Friday, December 30, 2005

NCC, CWS and Habitat's Joint House Building Project in Sri Lanka

H. K. Kulawathie standing in front of her completed
Habitat house
A few months after the tsunami, National Council of Churches and Church World Service joined with Habitat for Humanity in a $150,000 house building project in Sri Lanka. As the above picture shows, the project located near the southern town of Galle, is proceeding rapidly. Recently, The Fritz Institute in its evaluatory report on tsunami relief efforts identified Habitat favorably. The following is a quote from that report.

"Sri Lanka: Habitat for Humanity and Sewalanka Rated Highest
In Sri Lanka, Sewalanka, an established local NGO, and Habitat for Humanity, a shelter provider, were recognized as outstanding by the beneficiaries. Relative to the restoration of shelter and livelihood, the beneficiary respondents surveyed reported that they were consulted more often by NGOs (particularly international NGOs) in Jaffna, Colombo, Batticaloa and
Trincomalee provinces."

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Listening to and Learning from Asia's Pain

Ten year old “Tina” whom we met in Banda Aceh is the
only surviving member of her family of five.
She survived only because she spent the previous (Christmas) night at her aunt’s house in the next village.
(Picture by Vince Isner,

Learning from Asia’s Pain

“The tsunami has significantly increased ecumenical and interfaith tensions” bemoaned Tarsi Fernando. He should know. He is the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Officer at the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka.

Critical Concern – Building Community

If the tsunami destroyed community by demolishing villages and towns, houses and people’s livelihood, money has become a further threat to community. In conversations I had with church leaders in January and in the meetings with church leaders in other tsunami affected countries at a Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) meeting, they emphatically affirmed the principle that in all relief and recovery efforts, building community must be the first priority. That is to say, any project or recovery effort that threatens to disrupt community or does not make sure that it builds community must not be affirmed. Money, because it often comes with strings attached – sometimes subtle, but nevertheless real -- unless very carefully handled can easily disrupt community rather than rebuild.

I address here, the concerns of Ecumenical and Interfaith tensions particularly as they relate to foreign money, highlight grass-roots community organizing as an alternative model and make several affirmations and recommendations.

Ecumenical Tensions

Funding that comes from many denominational agencies and other NGOs, comes with their particular brand identity attached, said Tarsi. The Heads of Churches, a key decision making body of the NCC Sri Lanka had urged their constituent churches and relief organizations, that relief and recovery operations be undertaken ecumenically. However, funding from foreign denominational and other NGO relief and recovery agencies causes two problems:
1. it often encourages denominational branding that distracts from ecumenical commitment, and
2. it is often restricted to projects that are pre-determined by the foreign donor agencies.

Sri Lankan denominations and churches, since the relief and recovery needs are so great and urgent take the money despite their better judgment that

  1. relief and recovery operations done ecumenically presents a stronger witness of a united church, critical in the present hostile political environment, and

  2. the money is best used to implement recommendations made by grass-roots organizing efforts that engages people and gives them ownership.
Everyone, from pastors to social workers and community organizers on the ground are working extremely hard and accomplishing great things amidst unprecedented adversity. They have my deepest respect and admiration. The challenge to ecumenical partnership does not lie at the ground level, but at the level of funding agencies and NGOs.

The attitude that money dictates the terms of engagement harkens back to the colonial era. Almost a century ago, Asian Christians struggled against this same attitude. Ninan Koshy, writing in his recent A History of the Ecumenical Movement in Asia reminds us of V.S. Azaraiah of India, and his strong critique of the missionary movement. Speaking to the International Missionary Council that met in Edinburgh in 1910, Bishop Azariah addressed the complexity that arises when missionaries have contributed both money and the commitment of their own lives and therefore feel the need to control the agenda. “Through all the ages to come the Indian church will rise up in gratitude to attest the heroism and self-denying labours of the missionary body. You have given your goods to feed the poor. You have given your bodies to be burned. We also ask for love. Give us friends. The favorite phrase ‘our money’, ‘our control’ must go…” (p.17)

