Statement by His Grace Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom on the Need for Collaboration to Address Violations of International Religious Freedom in Iraq, Syria and the wider Middle East
The widespread brutality facing Christians and minorities in the Middle East is intensifying, and gross violations of the God-given right and freedom to practice Faith and belief, as protected by Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is increasingly experienced by them in their homelands.
Heightened levels of extremism seek to eradicate indigenous Christian communities that have been a vital part of the identity, culture and heritage of the Middle East for over two millennia. Those communities that do not fit within the extremist ideology now spreading through the region are at greater risk of no longer being a part of its fabric. The model of intolerance and extremism that we are witnessing, will become legitimised and replicated throughout the Middle East and further afield if left unchallenged, and will continue to marginalise, alienate and destroy all in its path.
While Christians continue to suffer the brunt of these dangerous levels of exclusion and dehumanisation, Yazidis and other religious and ethnic minorities, including many Muslims, also suffer the same fate. Innocent men, women and children face extreme persecution, torture and murder for their Faith. The loss of these historic communities, with their stabilising and reconciling presence, will not only have a detrimental effect on their own countries but on the entire region.
This is a time for collaboration and a unified effort against ideologies that seek to attack the fundamental principles of human rights and civilisation that have developed over millennia. Christians, along with those who live by faith, morals, and ethics, and the international community, must collaborate to address this threat against not only innocent civilians, but our way of life as we know it today.
Rhetoric used to describe the atrocities in the Middle East must no longer remain within a religious framework, but rather deal with these events as unacceptable crimes against citizens of countries who are entitled to the basic rights and freedoms of all. It is within this context that the international community must commit itself to providing, supporting, and advocating, in every way it can, for Christians and others whose fundamental right to freedom of Faith is denied in Iraq, Syria, Egypt and the wider Middle East.
We give thanks for our brothers and sisters who despite immense challenges, continue to live their Christian Faith with extraordinary strength and resilience, but as Christians we do not pray and advocate for them alone, but for all those denied their God-given right to freedom in the Middle East.
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These are further statements from leaders of member churches of Churches Together in England - in date order in which they were made public:
His Grace Bishop Angaelos, on the anniversary of the unprecedented attacks on Churches in Egypt, and the current situation in Iraq, Syria and the Middle East
August 14th by His Grace, Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom
As we witness the atrocities in Iraq and Syria, and share the pain of those who are displaced and have lost loved ones, we also remember those commemorating the first anniversary of painful events that unfolded in Egypt over the coming days. Whether considering communities and families who lost loved ones in the pro-Morsi protests in the suburbs of Cairo, or the scores of Christian communities whose churches and places of ministry throughout Egypt were subsequently attacked, the continuing need for healing and reconciliation is ever present.
These events in Egypt are now an all-too-distant memory for many around the world, but for those personally touched by them, there remains real pain. For most, this pain is accompanied by a sense of immense loss, while for some who take a more radical line, by anger and a need for violent retribution. This need drove a small minority, a year ago, to retaliate against the scapegoated Christian community of Egypt that chose the extraordinary path of non-retaliation despite the unjustified and unprecedented level of attacks. Their restraint was, and continues to be, a powerful witness that has provided a strong foundation for peace and reconciliation.
Whether addressing Egypt, Iraq, Syria, or the broader Middle East, peace, stability, cohesion and reconciliation are traits of unified and unifying states, and can not come about without the support of a proactive and intentional effort from those who govern them.
With the atrocities we are witnessing at the forefront of our minds, we continue to advocate for those, regardless of race, religion or belief, who are suffering, and pray God’s grace and strength upon them as they currently endure immense challenges and persecution, and endeavour to move ahead from a place of mourning and loss.
As the situation facing Christians and minority groups in the Middle East increasingly spirals to new and dangerous levels of exclusion and dehumanisation, the need is intensified for both the unified Body of Christ within the Christian family, and the global community as a whole, to stand in solidarity with those suffering, condemn acts of brutality, and provide whatever assistance may be needed, while at the same time, explore every possible means of healing, rebuilding and restoring of communities and lives.
