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United Methodists join pleas for end to Middle East violence

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Bishop Janice Huie
July 17, 2006

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*

United Methodists are joining other religious leaders in deploring the recent explosion of violence in the Middle East and calling for an international response.

“We join others who deplore the escalating violence in Israel, Gaza and Lebanon and urge parties to mediate the conflict and end the mounting casualties among the innocent,” said Bishop Janice Riggle Huie of Houston, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops.

“We also join those who urge President Bush to use the strength and authority of his office, with the support of other leaders, to bring the parties together for mediation.”

Fighting between Israel and Hezbollah forces in Lebanon was ongoing July 17, six days after the conflict was sparked by the abduction of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah. On July 16, Israeli air attacks continued on Beirut and southern Lebanon, while a missile struck a railway maintenance hangar in Haifa, Israel. Civilian deaths have occurred in both countries.

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The Rev. R. Randy Day
The Rev. Larry Pickens, chief executive, United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, was concerned about the escalation of violence and the need for the international community to help bring about a cease-fire.

“I particularly call on the leadership of the United States government and the Security Council of the United Nations to play constructive roles in bringing an end to the developing crisis in the region,” he said in a July 14 statement.

Noting the denomination’s commitment to “promoting peace in the context of interfaith community,” Pickens added that such peace must be achieved through justice and dignity.

“The death and destruction that is presently being played out in Lebanon and Gaza is an offense to human dignity,” he said. But he also affirmed “the right of the people of Israel to live in peace.”

Pickens encouraged United Methodist clergy and laity to reflect and pray about the situation in the Middle East and sponsor dialogues on the local level with Muslims and Jews. He stressed the denomination’s “long history of bringing people together in community.”

The Rev. R. Randy Day, chief executive, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, called on all parties to end their military operations and proposed the consideration of a large international peacekeeping operation to shield the combatants from one another.

“Neither the attacks of Hezbollah on Israel or the Israeli military actions in Gaza and Lebanon can be justified from the perspective of international law or sound political policy,” he said in a July 14 statement.

Day made a special appeal for the warring parties to respect civilians. “The Israeli, Palestinian and Lebanese people deserve the right to live in peace and security,” he declared. “Only vigorous action by the United Nations and the major powers of North America and Europe can point toward a better future for the Middle East.”

Against God’s will

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The Rev. Larry Pickens
At a July 17 press conference following the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the U.N. Security Council should address practical actions to stem the violence, along with the possibility of a new stabilization force for the region. Blair backed the idea of an international force in Lebanon.

Day called for prayers for all the people affected, and voiced particular concern for United Methodist missionaries and mission partners in the region. 

A statement released July 17 by the United Methodist Board of Church and Society noted that the “dangerous escalation of hostilities greatly impedes diplomatic efforts to work for peace in the region. The latest outbreak of fighting in the land we know as holy is against the will of God.

“All outside states and forces must halt sending arms and military supplies to groups and states involved in the conflict,” the board declared. “The Israeli military response to the capture of its soldiers has been grossly disproportionate, leading to the deaths of hundreds of civilians ? including children ? in Gaza and Lebanon. The attack on the power plant and infrastructure in Gaza has caused a humanitarian crisis there as access to water, food, and medical care has been severely restricted.”

Serious and effective plans for a peaceful resolution are needed, the statement said. “We support a safe and secure Israel, which will only be possible with a safe, secure, viable and contiguous Palestinian state. We recognize that the United States government has significant power to influence the course of events, and we urge it to use this power on behalf of all people for a just, lasting and durable peace in the region.”

Ecumenical statements

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The Rev. Samuel Kobia
In a July 14 statement, the U.S. National Council of Churches and Church World Service raised the question: “Is there ever to be an end to violence in the land we call holy?” The chief executives of both agencies — the Rev. Bob Edgar and the Rev. John McCullough, respectively — are United Methodists.

The two ecumenical organizations called upon all parties in the Middle East to end hostilities and “work toward a just and sustainable settlement of the issues that plague the region”; the international community to encourage earnest negotiations; and the United Nations to “address immediate humanitarian needs and to resolve the long-term issues underlying the continued violence.”

Religious communities of the region were asked “to pray, teach and lead their people in the ways of peace” and the faithful throughout the world “to walk with them in solidarity until peace is achieved.”

Speaking for the World Council of Churches, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, a Methodist from Kenya and the council’s chief executive, urged “all parties to immediately stop and reverse the escalation of the conflict and all use of the rhetoric of war.”

“We insist fully and firmly on the need for all parties to protect civilians — Lebanese, Israeli and Palestinian — in accordance with international law,” he said in a July 13 statement.

The “essential alternative” to the continual cycle of violence in the Middle East is the “implementation of international law, including international humanitarian law and of U.N. resolutions concerning Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories and Lebanon,” Kobia said.

“Events in Lebanon show the high costs of inaction by the international community,” he concluded.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org

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Resources

BBC: Middle East Crisis

Board of Global Ministries

National Council of Churches

Church and Society

Commission on Christian Unity

World Council of Churches