Interfaith Tensions

Christian relations with the majority Buddhist community and with the Hindu and Muslim communities, which were at a low ebb during the colonial era, have been painstakingly built during the decades following independence. In the past 20 years or so, a new challenge to these relationships has emerged. Evangelical churches and NGOs have begun to send covert missionaries to Asian countries including Sri Lanka. They cannot arrive in Sri Lanka as missionaries since the Sri Lankan government issues only a very limited number of missionary visas, and only to the established churches. Evangelical churches in the US recruit English teachers, computer programmers, business people etc. to go to countries such as Sri Lanka to fulfill some of the legitimate needs of a developing country, who then become evangelists seeking to start Prayer Groups and Bible Studies in local villages. The problem is that these people have no knowledge or training in cultural and religious sensitivities, and their lack of sophistication about how to deal with money quickly turns their missionary enterprise into a serious debacle. Their genuine charity towards poor villagers is often seen as luring Buddhists to convert. Some seeing this as a threat to Buddhism have taken to anti Christian violence. During the past few years we have seen a dramatic increase incidents churches being burned and pastors being killed.

Presently, an anti-conversion bill entitled “Freedom of Religion Bill” is making its way through the legislative process. Although a similar bill that was struck down by Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court last year, this second attempt, proposed by a Cabinet member and already approved by the Cabinet only requires Parliamentary approval for it to become law. Most knowledgeable observers call this a draconian law that will imprison the evangelist and the convert for a minimum of five years.

The tsunami which occurred in the midst of such inter-religious controversy has now exacerbated tensions. Evangelists in the guise of relief workers poured into the country. Even reputed and massive NGOs such as World Vision would not disclaim their evangelistic agenda. When Antioch Community Church of Waco, Texas sent a team to do children’s ministry, which in their mind clearly included evangelism, that was properly seen as preying upon the most vulnerable population. A member of a Conservative Baptist Church in Chicago argued with me that such disasters are God’s way of providing an unprecedented opening to countries that are usually closed to evangelism!

On April 7th, at a massive demonstration in Colombo to expose "the NGO mafia, that's thriving on tsunami tears," Member of Parliament Wimal Weerawansa told the crowd, "Go and see the clubs, casinos and cafes in Colombo. Most of them are patronized by the International NGO people who have come to help our people affected by the Tsunami." Adding that most NGOs are Christian based, he described them as "crows who have come in search of dollars." (Asian Tribune: April 8, 2005)

“We still have great relationships with Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim leaders,” said Tarsi Fernando. But most ordinary people don’t know to distinguish between Evangelical or Fundamentalist groups and the mainline churches, he said, and that puts incredible pressure on these relationships.

Grass Roots Organizing: A Viable Model

Habaraduwa Participatory Development Foundation (HPDF), located about 10 kms south of the city of Galle, is a great example of an alternative community building model.

HPDF began in 1993, when Wimal Dissanayake, came to the area to conduct a research project following his training at the Rural Development Institute in Japan. I attribute the success of this organization not only to Wimal’s community organizing skills, but to the fact that he stayed there for these past 12 years. His greatest achievement is that he has created a set of strong leaders out of mainly village women. (Women form about 95% of the organization’s membership). At a political rally last year to which HPDF turned out over 5000 people, the Member of Parliament honored the organization’s president Ms. H.D. Kanthi saying that with such a following, she should be the legitimate MP of the area. This is not an option for her since the organization has a policy of not participating in partisan politics. With regular training events the organization continues to produce strong leaders.

The basic organizing unit is a small group, of which, each of the 64 surrounding villages has several. Recognizing mutually enhanced self-interest and the role of power, members nurture strong bonds of mutual support and accountability. Such grass-roots organizing led to the creation of what might be called a Credit Union, which both encourages members to save money and gives out micro-loans. These in turn were invested in cottage industries and small businesses that provided participants with a regular income.

When the tsunami occurred, several of the 64 villages were destroyed. Lives, houses and livelihoods of its members were decimated. However, because of the already existing organizational structure, they were able to very quickly organize a response. Because of the organized grass-roots power, they were able to leverage services from the government that other communities could not. The Credit Union was able to provide some of the much needed micro-credit for those particularly of fishing communities to get back on their feet.

This again speaks to the priority of building community. In our last visit, Vince Isner and I spoke with several villagers in this organization who lost everything to the tsunami. Three weeks following the event, these people had already moved out of refugee camps into their own tents, their basic needs of food and clothing were met, micro-credit for livelihood support was promised, but most of all had a sense of hope, which I attribute to having a sense of belonging to a larger community. Although we did not get to visit them this time, Kanthi assured us that most of the affected people were now in the process of receiving micro-credit support.