We continue to hold those suffering great struggles, indignity and the loss of precious human life in our prayers, that grace, healing and strength be bestowed upon them all at this time. We also pray for those committing these atrocities, that they will one day realise the sanctity and dignity granted equally by God to every human life.
Link to the Statement
Joint Public Issues Team: Crisis in Iraq – responses must be rapid and wise
8 August 2014 by Steve Hucklesby
Yesterday President Obama authorised the use of US air strikes in Iraq if the Islamic extremist group, who now refer to themselves as the Islamic State (IS), try to conquer the city of Erbil. The US will also provide air support to drop relief supplies to those fleeing the violence.
The Islamic militants of the Islamic State (IS) have created an environment of terror among minorities in Northern Iraq. There are reports of 200,000 people on the move. The ancient Yezidi sect have borne the brunt of IS brutality in Sinjar and are now trapped in the arid mountains surrounding this region. [Yezidi in mountains] There are reports that in the last few day militants have killed many from the community and taken 500 Yezidi women as hostages.
Now, without water and food, women and children are dying of dehydration in 50 degree temperatures. Members of Christian minorities have also been told to convert or face execution and have been forced out of Mosul in large numbers.
While IS brutality is particularly shocking and extreme, mass executions of captured IS fighters by Iraqi Government troops have also been alleged.
Alliances among competing political factions will be critical to dealing with this crisis. Fouad Massoum, a veteran Kurdish politician, has been made President and Parliament has elected a moderate Sunni as its speaker. However Prime Minister, Al-Maliki has attempted to retain his position although he has lost the confidence of many for failing to bring the competing communities together. Consequently Parliament is unable to function at this time of crisis.
How might the international community respond? The most urgent priority must be to provide aid to fleeing populations. A massive relief effort on the part of the UN, Governments and aid organisations will be required as the crisis has overwhelmed local capacity. Christian Aid today appeal for our support.
Other responses are less obvious at this point in time. In recent years the UN and governments have agreed that the international community must seek to take on the responsibility to protect when the government of a sovereign State is powerless to prevent genocide or ethnic cleansing. But any response must be clearly humanitarian, not just in terms of its declared objectives but also in its underlying motivation. Our previous intervention in Iraq demonstrates that our concept of security must extend beyond boosting military and police capacity. Bombing IS militants from the air with precision guided weapons might halt further territorial gains but risks encouraging further Sunni support for the IS cause.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, following a meeting with the top Shi’ite cleric Ayatollah Al-Sistani, has called on all religious authorities to stand up for tolerance, mutual respect and non-violence. Across our faith traditions, whether in the UK, Iraq or anywhere else, we unite in our opposition to the persecution of religious or ethnic groups and in our abhorrence of violent extremism. We could communicate this not only with loud and clear voices but in actions that we take together. Priority must also be given to gathering information and evidence on the atrocities committed and identifying the individuals culpable for these crimes. Only once those who are responsible are publicly held to account, can communities begin to trust and build a better future. These actions offer a surer path to defeating the Islamic State’s extremism in Iraq than a purely military response.
A statement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict made by Quakers in Britain
8 August 2014.
Chris Skidmore, Clerk of the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain
“ At this time of sombre anniversaries, as we observe the centenary of the outbreak of World War I and the anniversaries of nuclear bombs dropped on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki we find our Quaker testimonies to peace and equality again compel us to speak out.
“The hostilities in Gaza are the latest eruption of the deep and long-running conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Root causes of this conflict, including the structural violence of occupation, must be addressed. Such violence damages all the people of the region. The present time, with its faltering ceasefires and talks, is a time of both crisis and opportunity.
