World Council of Churches leader urges 'struggle' against Middle East 'apartheid'
The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, has compared the current Middle East conflict to "another apartheid situation" and has called on churches to work for a "just peace" in the region. "The conflict at its core is not a religious conflict but it is a conflict with a deeply enmeshed religious dimension," Kobia said at an opening ceremony for a five-day conference convened by the WCC in Bern, the Swiss capital, to discuss theological perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian situation.
Those involved in the Middle East conflict see their positions as having "a divine mandate and polarised as wholly good versus wholly evil," Kobia told conference participants. Still, he added, Christians "must challenge and dismantle ideological attempts to attribute specific political projects and systems to God's will".
The 10-14 September conference, entitled "Promised Land", involves about 65 theologians and church leaders from all over the world. "The churches have a role to play in demystifying and exposing the manipulation of religion in this situation, while working for the respect and legitimate place of all religions in the region," Kobia told the gathering. He compared the Bern meeting to conferences organized by the WCC as part of its Programme to Combat Racism, which campaigned against minority white rule in southern Africa.
"Not since the time of the struggle against South African apartheid in the 1970s and 80s has the WCC had such an overwhelmingly positive response to the invitation to come to a 'conference'," he said. "My hope is that this signifies our renewed energy in participating in the struggle against another apartheid situation," Kobia added. The Bern event is part of the WCC's Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum initiative, which was launched in 2007 at a meeting in the Jordanian capital, Amman. The Amman conference, Kobia told the Bern event, "played a key role in reminding us of the significance of the Christian presence in the region; the presence of an indigenous Christian church whose very viability is threatened by the effects of the occupation.
"We pledged ourselves to go to new lengths to embrace the gospel imperative of costly solidarity with all those who suffer but with particular attention to the Palestinian Christian community and the Christian churches throughout the Middle East." The Christian presence in the region, "witnesses to the multi-ethnic and religiously diverse reality of Israel-Palestine", he added. "The Israel-Palestine conflict could be even further polarised and falsely cast as Jew against Muslim," Kobia warned. "For these reasons and more, we keep the Palestinian Christian community at the centre of our call for costly solidarity."
*The WCC groups 349 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches
representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries.
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