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WCC committee advocates for vulnerable people


A young girl carries a water jug in the Hassa Hissa Camp for internally displaced persons outside Zalingei in Sudan's Darfur region. The World Council of Churches executive committee, meeting in Etchmiadzin, Armenia, advocated protection of at-risk people in the violence-torn area. A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey, ACT-Caritas.

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
Oct. 3, 2007


The location of the recent World Council of Churches executive committee meeting was just as significant as the business conducted there, according to a United Methodist participant.

Meeting Sept. 25-28 in Etchmiadzin, Armenia, the committee experienced the religious influence of the host Armenian Apostolic Church, a WCC member, and the still-significant impact of a genocide that occurred nearly a century ago.


The Rev. Larry Pickens

For the Rev. Larry Pickens, an executive committee member who is chief executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, the setting provided striking examples of how a church can survive under extreme conditions, including genocide and years of totalitarian rule by the Soviet Union.

"They have learned how to move forward without hate," he said.

The committee's visit included a trip to the Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex near the capital of Yerevan. The council has long advocated for public recognition of the massacre of one-and-a-half million Armenians in Turkey and the deportation of another million between 1915 and 1917.

"In many ways, the ecumenical movement was born out of the forces of World War II," Pickens said. "It's a constant reminder that we have a stake in building humanity and in peacemaking."

With a strong history of Christianity dating to the fourth century, the church in Armenia is thriving, according to Pickens. Churches were open and accessible to the public, and committee members visited a seminary where young people are preparing for ministry.

The Armenian Apostolic Church "is a very vital church," he said. "Everywhere we went, there was construction going on, churches were going up."


Crisis in Darfur and Chad

Armenia's experiences were remembered as the executive committee took action. "Meeting in the country of Armenia, where genocide nearly a century ago still casts a deep shadow, we reiterate the international responsibility to protect people at risk in the Darfur region of Sudan and in neighboring Chad," the WCC executive committee said in a "Minute on Darfur," which it approved.

“Meeting in the country of Armenia, where genocide nearly a century ago still casts a deep shadow, we reiterate the international responsibility to protect people at risk in the Darfur region of Sudan and in neighboring Chad.”–World Council of Churches statement

Member churches are encouraged to advocate for the protection of people in Darfur with their governments and ask them to pay special attention to the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1706 on Darfur, the first time the Security Council has referred to the responsibility to protect in a specific country crisis.

Ecumenical delegations should make fact-finding and solidarity visits to the region including Darfur, as well as offer prayer and provide humanitarian aid, according to the executive committee.

Pickens said sending a WCC fact-finding delegation to Sudan "has been the subject of a lot of discussion," but that churches in the region had not deemed the time to be right in the past. He expects the WCC Central Committee will receive a report on a possible delegation visit when it meets next February.


Christians in Iraq

Concern also was raised about Christians in Iraq. The executive committee pointed out that while Christians represent only 4 percent of Iraq's population, they make up 40 percent of its refugees.

"Their fate speaks twice, informing overseas churches about both the general humanitarian needs in Iraq and the urgency of saving Iraq's Christian communities," said a statement on Iraq's humanitarian crisis.

Violent attacks, kidnappings and other traumas that affect Christian communities also impact Iraqi society at large. "The fate of Christians must not be seen in isolation from the fate of Muslims, or of other minorities such as the Yazidees and Mandeans, or used to worsen relations with Muslims or other groups," the statement said.

The statement called for prayers, support through church-related relief organizations and raising awareness about the general suffering of the Iraqi people, including its Christian communities.

"Church-only actions and joint initiatives with Muslims are both needed in order to show support for the people of Iraq and to make clear once again that policies of occupation do not have international church support," the statement said.

WCC member churches also need to advocate with their governments to remind them of obligations to Iraqis under the Geneva Conventions and "the need to break the international silence on the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and provide greater assistance to displaced and refugee Iraqis through organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration."

Pickens said it is important to make U.S. church leadership "aware of the impact that (Iraqi) Christians are feeling as a result of the war."

The concern about Christian communities should extend to other Middle Eastern countries as well, he added. "If we're truly a worldwide church, these are the type of issues we are called to speak to."


Tensions over Iran

In a statement on Iran and the Middle East crisis, WCC member churches were "urged to impress upon their governments their acute concern that the U.S. and its allies must settle the dispute over Iran's nuclear program through negotiations and not through the use of military force."

The council's concern is for the protection of all citizens, including those in the United States and Israel. "Years of unilateralist military incursions in the Middle East have compromised human security and national well-being across the region and left many people vulnerable," the council said.

A "Statement on the 10th anniversary of the Kyoto Protocol" called on the 174 ratifying states to fully implement its provisions. Countries that have not ratified the treaty, such as the United States and Australia, are urged to meet strict targets to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, which are considered responsible for global warming.


*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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Minute on Darfur

Statement on Iraq and its Christian Communities

Minute on Iran and the Middle East

Statement on Kyoto Protocol

World Council of Churches

United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns

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