“From our long-standing Quaker experience of working on this issue in Palestine, Israel and Britain, and from listening to the testimony of Quakers in Ramallah, we are convinced that the UK Government has a real role to play. A starting place would be for the UK to recognise Palestine as a nation state on the same basis as it recognises Israel. We note that 134 states have already recognised the State of Palestine. The UK Government should also play its part in creating a real opportunity for peace by drawing groups such as Hamas into the political process and thus away from violent resistance to the occupation. We have seen around the world how those once labelled as terrorists can come to be recognised for their statesmanship. It is our view that freeing elected Palestinian leaders now held as political prisoners would help Palestine to develop as a flourishing economic, political and civil society.
“The international community remains complicit in the conflict for as long as it fails to make full use of the mechanisms provided by international law, to hold all parties to account for their actions. Under international law, at all times, all parties should distinguish between civilians and combatants, though as Quakers we place equal value on every human life. The Israeli Government's ongoing blockade of Gaza and its apparent collective punishment of the people must end, as must indiscriminate fire by all sides.
“Amid the present crisis, we are reminded that the people of the West Bank, living under Israeli occupation face restrictions on movement; loss of land and water; demolitions; the continuing building of settlements; detention without trial and violence by settlers and the Israeli military. Such suffering often sows seeds of future violence.
“The anniversary of World War I reminds us how easily militarised societies can slide into armed conflict and become blind to the alternatives to war. At such times, the international community has a responsibility to avoid fuelling the conflict. We join others in asking for a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel, Hamas and armed Palestinian groups. Quakers in Britain ask the UK Government to take a lead on this by halting arms exports to Israel.
“As we, among other Nobel Peace Laureates, have said, 'The conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis will only be resolved when Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory is ended and the inherent equality, worth, and dignity of all is realised’. Peacebuilding is a long and demanding path to take, but an essential one.
“Quakers in Britain feel called to act alongside others to address the roots of violence. We continue to uphold Quakers in the region and those working nonviolently for peace and human rights within Israel and Palestine. Quakers will continue to challenge anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, as we oppose all forms of prejudice. We long for – and will work for – a time when the deep fear experienced on all sides is replaced by security and a just peace.
Note: Quakers in Britain send human rights monitors to the West Bank, East Jerusalem, but not Gaza. On behalf of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and other Christian agencies Quakers in Britain runs the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). Ecumenical accompaniers focus global attention on Israeli and Palestinian peace and human rights groups. EAPPI uses the standards of human rights and international law to work for an end to the occupation and for a just peace with security and dignity for all.
Statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury on Iraq
Friday 8th August 2014, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, issued the following statement today on the situation in Iraq, shortly before he travelled from the Philippines to Papua New Guinea.
“The horrific events in Iraq rightly call our attention and sorrow yet again. Christians and other religious minorities are being killed and face terrible suffering.
“What we are seeing in Iraq violates brutally people’s right to freedom of religion and belief, as set out under Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is extremely important that aid efforts are supported and that those who have been displaced are able to find safety. I believe that, like France, the United Kingdom’s doors should be open to refugees, as they have been throughout history.
“The international community must document human rights abuses being committed in northern Iraq so that future prosecutions can take place. It is important and necessary for the international community to challenge the culture of impunity which has allowed these atrocities to take place.
“With the world’s attention on the plight of those in Iraq, we must not forget that this is part of an evil pattern around the world where Christians and other minorities are being killed and persecuted for their faith. Only this week I received an email from a friend in Northern Nigeria about an appalling attack on a village, where Christians were killed because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Such horrific stories have become depressingly familiar in countries around the world, including Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.
“We must continue to cry to God for peace and justice and security throughout the world. Those suffering such appalling treatment in Iraq are especially in my prayers at this time.”
Last month Archbishop Justin called, on Twitter, for “solidarity of prayer and love” with the Christians in Iraq. Last week he requested that his homepage photo be changed to the Arabic letter for "N" in solidarity with persecuted Christians suffering in Iraq.