HPDF is only one example, albeit a good one, of grass roots community organizing. There are many other similar organizations throughout the country, including in the tsunami affected areas, that are led by people well trained and skilled as Wimal Dissanayake.

Our Affirmations

Our visits included conversations with pastors, church leaders, Buddhist monks, community organizers and NGO leaders. Based on those conversations and our observations we make the following affirmations.

  1. Building Community must be the top priority in all recovery efforts.

  2. Recovery may take up to ten years or more.

  3. Sri Lankans are quite capable of handling much of the recovery efforts themselves.

  4. NGOs and foreign based relief operations (including church-based ones) too often impose their agendas on the local context.

  5. NCCCUSA and other church based organizations making financial contributions must require strict accountability from recipient churches and organizations.

  6. It is important to stress that recovery work be done cooperatively with ecumenical and interfaith partners.

  7. Local pastors, monks, social workers and community organizers need time off, so that they can reconnect with their families, and renew their spirit.
Our Recommendations:

Having made these observations and affirmations, we present the following recommendations:

1. NGOs and the Alternative Model of Community Organizing

Create an alternative model for effective recovery that is based on grass-roots organizing methods, and sensitive to the ecumenical and interfaith realities on the ground. These might include recruiting, training new community organizers and creating structures that support those efforts.

2. Spiritual Renewal and Rest for Front-Line Workers

Recognizing that Christian pastors, other religious clergy, community organizers, social workers and such are the front-line in the tsunami recovery efforts, and recognizing that recovery may go on for the next ten years, we institute, in partnership with the NCC-SL a process for providing these front-line workers, time and resources for rest and relaxation with their families as well as spiritual resources in terms of spiritual direction and grief counseling.

In Conclusion….

I have used the theme “Listening to, Learning from and Living into Asia’s Pain” as a way of contextualizing our reflections and recommendations on the tsunami for US churches. Asian Christians having lived through many “silent tsunamis” and now with a “loud tsunami” and always in the context of ethnic and religious plurality, have a lot to teach us about how to be Christians in the midst of those challenges.

Monday, December 26, 2005

In Loving Memory of Our Dear Friend

Tamara Mendis
(who died in Sri Lanka in the tsunami, Dec. 26, 2004)

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea,
though the waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”

(Psalm 46: 1-3, 10 NRSV)

Tsunami related NCC Resources issued at the time

Church bulletin insert:

Listening to and Learning from Asia’s Pain:

Blog by Vince Isner, Director, Faithful America:
(Please scroll down towards the bottom of the page for an eye-witness report of our post-tsunami visit to Sri Lanka and Indonesia including incredible pictures)

Friday, December 23, 2005

One Year Anniversary of the S. Asian Tsunami

A beautiful beach near Galle, Sri Lanka
where the ocean is serene and predictable except on
the morning of December 26, 2004
(Picture by Vince Isner)

It is hard to believe but it is almost a year since that horrible day in Southern Asia. It was 6:45 a.m. on the day after Christmas that we were woken up by telephone calls from friends telling us of the tragedy. A very close friend, Tamara Mendis, died that day in the tsunami. The tragedy touched us personally. For me, Christmas will always be tinged with the painful memories of this devastation.

An unprecedented earthquake of 9.0 magnitude on the Richter scale struck at the bottom of the ocean near Sumathra causing the tsunami waves. Of the countries affected Sri Lanka and Indonesia received most of the damage. In Sri Lanka almost 36,000 people were reported killed or missing out of a population of 19.5 million. Other nations on the Indian Ocean rim saw most damage confined to one geographical area, but 70% of Sri Lanka's 830-mile coastline was battered by the killer wave.

The number of the dead and missing is now estimated at 232,000. And while this includes victims from a dozen nations, more than two-thirds - some 169,000 - came from a single place, the Indonesian province of Aceh. And of Aceh's mortal toll, more than half - some 90,000 - came from a single city, Banda Aceh, and its immediate surroundings. A mere 155 miles from the earthquake's epicenter, Banda Aceh was swamped by the tsunami within 30 minutes of the tremor.

I was privileged to visit Sri Lanka together with my colleague Vince Isner of about 10 days after the tsunami struck and Indonesia about a week later, and again about 3 months later. My reflections on this devastation and its implications for interfaith relations will follow in the days to come.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

O Little Town of Bethlehem

The wall that surrounds Bethlehem

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark street shineth, the everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

In the Christian Century magazine this week Impressions columnist James Wall draws our attention to signs of hope for the city of Bethlehem. The Open Bethlehem Project announced by Leila Sansour, a Palestinian Christian who serves as the Chief Executive of the project, deserves the serious attention of Christians and others of good will across the world. Religion News Service reports that at a news conference at the National Press Club on Nov. 17, 2005 Sansour made a particular appeal to Christians worldwide in the lead up to Christmas.

