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Ecumenical leaders deplore Russia-Georgia conflict

August 14, 2008

National Council of Churches News

The Russia-Georgia conflict joins a dismal trend; but violence solves nothing, Christians declare

Full text of Kinnamon Statement
Full text of Orthodox Peace Fellowship Statement

Russia's attack on Georgia is a disheartening reminder that the 21st century remains a  primitive age of fanatical nationalism and military bullying, members of the National Council of Churches USA said today.

Even more distressing, said the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, NCC General Secretary, is that both Russia and Georgia are Christian nations with ancient church roots.

"Church leaders and laity in both nations have courageously borne witness to the Gospel of Christ in the halls of political power, but their words have gone unheeded."

In a letter sent today to Patriarch Alexei of the Russian Orthodox Church and Patriarch Ilya of the Georgian Orthodox Church, leaders of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship (OPF) said political leaders who ignored the patriarchs' warnings "have blood on their hands."

"What a sin and a scandal it is to see these armies shedding each other's blood," wrote Jim Forest, International Secretary of the OPF and Alexander Patico, OPF Secretary for North America. "That such an event can happen is a poignant reminder of how often, among Orthodox Christians no less than others, national identity easily takes priority over our common identity as children of the One God."

Orthodox Christians and all of the 35 diverse traditions that compose the National Council of Churches testify that our Creator is a God of love who came to us in human form to save us from destruction, calling on us to love god and one another, Kinnamon said. "The military intervention in Georgia, like all actions born of hatred or callous self-interest, is an act of madness, a senseless rejection of God's love and salvation.

Kinnamon said it is also deeply disturbing to note that the brutality in Georgia is part of a world-wide trend.

"Every day we hear reports of military intervention and violence in the Philippines, in Sri Lanka, in Sudan and Darfur, in Zimbabwe and elsewhere. There is also considerable suffering in Afghanistan and Iraq, although our media's preoccupation with those conflicts distracts us from suffering in other nations."

"This commitment to peace with justice is a basic tenant of the churches' movement toward visible unity," Kinnamon said. "The delegates to the World Council of Churches' founding assembly in Amsterdam in 1948 put it succinctly: 'War is contrary to the will of God.' War may at times be a necessary evil, but it is inherently evil .  Christians must never identify violence against others with the will of God or countenance such rhetoric when used by their governments. God's purpose is shalom. We do not go to war in the name of God.

Military violence around the world concerns all 35 member communions of the National Council of Churches, Kinnamon said. "Some of the most eloquent responses have been from our members and friends who came into being to serve the causes of nonviolence and peace."

In response to a request for comments on the Russia-Georgia conflict, Thomas Swain, Clerk of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, sent a beloved 17th century quote from Quaker William Penn, founder of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania:

"A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we ever do evil, that good may come of it.... It is as great presumption to send our passions upon God's errands as it is to palliate them with God's name.... We are too ready to retaliate, rather than forgive, or gain by love and information. And yet we could hurt no man that we believe loves us. Let us then try what Love will do: for if men did once see we love them, we should soon find they would not harm us. Force may subdue, but Love gains: and he that forgives first, wins the laurel (1693)."


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