Link to the Statement
Statement on Gaza by Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Thursday 31st July 2014
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, has issued a statement on the violence in Gaza pleading for an immediate truce and an "end to this carnage".
"Faced with the increasing violence that is engulfing the people of Gaza, my thoughts and prayers, and those of the Catholic community, are constantly with all those who have lost loved ones and whose lives are shattered in this conflict.
"The pain, anguish and sense of hopelessness of those men, women and children cry out that war is not the answer. As this conflict shows, violence breeds violence.
"Along with so many others, I plead for an immediate truce in Gaza that will not only put an end to this latest carnage but that will also address at last the core problems behind this conflict which has so blighted the lives of all the peoples of the Holy Land."
Link to Statement
Statement of the Archbishop of Canterbury on Gaza
Wednesday 30th July 2014
Archbishop of Canterbury calls on leaders in Israel and Gaza to immediately end the violence, and urges Anglican churches both to pray and offer support to all victims of the conflict.
Following a recent update from staff at the Al Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza, a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, the Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken publicly (after many private contacts) of his concern for the deteriorating situation in Gaza.
Archbishop Justin Welby said today:
“You can't look at the pictures coming from Gaza and Israel without your heart breaking. We must cry to God and beat down the doors of heaven and pray for peace and justice and security. Only a costly and open-hearted seeking of peace between Israeli and Palestinian can protect innocent people, their children and grand children, from ever worse violence.
“My utmost admiration is for all those involved in the humanitarian efforts on the ground, not least the medical team and staff at Al Ahli Arab Hospital. Providing relief and shelter for those displaced is a tangible expression of our care and concern, and I encourage Church of England parishes and dioceses, as well as the wider Communion, to pray for them and support the Diocese of Jerusalem's emergency appeal.
“While humanitarian relief for those civilians most affected is a priority, especially women and children, we must also recognise that this conflict underlines the importance of renewing a commitment to political dialogue in the wider search for peace and security for both Israeli and Palestinian. The destructive cycle of violence has caused untold suffering and threatens the security of all.
“For all sides to persist with their current strategy, be it threatening security by the indiscriminate firing of rockets at civilian areas or aerial bombing which increasingly fails to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, is self-defeating. The bombing of civilian areas, and their use to shelter rocket launches, are both breaches of age old customs for the conduct of war. Further political impasse, acts of terror, economic blockades or sanctions and clashes over land and settlements, all increase the alienation of those affected. Populations condemned to hopelessness or living under fear will be violent. Such actions create more conflict, more deaths and will in the end lead to an even greater disaster than the one being faced today. The road to reconciliation is hard, but ultimately the only route to security. It is the responsibility of all leaders to protect the innocent, not only in the conduct of war but in setting the circumstances for a just and sustainable peace
“While it is acceptable to question and even disagree with particular policies of the Israeli government, the spike in violence and abuse against Jewish communities here in the UK is simply unacceptable. We must not allow such hostility to disrupt the good relations we cherish among people of all faiths. Rather we must look at ways at working together to show our concern and support for those of goodwill on all sides working for peace.”
Echoing the prayer of Pope Francis, Archbishop Justin concluded by saying, "Let us pray to the Prince of Peace who so suffered in a land of violence that hearts may turn to peace and the innocent be helped."
During recent weeks Archbishop Justin has expressed his concern about the violence in Gaza. He fully accepts that Israel has the same legitimate rights to peace and security as any other state and to self-defence within humanitarian law when faced with an external threat. At the same time he shares the despair, and acknowledges the growing anger felt by many, including Jewish people to whom he has spoken, at the recent escalation of violence by all involved. All this highlights the need for underlying issues to be addressed, whether the ongoing terror threat to Israel or the expansion of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The failure to find constructive paths to peace poses a threat to the future of all the peoples of the region.
Link to the statement
Statement by His Grace Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom regarding the situation in Mosul, Iraq
25 July 2014
As the widespread violence and aggression facing Christians and minority groups in Mosul, Iraq, intensifies, it is increasingly evident that the fundamental right and freedom to practice one’s Faith and belief is, and continues to be, grossly violated.
