National Council of Churches officers and communion leaders urge U.S. officials to help curtail attacks on Christians in Iraq
Recent attacks in Iraq on Christians and other minority groups have prompted the National Council of Churches to ask U.S. government officials to communicate with Iraqi authorities in an effort to bring the violence to an end.
In letters sent April 26 to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and to U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, NCC leaders expressed concern about the attacks and asked the secretaries to urge Iraqi authorities and the commanders of Coalition forces in Iraq “to take all possible steps to prevent further incidents of this type.”
“Christians in Iraq have suffered more than a dozen violent deaths so far this year, including a three-year old child in Mosul who died on March 27 after a bomb, placed next to his family’s home, exploded,” the letter said. “As you know, thousands of Christians have been forced to flee their homes because of their fear of violence.”
The NCC letter was signed by the National Council of Churches General Secretary, the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon; the Rev. Canon Peg Chemberlin, NCC President; and 21 heads of NCC member communions and ecumenical officers.
“Our concern is now particularly acute because it is possible that tensions will increase as various political forces continue to vie for power following the recent elections,” the letter said. “We fear that a growing climate of mistrust and animosity will further threaten the fragile Christian community.”
The campaign of violence against Iraqi Christians is the most under-reported story out of the country since the 2003 invasion, the British newspaper Telegraph reported recently.
Iraqi Christians used to make up about 3 percent of Iraq’s population, but now make up for more than half of its refugees, the Telegraph has reported.
Iraqi church leaders who have visited the National Council of Churches offices in New York have implored U.S. Christians to take closer notice of their fellow Christians in Iraq.
Archbishop Avak Asadourian, Ph.D., Primate of the Armenian Church of Iraq, said in a June 2008 visit to New York that he has made it his mission to remind Americans that Christianity has deep roots in Iraq.
Archbishop Asadourian is general secretary of the Council of Christian Church-Leaders in Iraq, which was formed in June 2006 to maintain communication with different Christian bodies and to channel humanitarian supplies to the people in need. Media reports give many Americans the impression that the prevalent religion of the land is the exclusive religion in Iraq, Asadourian noted during his 2008 visit. But Christianity traces its roots in Iraq to the first century mission visits of St. Thomas the Apostle to Mesopotamia.
“Christianity is indigenous to the land since Apostolic times,” the archbishop said. “Current trends, however, show that thousands of Christians are emigrating to Jordan, Syria and elsewhere, as are many other Iraqis.”
The NCC letters requested that Secretaries Clinton and Gates work directly with Iraqis to “protect minority groups, including Christians in Mosul and other parts of Iraq’ extend necessary humanitarian aid to displaced families; and encourage the preservation of religious and ethnic diversity in Iraq.
In addition to Kinnamon and Chemberlin, signers of the letters are:
Bishop John F. White, Ecumenical and Urban Affairs Officer, African Methodist Episcopal Church; the Rev. Paula Clayton Dempsey, Ecumenical Officer, Alliance of Baptists; the Rev. A. Roy Medley, General Secretary, American Baptist Churches USA; Bishop Charles Leigh, Apostolic Catholic Church; and Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, Legate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America and immediate past president of the NCC.
Also, the Rev. Dr. Robert Welsh, Ecumenical Officer, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Stan Noffsinger, General Secretary, Church of the Brethren; His Grace Bishop Serapion of Los Angeles, Coptic Orthodox Church in North America; Bishoy M. Mikhail, Ecumenical Officer, Coptic Orthodox Church in North America; the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church; and the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Also, the Rev. Michael E. Livingston, Executive Director, International Council of Community Churches; the Rt. Rev. Dr. Geevarghese Mar Theodosius, Bishop, Diocese of NA and Europe, Mar Thoma Church; Dr. Julius R. Scruggs, President of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.; Thomas Swain, Clerk, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends; the Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk, Office of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (USA); and the Rev. Doug Fromm, Associate for Ecumenical Relations, Reformed Church in America.
Also, Metropolitan Christopher, Primate, Serbian Orthodox Church in North and South America; the Rev. Geoffrey Black, General Minister and President, United Church of Christ; Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader, Ecumenical Officer of the Council of Bishops, United Methodist Church; and the Rev. Dr. Stephen J. Sidorak, Jr., General Secretary, General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, United Methodist Church.