This September I saw the plight of Bethlehem with my own eyes. The wall (or the security barrier, as our Jewish friends call it) is a 30 foot concrete structure that encircles this 4,000 year old city turning it into a virtual prison for its 160,000 citizens. The number of tourists visiting Bethlehem has dropped from nearly 92,000 in 2000 to a mere 7,249 in 2004. In the last five years 9.3 per cent of the Christian population of Bethlehem has emigrated. Restaurants, shops and commercial outlets have shrunk and Bethlehem’s economy is threatened.

Declaring that Bethlehem is an “Open City” Mayor Dr Victor Batarseh, together with Leila Sansour, announced the issuing of a Bethlehem passport as part of a campaign to encourage trade partnerships, investment, tourism, events, and to attract creative opportunities to the city, to all who are willing to join the struggle for its survival. “We recognise we have to act,” says Ms Sansour. “The passport is a way to ask people to step up to the plate. Invest in Bethlehem, bring projects to the city, or come and live among us -- and you can also be a Bethlehemite.” The core message of the project is that Bethlehem is a city of openness and diversity, with a centuries old tradition of welcoming travelers, refugees and pilgrims from across the world.

Open Bethlehem is described by President Jimmy Carter as “a worthy and admirable project.” Supporter Archbishop Desmond Tutu says “it is unconscionable that Bethlehem should be allowed to die slowly from strangulation.” The project also enjoys the backing of, among other influential leaders, the President of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Archbishop of Jerusalem His Excellency Michel Sabah.

I want to again urge you to read two letters I received from Bethlehem friends, Rev. Dr. Mitri Rahab, pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church and International Center and Ellias Halabi, a student at the Bethlehem University. I hope this Christmas you will make a determined effort to find an opportunity to visit Bethlehem or to invest in the city of our Lord’s birth.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Christmas Greetings

Dear Friends,

Reconciliation, strongly affirmed in Christian scripture -- “For he (Jesus) is our peace, in his flesh…. he has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us,” (Ephesians 2:14) -- characterizes my work of interfaith relations. The essence of the choral blessing of the Christmas Angels “Peace on earth, good will to all people,” reconciliation became possible in God’s intervention in human history in a stable in Bethlehem.

I work with the conviction that reconciliation is a necessary precondition for peace, and that incarnation (i.e. engagement with the “other”) is necessary for reconciliation. This work of reconciliation is no longer a luxury. As you know, almost all major conflicts going on around the world today have religious dimensions. The reconciling work of interfaith relations is critical for the work of peacemaking.

As I write this letter four members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (an organization I was close to back in the 1980s in Chicago) are held hostage in Iraq. These are people who incarnate God’s presence, seeking to bring reconciliation in the midst of unspeakable violence. They walk the walk, while most of us talk the talk. As the crisis broke, I worked with others to get religious leaders, particularly US and Arab Muslim leaders, to speak a strong word of support on behalf of the peacemakers. An Interfaith Open Letter which we put out with the cooperation of the Shalom Center of Philadelphia and Clergy and Laity Concerned about Iraq, gathered over 10,000 signatures in a couple of days, and these included many Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders.

The Jewish Christian Dialogue table that I co-convene is an example of this reconciling work. This table is made of senior (national) representatives of Christian denominations and mainstream Jewish organizations. Since the Presbyterian Church (USA) resolution in 2004, to initiate a phased, selective divestment of funds from corporations that do business in Israel, it has been a highly tense table. This September, the members of this group undertook a Jewish Christian Mission of Peace to Israel/Palestine. We returned having learned a lot about the complex reality on the ground, about each other and with a stronger determination to work for peace. We believe that justice for Palestinians and security for Israelis requires American Jews and Christians to work together. Next year we plan to bring together a similar dialogue table with American Muslim leaders.

The theological conversations however, are also very important. Concerned that the discipline of Christian theology is not taking religious pluralism seriously, we initiated a Special Topics Forum at the American Academy of Religion meeting in Philadelphia, this November. Over 200 scholars attended to hear a distinguished panel on “Christian Theology’s Engagement with Religious Pluralism.” Some of these theologians and theological educators are committed to continuing the discussion.