We are currently witnessing an unacceptable widespread implementation of extremist religious ideology that threatens the lives of all Iraqi’s who do not fit within its ever-narrowing perspective. While this situation stands to eradicate centuries of co-existence and culture in the region it also threatens to significantly and negatively impact these communities for generations to come. If left unchallenged, it is not Iraq alone that is at risk, but the potential is intensified for the replication of this ideology as a viable and legitimate model for others across the Middle East.
As the situation escalates, little is being said in the worldwide community, and I am therefore appreciative of the recent comment by The Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies, and its Chairman, His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, expressing its concern over the current situation in Mosul. Comments such as this have the potential to positively influence these and similar situations by challenging what is being taught, and presenting an alternative religious understanding.
We continue to pray and advocate for all whose God-given right to freedom is denied, hoping that acceptance and respect for all is realised in these affected communities, and that grace, healing and strength will be given to those who continue to suffer great atrocities and the loss of precious human life.
Link to the Statement
Statement from the Greek Orthodox Patriachate of Antioch and All the East
Damascus July 23, 2014
At a time when Syria's wounds have been bleeding for more than three years, amidst the wounds of Iraq, which has experienced conflict since the 1980's, amidst the unrest that is sweeping countries near and far, and amidst the world's indifference to Palestine's wounds, which have not healed in almost seventy years, these days in particular we are witnessing a multiplication of these wounds in the expulsion of Mosul's Christians and the all-out assault on Gaza amidst a disgraceful international silence.
The cycle of violence sweeping Iraq and Syria, expelling peaceful citizens has not let up, as recent events in Iraq and specifically in Mosul have completed the series of murder, religious prejudice, and terror.
We strongly condemn attacks on any segment of society in this Middle East and we especially condemn the attack on the Christians of Mosul and their being compelled by force of arms to change their religion under the penalty of paying the Jizya or abandoning their homes and having their property confiscated. These fundamentalist movements that are trying to become mini-states through force and terror with outside moral and material support are the greatest threat to people in the Middle East and to coexistence there. We ask the international community and specifically the United Nations and all global powers and organizations to take into proper consideration what is happening in Iraq, Mosul and the entire Middle East.
We call on them to deal with the current situation courageously, with a genuine language of human rights and not a language of interests that uses the principles of human rights and exploits them in the service of narrow aims and interests. We ask the countries that provide outside support to these groups, whether directly or indirectly, to cease immediately from all forms of material, moral, logistical and military support for these extremist groups and so cut off at its root the terrorism that is first of all a threat to the peace and peoples of those countries. We likewise call for an end to resorting to any form of violence as a means by which citizens deal with each other.
Because we in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East constantly affirm that Christians and Muslims are two lungs of a single Middle Eastern body that stands on citizenship and common life, we reject anything that would first of all hurt Islam's reputation for tolerance, brotherhood and peaceful life, which we have experienced, and secondly disrupts the right of citizens to have a civic presence free from sectarian or racial pressures.
As the world watches what is happening in Mosul, the chain of violence is repeated in the Gaza Strip under various justifications, amidst a frightening international silence. This is happening while the outside world is content to watch a bloodbath that has not spared women, children and the elderly. It is as though the Middle East has become a testing-ground for every sort of weapon and a fertile soil for every sort of plot. It is as though the people of the Middle East are a commodity created to be dough in the hands of the forces of evil, when they are created to be the image of the Lord's splendor and the focus of the Creator's good pleasure, with good relationships with their fellow citizens and fellow humans.
We in the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and All the East understand the common fate that binds us to our Christian and Muslim brothers in Palestine. We implore the international community for a ceasefire in Gaza and an end to the sinful siege on our brothers in Palestine, whose cause remains par excellence the cause of Humanity.
