The leaders of the World Council of Churches and the World Evangelical Alliance say their organisations and member churches are speaking with a common voice when it comes to the January 2011 referendum in Sudan.
They say the referendum, which will be held 9 January and determines whether Southern Sudan remains part of Sudan or not, must be held on the date promised, be free and fair, and the results accepted by all parties.
The referendum is being viewed as a critical point in Sudanese history and is the promised outcome of a 2005 Naivasha Agreement between the Khartoum central government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army or Movement after years of war.
In a joint interview last week, Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and Dr Geoff Tunnicliffe, CEO and Secretary General of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), said it was time to call on religious and political leaders in Africa and around the world to assure a free and fair referendum and for all to abide by the results.
They also stressed the importance of supporting the Sudanese people in southern Sudan as they make their decision on the future of south Sudan.
Tveit spoke of a recent meeting with Muslim and Christian leaders and scholars who said the election cannot be viewed as a point of tension between Muslim and Christian. Tunnicliffe said the WEA is calling for a day of prayer for Sudan on 5 December.
Both leaders pointed out that there are hundreds of thousands of Christians living in northern Sudan who could be impacted by the outcome of the referendum.
But there are also million others, both Christian and Muslim, who remain internally displaced from the war and others living in volatile and disputed areas of the country that could be impacted if the referendum is delayed or the results not accepted.
“We have come to a point where we need to say the people of the Sudan have suffered enough and the people of Sudan must have the right through democratic processes to define and decide their own future,” Tveit said in the interview.
“And the people of Sudan should not now be the battlefield between religious actors or political actors in that region of the world,” he added.
“We have both been there and we’ve listened to the church leaders, and to underscore the fact that for 50 years Sudan has suffered greatly, we believe that the people of Sudan need a better way,” Tunnicliffe said.
“The reality is that five years ago when the peace agreement was finally signed and the agreement for the referendum was agreed upon as [the] mechanism for the peace accord, we are saying we fully support and get behind the need for the referendum to take place,” the WEA leader added.
While the two organisations will not be issuing a joint statement on Sudan, they believe the need for speaking with a common voice is a vital step in bringing the situation of Sudan to the attention of the world as well as their own churches. Both recently issued separate but similar statements on Sudan.
Between them the WCC and WEA represent the vast majority of the world’s Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox and Evangelical churches with a combined constituency in the hundreds of millions people, if not close to a billion, around the globe.
The WCC has 349 member churches representing some 550 million Christians. The WEA is a network of 129 churches worldwide and represents some 600 million evangelical Christians. Some WEA churches are also members of the WCC.
Both leaders are concerned that while the situation in Sudan is on the radar screen of most political leaders, they want to remind them of their obligations to keep the referendum on track. Without this, “we are going to face an ongoing huge problem with conflict, not just in Sudan, but in the region,” Tunnicliffe said.
At the same time they want to engage not only churches but Muslim leaders in making certain the referendum is successful, no matter the outcome.
During a recent Muslim-Christian consultation held at the WCC headquarters in Geneva (1-4 November 2010) and sponsored by the WCC, the World Islamic Call Society and the Consortium of A Common Word, some 60 Christian and Muslim leaders and scholars referenced Sudan as part of their final conference statement saying, “It is important that these tensions not be seen as being between Muslims and Christians.”
“For average Christians in our community, they know very little about Sudan so how do we make sure we get that message out there so we can be praying and supporting what’s taking place there,” Tunnicliffe said.
To that end, WEA is calling “for a global day of prayer on 5 December where we will provide prayer resources,” Tunnicliffe said. “On that Sunday churches around the world can pray for the upcoming referendum and the people of Sudan.”
“I hope this is a time when we can unite in this prayer and I commend that the WEA has made this effort to prepare these prayers and can only recommend that this will happen with the member churches of the WCC as well,” Tveit said.
Both organisations have been involved in Sudan for decades. The Sudan Council of Churches has recently invited WEA to place monitors on the ground during the referendum, according to Tunnicliffe. The WEA has also worked in Sudan through relief and development activities.
The WCC continues to work with the Sudan Council of Churches, the All Africa Conference of Churches and the Sudan Ecumenical Forum. Former WCC General Secretary, the Rev Dr Samuel Kobia, who has been appointed by the ecumenical partners as a special ecumenical envoy for Sudan, has been leading the regional effort of the churches by working with the Sudan government, Muslim and Christian leaders, the African Union (AU), the former South African President Thabo Mbeki who is currently the AU envoy to Sudan, the leadership of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the Troika countries and the Arab League to make certain the referendum remains on time and free and fair.
Several decades ago the WCC in cooperation with the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) actively engaged in mediation with the South Sudan Liberation Movement and the government of Sudan that led to the 1972 Addis Ababa peace agreement.
WEA statement and prayers for Sudan: http://www.worldevangelicals.org/sudan/