Ex-hostage and US church leader call on Abrahamic faiths for just-peace
Out of concern for growing casualties and human suffering in the Middle East, the Rev Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and president of the Lutheran World Federation, has asked other US religious leaders to join him in calling for "the cessation of all violence, for an international peacekeeping force and a negotiated agreement for a just peace."
Meanwhile, Benjamin Weir, a former US Presbyterian missionary who spent 16 months held hostage in Beirut by the Islamic Jihad group, says failure to reach a comprehensive peace agreement in the Middle East is at the root of the violence tearing Lebanon apart.
"Hopes for peace are not on the horizon, because the Arab-Israeli issue has not been addressed forthrightly," Mr Weir told the Louisville-based Presbyterian News Service.
Bishop Hanson made his own plea in a comprehensive open letter he sent this week to several Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders in the United States. It was the second public statement from Hanson this week on the Middle East situation, and included a six-point action plan.
Acknowledging that each leader may interpret the words in his open letter differently, Hanson appealed to what the religious leaders have in common.
"I am convinced that the world needs our courageous public witness to what we hold in common rather than the growing sense that religious beliefs are being held captive in a global ideological conflict," he wrote.
"We share a deep and abiding concern for and commitment to the people in our religious communities whose lives are being devastated and whose futures increasingly seem at risk," Hanson declared.
He also shared what he believes the religious leaders have in common: that every human being is created by God; that the earth is God's gift that people must care for; that God is not only of judgment but of mercy and peace; and that the principles by which people of faith have used to assess the nature of war are no longer sufficient "to guide moral deliberation and faith."
Bishop Hanson asked the religious leaders to publicly: (1) call for a global consultation of leaders of the three Abrahamic faiths to develop principles for a just peace in light of contemporary conflicts and warfare; (2) reject growing anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and the marginalization of Arab Christianity; (3) reject violence and call for an immediate end to all hostilities; (4) reject the perception that violence can be justified on the basis of the Abrahamic religions; (4) bear witness that all people are created by God and share a unity far deeper than their divisions; (5) testify that religious faith is not to be used as an instrument of war and violence, but as a living testimony to the God of peace, and (6) pray for a just and lasting peace
"The world daily sees how religion is used to divide and destroy. It is time for us together to publicly, clearly and courageously give witness that the One in whom we believe unites us in our diversity rather than divides us in our hostilities," Hanson concluded.
Earlier this week Hanson, who also serves as president of the Lutheran World Federation, Geneva, called for an end to the fighting in Lebanon and Israel and the conflict in Gaza, in an global ecumenical appeal, ëA Call to End the Violence.í
Bishop Hanson said he hopes both statements are used by different church congregations and reflection groups as discussion starters.
"I hope they can be used as catalysts for conversation in local communities. I hope together they will become a strong and growing global public voice calling for a cessation of violence, a return to a negotiated just and lasting peace in the Middle East. And I hope that they will provoke individuals to think, 'where do I stand?' and then communicate that stance to those that are elected as leaders in our respective countries," Bishop Hanson said in an interview.
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