Former UN secretary-general joins church leaders for Syria discussion

Church leaders discuss moving Syria to peace; WCC General Secretary attends with Syria, Russia, US, Europe leaders
Former UN secretary-general joins church leaders for Syria discussion

Kofi Annan, former United Nations secretary-general, and Lakhdar Brahimi, Joint Representative for Syria, joined the group of Christian leaders today at the WCC Ecumenical Institute Center to discuss the role of the church in moving all parties in Syria toward a peace agreement.

Church of the Brethren general secretary Stanley J. Noffsinger was one of the American church leaders at the meeting.

In remarks to the church leaders Annan said that their gathering was timely and important and that the churches must give the message “Go beyond ‘not go to war’ but build peace.”

Brahimi told the group that in addition to prayers and support for the Syrian people and those negotiating peace, they need the advice of the church.

Both Annan and Brahimi acknowledged that the possibility of a negotiated political settlement is possible given the US and Russian agreement during the past week, however, challenges remain. Annan added that while most churches are against military strikes in response to the chemical weapons attacks, the churches must now speak to the leaders to promote peace.

The church leaders present were
— Archbishop Hilarion, Russian Orthodox Church
— H.E. Metropolitan Prof. Dr. Gennadios of Sassima, Ecumenical Patriarchate
— Dr. Charles Reed, Archbishop of Canterbury representative
— Stanley J. Noffsinger, Church of the Brethren, US
— Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
— Bishop Martin Schindehütte, German Protestant Churches (EKD)
— Rev. Thomas Wild, French Protestant Church
— H.E. Archbishop Dr. Vicken Aykazian, Armenian Apostolic Church (Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin)
— H.B. Gregorios III Laham Patriarch of Antioch and of All the East, of Alexandria and of Jerusalem of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church
— Metropolitan Eustathius Matta Roham, Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese of Jazirah and Euphrates, delegated by His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka
— Cor-Episcopos Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo, delegated by His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka
— H.G. Bishop Dimitrios Charbak, delegated by H.B. John X (Yazigi), Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and All the East
— H.G. Bishop Armash Nalbadian, Armenian Orthodox Church Diocese of Damascus
— Fr. Ziad Hilal, s.j., Society of Jesuits International Organizations
— Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary, World Council of Churches, Geneva
— Rev. Martin Junge, general secretary, Lutheran World Federation, Geneva

‘Our hearts and souls should be shaken…our prayer unceasing’
Following the meeting, Noffsinger shared via e-mail some of what he learned from Syrian church leaders about the terrible effects of the conflict for the Syrian people.

“The conditions of life for the people of Syria are deplorable and terrifying,” Noffsinger wrote from Geneva. “One colleague spoke of mortars shelling their neighborhood for hours on end, and as a church leader his phone rings all day and night to accompany members of his parish through their traumas of war.

“Our hearts and souls should be shaken by the brutality and horror of war, and our prayer and fasting unceasing for an end to the violence. I have no doubt but that our recent call for peace must now be followed by insistence for our nation’s leadership to continue dialogue and peacemaking with other nations.”

Noffsinger also commented on the need for American Christians to work together with Syrian Christians. “Together with the people of Syria, we may discover a solution for a lasting and sustainable peace,” he said.

He asserted that “the work of peacemaking has begun.” Quoting from the biblical book of Isaiah, chapter 2 verse 4, he wrote: “May it one day be said that at this time in history we ‘beat [our] swords into plowshares, and [our] spears into pruning hooks; that nation shall not lift up swords against nation, neither shall [we] learn war anymore.’”

Communiqué calls churches to continue to raise voices for peace
At the end of the meeting the group agreed to a communiqué that said there can be no military solution to the crisis in Syria, and that it was time for the international community to take responsibility to end the violence and begin a political process toward peace.

“Now is the time to raise one voice for peace and work for a negotiated solution among all parties to the conflict,” the communiqué said. “Churches must continue to raise their voice in their congregations and with their governments. We must strengthen the public outcry so that those in power will protect the common interest of humanity.”

The communiqué follows in full:

Communiqué from the WCC consultation on the crisis in Syria

Church leaders from Syria, Russia, United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Turkey, and representatives of international organizations in Geneva gathered for a World Council of Churches consultation on the crisis in Syria together with Mr. Kofi Annan and the Joint Representative for Syria, Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi.

Churches worldwide have spoken out against the war in Syria. Now is the time to raise one voice for peace and work for a negotiated solution among all parties to the conflict. Blessed are the peacemakers, the Scriptures say. Churches must continue to raise their voice in their congregations and with their governments. We must strengthen the public outcry so that those in power will protect the common interest of humanity.

We believe there can be no military solution to the crisis in Syria. It is time for the international community to assume its responsibility to end the violence and initiate a political process that brings peace for all the people of Syria. Resolute action now is necessary to save lives; waiting has already cost many lives. Collective action for peace is needed to save not only the people of Syria but also the surrounding region as well.

We urge the United Nations Security Council to adopt without delay a resolution based on the September 14 agreement by the Russian and American foreign ministers. We call on the governments of Russia and the United States to exercise their major responsibility for peace, collaborating to convince national and foreign parties to the conflict to put an end to the violence and accept the multilateral compromises that are essential for peace.

The Security Council must also set a date for a second peace conference on Syria, building on the foundations agreed but not implemented after the peace conference in 2012 in Geneva. Many tens of thousands more lives have been lost since then. Many thousands more lives are at stake now. To fail to reach conclusive results at the next Geneva conference is not an option.

The current openings for negotiations also need immediate steps to de-escalate the conflict, including the adoption of an arms embargo by the Security Council and measures to stop the flow of foreign combatants into Syria.

The humanitarian situation in Syria and in neighboring countries is precarious. Humanitarian assistance is a vital aspect of the churches’ mission and solidarity with those suffering. Such aid also contributes toward a process of reconciliation. National, regional, and international church ministries are alleviating the suffering of hundreds of thousands of Syrians affected by the war. It is important for church-related agencies to redouble their efforts now, including aid for refugees. Full humanitarian access is essential, as stipulated in the 2012 Geneva conference.

Christians in Syria are an integral part of a diverse society with a rich history. They have their place in civil society and commit themselves to build a future for Syria where citizens of all faiths enjoy equal rights, freedom, and social justice. They are also committed to engage in constructive dialogues with other religious and ethnic communities so that Syria’s pluralistic heritage is protected and secured. The WCC and the wider ecumenical family support such a process.

We join the people of Syria in prayer for a peaceful future for the country and the whole Middle East, and may our Lord keep them in His grace.

World Council of Churches media contact: Mark Beach, telephone +41-77-507-6363 or +41-22-791-6018. The World Council of Churches is a worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service. For more information go to www.oikoumene.org.