The attachment of the Palestinians to their land and their longing to return to it is a cause for hope for all those suffering in this Middle East and a mark of shame upon the faces of those for whom "human rights" end at the hills of Palestine while at the same time that they traffic in these "rights" in order to intervene in the affairs of other peoples.
We pray that God give peace to the world, that He give strength to all those in distress, that He cause peace to be lasting in the Middle East, so that humanity may enjoy well-being and tranquility.
Link to the statement
Prayers from Christian Aid, linked to their Appeal
A prayer of response
God, thank you for glimpses of grace in the darkness of despair.
For the hospitality that welcomes strangers,
for the welcome that overcomes political tensions,
for the stories of landlords offering blankets and food instead of taking rent,
for ‘dignity kits’ provided for new mothers where female needs are often neglected, and
for solidarity reached over short borders we give you thanks.
May that solidarity extend beyond geography into our hearts,
may the underlying knowledge of devastation in Syria surface in our minds,
may the peripheral awareness of trauma become a central concern,
may we be moved by compassion to respond to the ‘almost impossible need’, and
may the international community finally stand up and be counted.
For the hundreds of thousands who know
the harshness of freezing temperatures,
the insecurity of homelessness,
the pain of hunger,
the loss of protection, and
the fear of the unknown.
Denied the dignity of what it is to be human.
God, we pray for them warmth, security, food and peace.
Give wisdom to those who seek resolution to this conflict,
who take on this challenge for which there is no solution in sight.
Turn things around on this Damascus road, blind the forces of violence, and
make persecutors messengers of peace.
A Christian Aid prayer for the people of Syria
Almighty and all powerful God, creator of the world and the nations
We bring before you all those caught up in the conflict in Syria.
We pray for an immediate ceasefire, for an end to violence against all civilians.
Give humanitarian organisations the space to assist the needs of those living in poverty and insecurity.
We pray for those who are experiencing the pain of personal loss, for families who are mourning the loss of loved ones
Comfort especially those who have friends and family members missing.
We pray for those caught up in the cycle of violence and bloodshed: give them a just peace.
We pray for those forced to flee their homes: keep them safe on their travels and arrival in foreign lands.
We pray for Christian Aid partners in neighbouring countries: guide them in their response to this situation.
We pray for those in positions of power who have the means to make a difference:
Guide the United Nations, and governments whose actions might bring about peace.
We pray for the future of all countries where people have been willing to challenge unfair and unjust governments
We ask that the outcome will be a better future for all, and that the poor and marginalised will experience new lives of dignity and hope.
And we pray for ourselves, that we will not ignore their pleas for help
That we may play our part in bringing about the change that they want to see.
Church of England Prayer for Gaza
Lord God of compassion,
whose will is for peace built on righteousness,
we pray for peace in Gaza and Israel:
for an end to hostilities,
for comfort and help for all who suffer,
and for reconciliation between Palestine and Israel,
through Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.
Prayer for Peace in the land we call Holy - Revd John Proctor, United Reformed Church
As the situation in Israel and Palestine worsens, and the number of lives lost and civilians wounded continues to rise, the United Reformed Church prays for peace and an end to the suffering.
You may like to join us, using this prayer written by the Revd John Proctor, general secretary of the United Reformed Church:
Lord Jesus Christ, prince of peace,
you lived in the Land we call Holy,
loved its places and its people,
embraced its sorrow and entered its suffering.
We pray for the many who suffer in that land today,
who live among the ravages of war,
who mourn and bury beloved dead,
who carry wounds in body and spirit,
who seek shelter from danger and fear.
Out of death and dust, Lord Jesus,
your resurrection tells of hope,
in the story of the years
and in the face of destruction and despair.
And so for your love’s sake we pray
for new signs of hope in these days.
Amid grieving and graves
we pray for a word of new possibility,
and for a new rising of peace,
in your Holy Land.
Methodist paper: Theological Issues re Israel-Palestine
Churches Together in Britain and Ireland Conference papers re Middle East
Bible Studies re Continuity and Conflict