Our distress about the increasing polarization of the Body of Christ in to Evangelical and Ecumenical camps, and the conviction that the theological questions around interfaith relations are at the heart of this division, prompted our Interfaith Relations Commission to seek a dialogue with the Evangelical community. Our next meeting in February, at Fuller Theological Seminary, will set the framework for a continuing dialogue.

Our key initiatives next year are geared towards taking interfaith relations to the local communities.

  • Interfaith Dialogue Training will bring religious persons in local communities together to a two day training on dialogical skills including how to listen without thinking of what to say next! They will then participate with each other in six weeks of 2 hour meetings to sharpen their skills. I am encouraged by two very successful pilot projects in Columbus, Ohio and Queens, New York.

  • God Is One: The Way of Islam is a primer on Islam for Christians written by a retired United Methodist minister, Marston Speight. It has been well received in the Muslim world. We are using the study guide in that book, written by my predecessor Jay Rock, to encourage churches to study it. Hartford Seminary will provide training to those willing to teach the book in Adult Education Classes in their churches. This project is co-sponsored by the Islamic Society of North America.

  • Continuing Education for Pastors is another way we are trying to help those who are currently practicing ministry to learn how to relate to people of other faith communities. A three-day intensive training will provide both theological and practical tools.

Since the National Council of Churches is an organization of 35 member denominations that together comprise over 100,000 churches in the United States, and because we are connected to a substantial network of ecumenical and interfaith councils across the country, we think that each of these initiatives beginning next year will have significant impact in the way Americans think about people of other religions, and how people of different faiths relate to each other in this, the most religiously diverse nation in the world.

These local initiatives combined with national strategies of reconciliation significantly strengthen our work. We need your support: your prayers, your engagement in our programs and your financial investment. . Here’s how to do it.

  • First, please check out my blog for regular reflections on critical issues on interfaith relations. It is also a vehicle for me to hear your reflections. So, please use the “Comment” button to add your thoughts.

  • Second, let me know about opportunities in your local community to which we can bring our educational and training programs. We also have a variety of other resources available on our website that you might use.

  • Third, particularly at this time of the year, but also at other times, I invite your tax deductible contribution to our programs. You may write a check to the National Council of Churches, USA and mail to

Interfaith Relations,
National Council of Churches USA,
475 Riverside Drive #880,
New York, NY 10115

or click here to make an online contribution.
In both cases please remember to write Interfaith Relations in the memo or comment line.

My wife Dhilanthi joins me in wishing you peace and joy during this Christmastide and throughout the coming New Year.


Shanta Premawardhana

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Advent Discipline: Watch and Pray

There is still no news from the kidnappers about the hostage peacemakers. All of us are hoping that no news is good news. Last week Christian Peacemaker Teams put out an excellent statement that describes a deep theological commitment to love, justice and peace.

"We are very concerned about our friends. We would very much like to know that they are in good condition.  It is our most sincere wish that you will immediately release them unharmed. While we believe the action of kidnapping is wrong, we do not condemn you as people. We recognize the humanity in each person, and respect it very much. This includes you, our colleagues, and all people. We believe there needs to be a force that counters all the resentment, the fear, the intimidation felt by the Iraqi people. We are trying to be that force: to speak for justice, to advocate for the human rights of Iraqis, to look at an Iraqi face and say: my brother, my sister... Perhaps you are men who only want to raise the issue of illegal detention. We don't know what you may have endured.  As you can see by the statements of support from our friends in Iraq and all over the world, we work for those who are oppressed. We also condemn our own governments for their actions in Iraq. Please, we appeal to your humanity to show mercy on our brothers and let them come back safely to us to continue our work. May God spare our friends, and all the people of Iraq any further suffering."

Al Jazeera reported today that calls to free the hostages are growing.

Meanwhile we watch and pray… which indeed is the discipline of Advent

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Christian Peacemakers and the Failure of the Interfaith Movement

As I have often said, and the Critical Moment in Interfaith Dialogue conference this June in Geneva (called by the World Council of Churches) affirmed, the aim of interfaith dialogue should not simply be to listen and talk and understand. While that is important, dialogue must push forward towards strategies of dealing effectively with situations of justice and peace.

