Thursday, September 09, 2010

Church leaders call for civility in Christian-Muslim relations.

As the ninth anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11 approaches, Church of the Brethren staff have expressed concern for interfaith relationships and have called for Brethren to reach out as peacemakers.

"The Church of the Brethren call is for all followers of Jesus to be peacemakers as we approach the anniversary of the Sept. 11 events, and the rising rhetoric and threat of violence against people of differing belief," said general secretary Stan Noffsinger.

Noffsinger joined his voice with that of other Christian leaders around the world, responding to a worldwide controversy that was unleashed by the plans of one small church in Florida--the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville--to burn copies of the Quran on 9/11. Also, plans to build a Muslim community center near Ground Zero in Manhattan has increased tensions. Statements in response came from a wide range of Christian organizations and ecumenical groups including the World Council of Churches, National Council of Churches, Mennonite Central Committee, Church World Service, and many others (see statements below).

Today the Florida pastor announced to news organizations that he has given up his plan to burn a Quran. There also are unconfirmed reports that the developer of the Muslim center near Ground Zero may be talking about moving the site.

Global Mission Partnerships executive director Jay Wittmeyer had written a letter to the Dove Center at the request of the youth chairman of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN--the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria). The youth leader attends an EYN church in Maiduguri that was destroyed by bombing during religious violence a year ago. The letter expressed concern from Nigeria about suffering retaliatory violence if a Quran was burned by Christians in the US.

"What we say and do on the anniversary of Sept. 11 matters," said Josh Brockway, the Church of the Brethren’s director of Spiritual Life and Discipleship. "It gets to the heart of Christian discipleship. Scripture, from cover to cover, is clear that welcome of the stranger, love for our neighbor, and prayers for our enemies are central practices of the Christian way of life. Followers of the Prince of Peace cannot raise one hand in lament and hold a match in another."

Noffsinger said he supports public comments by NCC general secretary Michael Kinnamon at an interfaith press conference held Sept. 7 at the National Press Club. Kinnamon and other religious leaders addressed what they called an atmosphere of fear and intolerance toward Muslims and condemned the plans to burn the Quran.

"The Church of the Brethren agreement on civility extends to our interfaith relationships with our neighbors," Noffsinger said, referring to the "Resolution Urging Forbearance" adopted by the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference in 2008 ( ). He also cited a paper from the Committee on Interchurch Relations adopted by the 1982 Conference, calling Brethren to "study ways that interfaith dialog may lead to a visible expression of God’s plan of unity for all of humanity."

This week the denomination’s Peace and Witness Ministry also issued an Action Alert offering ideas for congregations and individuals to "seek to make manifest the reign of God in this world" as the 9/11 anniversary approaches. Go to for the alert, including links to the International Day of Prayer for Peace website of On Earth Peace, an online petition to cut military spending, and helpful background from Annual Conference statements.

A blog site has been set up by the Peace and Witness Ministry with an invitation for Church of the Brethren congregations to share their plans for marking the anniversary of Sept. 11 this year. Go to to share "Another Way of Living on 9/11."

Other Christian responses:

World Council of Churches general secretary Olav Fykse Tveit this week offered a message of peace to Muslim leaders as they end the celebration of Ramadan, a month of fasting and prayer. Tveit said the WCC and its member churches around the world reject and firmly condemn acts that might cause violence between Muslim and Christian communities. "Religious leaders have a unique role and the moral responsibility to work towards reconciliation and healing within their own communities and between communities," the letter said ( ).

The National Council of Churches release from the interfaith press conference quoted Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of America, as saying that "Muslims in America report the highest degree of anxiety they have felt since Sept. 11, 2001." Also speaking at the press conference was Rabbi David Saperstein, executive director of the Union for Reform Judaism, who said religious leaders had no choice but to gather together in response to anti-Muslim rhetoric. On Sept. 2 the NCC and its Interfaith Relations Commission reiterated a call for Christians and people of other faiths to express respect for Muslims and Islam, condemning the plans by the Florida church as "misguided or confused about the love of neighbor by which Christ calls us to live.... Such open acts of hatred are not a witness to Christian faith, but a grave trespass against the ninth commandment, a bearing of false witness against our neighbor. They contradict the ministry of Christ and the witness of the church in the world." Find the NCC statements at

Mennonite Central Committee executive director J. Ron Byler wrote a pastoral letter to Anabaptist churches, urging congregations to redouble their efforts to reach out to Muslims in their communities. Citing Jesus’ statements in Matthew 22:34-40 and passages from Genesis 1:27, 1 John 4:7-21, Hebrews 13:1-2, and 1 Peter 4:8-10, the letter said in part, "MCC US calls on the Florida church that has stated its intent to burn copies of the Quran on the anniversary of the attacks to abandon the plan and instead embrace Christ’s love for all."

Open Doors, a group serving persecuted Christians worldwide, warned that the burning of a Quran could result in increase of persecution against Christians in Muslim-dominated countries. The group reported that already over the past weekend, angry crowds in Afghanistan and Indonesia protested and threatened retaliation. Open Doors USA president/CEO Carl Moeller said: "The planned burning of the Quran is a disaster on two fronts: It violates the command of Jesus to love our neighbor and it would likely cause Christians worldwide to be more vilified and persecuted."

MassBible (the Massachusetts Bible Society) issued a release calling the burning of the Quran "an act of hatred against Muslims and the Islamic faith.... As people of the Book, we are joined to Islam and Judaism in a special way and as an organization that has sought to put that Book into people's hands for 201 years, we cannot stand idly by while the sacred text of a sister religion is burned as our beloved Bibles once were." The organization announced that "lest Muslim culture believe that Rev. Jones' position represents that of all Christians," it was prepared to give away two Qurans for every one that was burned, and would donate them to Muslims who were without access to their sacred text.

Church World Service, a worldwide Christian service organization of which the Church of the Brethren is a member, also sent out a release today. John L. McCullough, executive director, issued a statement that said, in part, "We are deeply disappointed and offended by the intent of any Christian pastor or congregation that chooses to burn the Koran, whether in commemoration of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks or for any other reason.... Desecrating the writings others deem sacred accomplishes nothing. It is malicious and undercuts core Christian values and our shared humanity. We caution against anyone choosing to disparage Christianity because of the actions of a few, just as we reject those who condemn Islam because of actions by a few nine years ago. Let us turn back all efforts to incite hatred and fear and embrace the challenge of loving our neighbor as

Source: 9/9/2010 Newsline Special

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