Christianity and the Middle East: Inter-Religious Conferences Consider Contemporary Middle East

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Christianity and the Middle East: Inter-Religious Conferences Consider Contemporary Middle East

February witnessed three gatherings in which Middle Eastern religious leaders confronted contemporary issues. A two-day conclave in Istanbul to consider the ethical problems of seeking to solve international disputes by war attracted Muslim, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Jewish leaders from around the world. At meeting's end, participants declared: "We reject the concept that it is possible to justify one's actions in any armed conflict in the name of God."

Among further joint conclusions, according to the Ecumenical Press Service of Geneva, were statements that "A crime committed in the name of religion is a crime against religion" and "We stand firmly against those who violate the sanctity of human life and pursue policies in defiance of moral values."

The tri-faith conference focused on intercreedal aspects of violence, including "ethnic cleansing" in nearby Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia. Time constraints prevented formulating joint recommendations to NATO, the U.N. or any government. Their final declaration was released over the signatures of Eastern Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomeos I of Istanbul; Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, president of the Vatican's Council on Peace and Justice; New York Rabbi Arthur Schneier of Appeal of Conscience; and Mehmet Yilmaz, Muslim president of the Turkish Office of Religious Affairs. The conference was called by the Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate and the New York-based Appeal of Conscience Foundation.

Conference on Mideast Christianity

"A Celebration of Christianity in the Middle East," initiated by Evanston, IL-based Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding (EMEU), attracted a lively mix of 457 clergy and lay registrants to the First Baptist Church of Washington, DC. Of these, 236 were from Western "evangelical" congregations, 169 from "mainline" Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox churches, and 53 from Middle Eastern Christian bodies. The Rev. Dr. Donald Wagner of the Portland, OR-based Mercy Corps International, chief promoter of the conference, coordinated the program.

Supplementing the stellar cast of Arab, Armenian, European and American speakers announced in this column in the November/December issue of the Washington Report were Mrs. James Baker, wife of the former secretary of state, sociologist Dr. Tony Campolo, Brother Andrew of Open Doors (the Netherlands) and four bishops from Middle Eastern churches. All stayed on to address additional audiences totaling an estimated 5,000 persons in 25 local churches and seminaries. Most also participated the following day in a Howard University Divinity School theological symposium, which had been coordinated with the Conference of Christianity in the Middle East, and which attracted some 250 additional participants.

"A crime committed in the name of religion is a crime against religion."

Later, the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University featured five of the speakers at a packed symposium on "Jerusalem and the Future of Arab Christianity." They were Elias Chacour, Melkite Catholic priest from Galilee and author of Blood Brothers and We Belong to the Land (both available through the AET Book Catalog on page 96 of this issue); Gabriel Habib, general secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches; Georges Khodr, Antiochian Orthodox Archbishop of Mt. Lebanon/Beirut; and Mrs. Jean Zaru, Palestinian lecturer at Selly Oaks Anglican Mission Training Center in Birmingham, England.

Speakers reached an additional audience at the House of Representatives Rayburn Office Building when Representative Tony Hall (D-OH) and Senator Mark Hatfield (R-OR) invited all of their congressional colleagues to a 90-minute informal hearing with Chacour, Habib and Nora Kort, program coordinator for Catholic Relief Services in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, and Jerusalem human rights attorney Jonathan Kuttab. …