In this linked article, (which I hope you will read), entitled “Christian Peacemakers and the Failure of the Left” author Mark LeVine, professor of Middle Eastern History at UC Irvine, makes the point that the peace movement failed in Iraq.

He writes:
“Imagine if Sunni insurgents decided to face down the greatest power on earth with a human chain of non-violent resistance. Or if Hamas threw human shields rather than human bombs at Israel.

This is the kind of movement that the four members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams currently held hostage in Iraq are trying to build, and it's precisely the model that the peace movement should have, but didn't, take as its strategy for challenging the Bush Administration and its imperial ambitions after the invasion. Instead, less than a dozen CPTers have stood virtually alone against 150,000 "coalition forces" and an equally violent and unscrupulous insurgency—a scandal whose reflection on the movement is every bit as devastating as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are for the US army.”

He goes on to say how the peace movement has settled for “cheap activism that has come to see periodic protests in New York or Washington DC as a legitimate substitute for the hard work of facing off against the violence of empire and occupation on the ground.”

I think he’s right on. But I want push the analogy further. Not only the peace movement, I think interfaith movement and the religious traditions that forms it has failed in Iraq. Why is it so hard to imagine persons of faith: Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and other religious persons, standing on the noblest traditions of non-violence of their religions, going to Iraq and forming a peace army that stands against the ambitions of the empire and the violence of the insurgency?

If anything, this crisis has forced me to ask some tough questions about how the interfaith movement must get itself organized.

Deadline Extended

The kidnappers have extended the deadline until Saturday. Obviously, any extension is a sign of hope. It creates the opportunity for negotiation and keeping the pressure up.

The signatures on this blog are now incorporated with those of Faithful America ( The total number of signatures now is over 10,500. This provides another opportunity to add signatures. One way to do that is for you send a link to this blog to your friends. You may click the little box with an arrow at the bottom of this post and write in the information.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Faithful America Gets Over 10,000 Signatures to Letter

The NCC’s e-advocacy network Faithful America posted the Interfaith Open Letter and within 24 hours gathered over 9000 signatures, which included many US religious leaders. As of this posting, the count is over 10,000. You can read the letter and see the signatures here:
Yesterday we issued a press statement about that. You can read that here:

I want to express my deep gratitude to Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia ( and Rev. Osagyefo Sekou of Clergy and Laity Concerned about Iraq for their initiative and creativity in crafting, getting the initial signatures and sending out the Interfaith Open Letter. Their contribution to the work of justice and peace over the long haul is outstanding.

Many Candlelight Prayer Vigils are scheduled throughout the country. You can find one near you here: If there isn’t one near you, you might organize one in your community.

At noon tomorrow, listen in for a radio interview with my friend Ken Sehested (formally of Baptist Peace Fellowship) who is a friend of Norman (one of the hostages) at this link.

You may sign the letter by clicking on the "Comment" button and writing your name, email address and writing "Add my signature" in the box on panel on the right. You can also email this page to a friend by click on the little icon with an arrow and entering their email address.

Monday, December 05, 2005

A Call for Candlelight Prayer Vigils

The Interfaith Open Letter is below this post.

Thank you to all of you who signed the Interfaith Open Letter during the weekend. Every day this week we will submit the signatures to Al-Jazeera TV, which is the main media channel the kidnappers are likely to see. This is in keeping with the Christian Peacemaker Teams current strategy.

In addition to signing the letter, the National Council of Churches USA is joining Christian Peacemaker Teams call for groups to organize public candlelight prayer vigils throughout the coming week highlighting the messages: "Love your Enemies;" "End the Occupation;" "Release the Peacemakers."

If you do organize one, please register your group at

On Sunday, Al-Jazeera reported that the largest Sunni Muslim party in Iraq, the Iraqi Islamic Party, called for the release of the hostages, saying that the “kidnapping is a dream opportunity for the supporters of the war against our country who say that Iraqis cannot tell the difference between those who support them and those who oppose them."

Religious and peace groups worldwide are organizing to get the message to the kidnappers. As more reliable information becomes available, I will post it on this blog.

You may sign the letter by clicking on the "Comment" button and writing your name, email address and writing "Add my signature" in the box on panel on the right. You can also email this page to a friend by click on the little icon with an arrow and entering their email address.

