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WCC pastoral letter to US churches urges discernment in response to attacks
WCC general secretary, Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, sent a pastoral letter to WCC member churches in the USA on Thursday, 20 September, to express continued ecumenical support and sympathy in the wake of the attacks on New York and Washington, DC, and to urge discernment and encourage faithfulness in local, national and international responses.
The letter also shares the WCC Executive Committee’s recommendation to send a delegation of church leaders from around the world to the US as "‘living letters’ of compassion, and to engage with you in a common reflection about how we can shape a shared witness to the world in a time of such great need".
The text of the letter follows:
"Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Grace and peace to you in our One Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
In the brief message I sent you on behalf of the Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches on that tragic morning of 11 September, I assured you of the prayers of your sister churches around the world. That was an affirmation of faith. Now you have had the evidence of those prayers in an almost unprecedented flood of messages of compassion, love and solidarity from churches in East, West, North and South.
This expression of unity in such a time of trial gives flesh to the words Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too" Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort" ( II Cor. 1:3-7).
As I write to you now, ten days after the tragedy, the words in the Revelation to John addressed to the angel of the church in Ephesus also come to mind. "I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance" I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary" (Rev. 2:2-7).
In these days, you have sought to respond in faith to many contradictory voices. Some plead for a form of justice that would name the evil and identify those responsible and bring them to trial in appropriate courts of law. Others, however, want decisive military action to show the will of the nation to avenge its losses and deny victory to its enemies. Very many share the deep apprehension you have heard from churches abroad about the prospect of the United States striking out again with its uncontested military might. They fear that this would result in an ever-rising spiral of retributive violence and the loss of ever more lives.
Words of condemnation and the language of "war" come so quickly to the fore. Blame is easily assigned to "the enemy". These are reinforced by the images and messages streaming across all our television screens, wherever we live. It is far more difficult to regard ourselves in the mirror of such hatred, and to have the courage to recognize how deeply violence is rooted within ourselves, our communities and even our churches. These are lessons we are all trying to learn in the Decade to Overcome Violence.
Among those who have contributed to the remarkable outpouring of sympathy with the USA have been other communities of faith. They share both your sufferings and your fears. Partly in response to this, but also out of your own sense of justice, you have reached out to those communities in your own nation and with them have spoken out clearly against threats or open acts of violence against Muslims and Arab Americans. This powerful witness must be heard both at home and abroad. No one should be allowed to forget that in the places often mentioned as primary targets of military retaliation, Muslims, Christians, and people of other faiths live side by side. Minority Christian communities and those majority communities with whom their lives are shared stand to suffer severely at the hands of religious extremists if the "Christian" West strikes out yet again.
People in your country and around the world have gathered together during this past week in sanctuaries of the churches for silent reflection, and to invoke the presence of the Holy Spirit, who stands beside us in our time of need and journeys with us through the valley of the shadow of death. In these safe spaces, Christians and others have sought to discern the deeper meaning of such thoughtless acts and the suffering they have inflicted. This is indeed a time for quiet discernment of the "signs of the times", for courage and wisdom, and to pray for God’s guidance. As the prophet Isaiah says: "In quietness and trust shall be your strength" (Is. 30:15).
The message to the church in Ephesus goes on, however: "But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first." The United States was one of the early architects of the United Nations and was once among the strongest advocates for the international rule of law. In recent times, however, it has repeatedly ignored its international obligations and declared its intention to ignore the rest of the world in pursuit of its own perceived self-interests. This it does to its own and the world’s peril. The events of 11 September have again reminded all nations that all are vulnerable and that the only true security is common security. The United States, so often accused, has now been the beneficiary of the sympathy and solidarity of the whole world. It could respond in kind and with humility by reversing its course now and rejoining the global community in a common pursuit of justice for all. It could set aside its reliance on military might at whatever cost and invest in efforts to find non-violent solutions to conflicts generated by poverty, mistrust, greed and intolerance.
As the writer of the Book of Revelation says, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
It is one of the chief marks of the ecumenical movement that the churches understand Jesus’s prayer that they all might be one, as he is one with the Father. They are being called to practise mutual love and to extend this love even to the enemy, to become, as our familiar hymn puts it, "one great fellowship of love in all the whole wide earth". No one can live alone, separated from the wider fellowship, for we share one humanity. When one hurts, all suffer together.
As an expression of that fellowship, the WCC Executive Committee has expressed its desire to send to you a delegation of church leaders from around the world as "living letters" of compassion, and to engage with you in a common reflection about how we can shape a shared witness to the world in a time of such great need. I hope that you will welcome and open your hearts to them as they will to you.
I reassure you again of our constant prayers, our love and our appreciation for your ministries of consolation and of prophetic vision. May God bless, guide and continue to strengthen you.
Yours in Christ, the Prince of Peace."
The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.