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National Council of Churches leaders conclude Mid East visit
calling for 'a biblically grounded' vision for peace and justice

New York, August 12, 2008  ̶  Officials of the National Council of Churches have concluded a 12-day visit to the Middle East where they stressed the importance of Christian unity and interfaith cooperation as keys to establishing "a biblically grounded vision" for peace and justice.

The delegation was led by NCC President Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, NCC General Secretary, and the Rev. Dr. Peter Makari, United Church of Christ executive for Middle East and Europe.

Archbishop Aykazian has set the pursuit of peace with justice in the Middle East as one of the prime concerns of his presidency. The concern includes the need for security and equal treatment of all residents of the area, including Christian minorities as well as Jews and Muslims.

The trip, which included stops in Israel-Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, stemmed from an NCC Governing Board action last February that affirmed "that the concern for Middle East peace is a priority for the NCC in the coming period," and authorized the NCC executive committee to explore was of promoting peacemaking, including sending "a delegation to the Middle East."

The delegation will report its conclusions to the NCC Governing Board when it meets in New York September 22-23, Kinnamon said.

"We saw so much and talked with so many people that it will be impossible to briefly summarize our conclusions," Kinnamon said. "We will certainly make some immediate recommendations to the Governing Board, especially in areas where Christian minorities and basic human rights need greater protection. For example, we were concerned that Palestinians forced to leave their property in Israel are often prohibited from returning, and we'll want to address that."

The NCC delegation met with Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders in the Middle East. One political leader, Dr. Tarek Mitri, former acting foreign minister and current minister of culture and higher education in Lebanon, is an Orthodox Christian who served on the Interfaith Relations staff of the World Council of Churches in Geneva. The delegation also met with Prince Hassan of Jordan and President Bashar Assad of Syria.

In Amman, Jordan, the delegation met with Archbishop Vendiktos of the Greek Orthodox Church and discussed with him the issue of Christian presence. MECC Director of Amman office Ms. Wafa Gousous facilitated and coordinated the program of the visit in Jordan .

In Damascus, Syria, President Dr. Bachar Al-Assad welcomed the NCC stand support for the peace in the Middle East and their opposition to the war in Iraq.

The delegation had several meetings with church leaders: His Beatitude Patriarch Ignatius Hazim IV of the Greek Orthodox Church, Rev. Botrous Zašour of the Evangelical National Arab Church, H.E. Bishop Armach Nalbidian of the Armenian Orthodox Church, and representatives of His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios Laham of the Greek Melkite Catholic Church. NCC delegation expressed their solidarity with churches, heard about the witness of the churches in the Middle East, and acknowledged the work of MECC and national churches in supporting Iraqi refugees.  

The delegation met with high ranking Muslim leaders namely: the Grand Mufti of Syria and the Director of Sheikh Ahmad Kaftaro Centre with whom they exchanged with them issues related to Christian-Muslim relations.

MECC General Secretary Mr Guirgis Saleh, Mr. Samer Laham, Director of Damascus office (who facilitated and coordinated the program of visit), and Mr. Razek Siriani, Director of International Ecumenical Relations, accompanied the delegation. 

In Beirut ­ Lebanon, the delegation met with MECC General Secretary and senior staff and heard from them about MECC activities and mission in the region. The delegation met with church leaders: Rev Dr. Salim Sahyouni (President of the Higher Council of Evangelical Churches in Syria & Lebanon), H.E. Metropolitan Boulos Matar (President of MECC), H.E. Archbishop Elias Aude (Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church in Beirut), H.E. Archbishop George Saliba (Archbishop of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Mount Lebanon), H.E. Bishop Nareg Alemezian (representing His Holiness Catholicose Aram I of the Armenian Orthodox Church), and Rev Megredij Karakozian (President of the Union of Armenian Evangelical Church).  

The delegation met with Muslim leaders: the Grand Mufti of Lebanon, the vice president of the Shiišat community, the president of the Druz community.  The General Secretary and Rev. Dr. Habib Badr welcomed the delegation at a reception held at the National Evangelical Church of Beirut upon the invitation of MECC where many eminent Christian figures were present. The MECC General Secretary hoped that the bilateral relations between MECC and NCCCUSA will be further developed into joint activities.       

At the conclusion of the trip, on August 1, Kinnamon lectured at Haigazian University in Beirut. The lecture, organized jointly by Haigazian University and the Arab Group for Christian-Muslim Dialogue, was attended by high ranking clergy, diplomats, and interest groups. 

Archbishop Vicken Aykazian presented the two main objectives NCC wants to achieve in the world, namely, Peace and Justice. "The NCC is committed to that by judging people as human beings, irrespective of race, gender, and religion," Aykazian said.

Dr. Kinnamon began his lecture by explaining the concept of Prophetic Witness in the Christian tradition as being "the testimony to one's faith in word and in deed."

Kinnamon added that "witness can be called prophetic when it brings to Bear the Gospel on current social injustice, thus giving hope of a different way of living in social community." He cited the role of the churches, which "is not simply to focus on spiritual things, and eternal life only, but to be a credible sign and instrument of social transformation towards the day God's will is more fully done."

Kinnamon highlighted the concept of the Social Gospel Movement, which formed the basics of the Industrial Revolution at the beginning of the 20th century. "Salvation is not simply an individual quest to be saved out of the world, but it's a communal effort in response to God, to build a better society on Earth," he said.

Kinnamon presented a self-critique of the NCC itself, conceding that it has failed to be more prophetic. The prophetic witness of the mainline churches in the USA has diminished, he said, because of the churches' loss of members, financial resources, and public influence. In addition, there was an evident gap between the leaders of the churches and local church members, leading to a lack of support to leaders' initiatives.

Kinnamon noted the issue of polarization in issues of social concern and the inability to deal constructively with conflict.

The biggest problem is that the "mainline churches generally lack the biblically grounded vision of social life, and without such a vision the church will leave the status quo untouched," Kinnamon concluded.


NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228,

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