religious
"The role of religion is shaping identities that become 'conflictual',"
said Dr. Deng. He told of his own experience in Sudan. He grew up in a
traditional African family with its own religion, attended a Roman
Catholic school and became a Catholic. Some of his brothers attended
Islamic schools and became Muslim. Later he lived in a Protestant area
of his country and attended a Muslim school.
different religions describe one another very differently, Deng said,
who suggested each faith tradition needs to emphasize with one another
their common goodness and not to divide people because of their
A second panel took up the complicity of Christians in genocide. The
speakers examined how the church participated in Rwanda, Germany, Bosnia
and in the United States in the genocide of Native Americans.
Dr. Andrea Bartoli, a Roman Catholic from George Mason University, noted
Rwanda was a predominantly Catholic country. He acknowledged the
Catholic Church was not only silent but in some places actively
participated in the genocide.
The church "failed to convert hearts and minds," said Bartoli,
suggesting those who took part in the genocide "acted not as Catholics
but identified as some other" group.
in the panel was Dr. Anne Marshall, a United Methodist and member of the
Muskogee Nation. Dr. Marshall said Native Americans suffered both a
physical as well as cultural genocide.
"Until there is an acknowledgment that genocide has happened here by
churches and governments there can't be healing and wholeness," said Dr.
Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, NCC's associate general secretary for
international affairs and peace, who organized the forum, said the next
step is to involved more groups and create a true alliance to abolish
genocide. The structure of this forum--prayer, historical record,
Scriptural reflection, sharing and a call to action--will be offered as
a template to other faith communities.
The German genocide of the Jews was viewed by a Lutheran theologian
through the lens of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the World War II theologian who
wrote and preached against the Third Reich. He was executed in the
waning days of the war.
Dr. Christiane Tietz, currently at the Center for Theological Inquiry at
Princeton University, said a bad interpretation of Martin Luther's
doctrine of two kingdoms--the kingdom of the world and the spiritual
kingdom--led to many Lutherans participating in the laws and actions of
the government that let to the extermination of the Jews.
"The church as the community of the saints is a community which
transcends and bridges racial and national differences," said Dr. Tietz.
"If it does not, then Christ is not the Lord of the church. The church
is not there for itself; it has to care for those persecuted. It has to
be there for others."
A Serbian Orthodox priest and former U.S. foreign service officer in the
Balkans, Dr. Milan Sturgis, reminded the group that the date this
genocide discussion took place was the 69th anniversary of "kristalnacht"
which began the rounding up of Jews in Germany. Dr. Sturgis related many
of his experiences in Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo including the loss of
cousins, aunts and uncles "who were slaughtered."
"Religion was perverted into a political identity," Dr. Sturgis said. He
told of witnessing Serbian priests blessing Serb militias, Roman
Catholic priests blessing Croatian militias and imams blessing Muslim
"We need to be more concerned with forecasting and prevention [of
genocide] rather than laying blame," said Dr. Sturgis.
"God loved us so much that we have been given the power to change the
world," said the Rev. Bob Edgar, former NCC general secretary, in the
closing "sending forth." He urged participants to put flesh on their
words. "May God bless you in your activism," said Edgar.
NCC News contact: Philip
firstname.lastname@example.org or Dan Webster, 212.870.2252,