Friday, December 02, 2005

URGENT: Interfaith Open Letter for Release of Peacemakers

The interfaith Open Letter below calling for the release of the Christian Peacemaker Team now being held in Iraq, has been signed initially by American Muslim leaders Dr. Syeed Sayyid, Secretary General of the Islamic Society of North America and Sheila Musaji, editor of The American Muslim as well as by many other religious leaders including Rev. Robert Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, Rev. Osagefyo Sekou, Director of Clergy and Laity Concerned about Iraq, Rev. Peter Laarman of Progressive Christians Uniting in California, and Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Rabbinic Director of The Shalom Center.

To add your signature, please click on "comment" at the end of this article. In the comment box write your name, email address and "Add my signature."


To those who are holding the Christian Peacemakers Team in Iraq, and to people everywhere of all Traditions of Faith and Peace:

We who write you affirm what all the traditions teach that trace their spiritual origin to Abraham: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all teach explicitly that to kill even one human being –- even more strongly one who is doing no harm, most especially one who is seeking peace and nurturing human bodies and communities -- is to destroy a world. All other religious traditions agree about the holiness of human lives.

This teaching applies to all innocent Iraqis and foreigners who have been killed or taken away in Iraq out of anger against the US occupation – and it applies with special clarity and strength to the members of the Christian Peacemakers Team who are being held in Iraq. Like us, they too opposed the US attack. They came to serve the Iraqi people. They came not only to urge peace but also to live peace.

We who have opposed the US invasion and occupation of Iraq call on all who live in Iraq to seek the release of these people into safety and freedom. And we call on all people of good will everywhere to join in this call.

No doubt, those who planned and executed the US invasion and occupation of Iraq will cite this action as evidence for the rightness of their action. We utterly reject this logic, and affirm that the war undertaken by the US has multiplied the violence it pretended to oppose.

We hold morally responsible for the lives of these Christian Peacemakers both those in Iraq who have taken them, and those who have brought about the deaths of thousands of Iraqis and Americans by pursuing this war.

Once again, we call for a swift end to the US occupation of Iraq and for peaceful action by the entire human community to assist Iraqis to achieve their own self-government. And we send our loving prayers to those who have become victims of their own loving commitment to peace, justice, and healing.

Initial emergency list of signers:

Dr Sayeed Sayyid, Secretary General, Islamic Society of North America; Sheila Musaji, editor of The American Muslim; Abdul Malik Mujahid, chair of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago; that Council as a body; Anwar N. Haddam, elected Member of Parliament of Algeria (Dec 1991), chairman, board of trustees, Education for Life, Northern Virginia, and member, executive committee, Coordinating Council of Muslim Organizations of Greater Washington Area (CCMO); Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad of Bethesda, MD; Muhammad Ali-Salaam of Boston; Abdul Cader Asmal, MD, PhD; Rev. Robert Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches; Rev. Osagefyo Sekou, Director of Clergy and Laity Concerned about Iraq; Rev. Peter Laarman of Progressive Christians Uniting in California; Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Rabbinic Director of The Shalom Center.

NCC Calls Congregations to Prayer for Peacemakers

The National Council of Churches today called religious congregations to prayer for the four peacemakers held hostage in Iraq. This afternoon Al Jazeera television reported that the kidnappers were threatening to kill the peace activists unless all prisoners and US and Iraqi detention centers are released.

The four hostages are: Tom Fox, 54, Clearbrook, Virginia, Norman Kember, 74, London, James Loney, 41, Toronto, Canada, Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, a Canadian. More information on them are found at the Christian Peacemaker Teams website:

Tom, Norman, James and Harmeet are in Iraq for the sole purpose of bearing witness to the love of God as it is expressed through the sacrificial presence of the Prince of Peace, says the NCC statement.

Because of their lifelong commitment to Jesus and the holy calling of peacemaking, these our brothers live to bear witness to the fact that violence is a sin against God. Indeed, they have consistently carried that message to the Coalition forces, first by condemning the political decisions to make war and later by expressing horror at the degrading violence the war begets. Long before the media reports, they were the first to protest the torture of prisoners in Abu Ghraib Prison. Their message of peace was also expressed to those whose attacks on Coalition forces escalated the violence and whose suicide bombs took the lives of thousands of innocent human beings.

On Wednesday, Jerusalem Post reported that leaders of Palestinian political factions gathered in Hebron to issue a statement in Arabic about their experiences of seeing the CPT working in Palestine, and their personal knowledge of the three kidnapped members and their important work on behalf of the Palestinian people. Read their statement is here:

The World Council of Churches also made the following statement: