Churches urge Harper to act in Middle East

The November 2012 war in Gaza, here protested in Nazareth, prompted the churches’ letter to the prime minister. Photo: Shutterstock/wideweb
The November 2012 war in Gaza, here protested in Nazareth, prompted the churches’ letter to the prime minister. Photo: Shutterstock/wideweb
Published May 22, 2013

As the multiple crises in the Middle East continue, the 24-member Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) has sent a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper urging vigorous federal action on four main fronts.

In a brief covering letter, the CCC’s president, Major Jim Champ, said the council was “concerned about the continuing humanitarian tragedy unfolding in Syria; the uncertainty and turmoil with democratic transitions in Egypt; the unresolved decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and the rising tensions and stresses within and between various countries in the region.”

In the main letter, the two dozen signatories told Harper: “We write to encourage you and the Government of Canada to respond robustly and generously to the pressures and tensions experienced both by displaced peoples and by the host countries in the region that provide refuge; to lead in the protection of human rights, with special attention to the rights of children, women and minority groups; to hold firm to the obligation for all state and non-state actors to respect international law, particularly in situations of armed conflict; and to assist us in our efforts as churches to work with local peacemakers and providers of humanitarian assistance in the region.”

According to Andrea Mann, global relations coordinator for the Anglican Church of Canada, the initial impetus for the letter came last November during the eight-day war between Israel and Gaza. “It originates with Archbishop Hiltz’s wanting to comment to the government on the conflict. At the time, both he and Gary Paterson, moderator of the United Church of Canada, wanted to address this immediately with the government,” says Mann.

Adds Peter Noteboom, the Toronto-based CCC’s deputy general secretary, “They informally lamented the absence of a Canadian church voice to speak for peace in the MIddle East and suggested going to work on preparing such a letter in case the conflict worsened over the next months.”

The abrupt end of hostilities provided time to explore a larger ecumenical statement, whose current form represents a significant achievement in church consensus.. “This letter is the first in a decade to a prime minister on issues pertaining to the Middle East to be signed by all members of the council,” says Mann. She and Wendy Gichuro, a United Church of Canada program coordinator, worked with the Commission on Justice and Peace to translate Patterson and Hiltz’s suggestion into the current document.

“The timing of letter is good for us since the council’s governing board is meeting with the senior policy adviser to the minister of foreign affairs on May 23,” says Noteboom. The CCC will also have discussions with opposition leaders Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party and Elizabeth May of the Green Party, as well as with two NDP MPs.

On another timing point, Noteboom adds, “There’s also an important ecumenical consultation on the Middle East taking place this week in Beirut. Several Canadians are attending and will have the letter in hand.”

Mann and Noteboom hope the letter will lead to a meeting with the prime minister or the minister of foreign affairs and serious discussions on options for concrete action on the letter’s requests. ‘Even if some of the sub-points get acted on, that would be a measure of success,” says Noteboom.

The CCC represents about 85 per cent of Canadian Christians and therefore a substantial voter base, but it remains to be seen if the letter’s requests will translate into government action.

Ending with the “new heavens and a new earth” passage of Isaiah 65:17-25, the letter was signed in alphabetical order by the heads of all Christian churches on the council-Protestant, Roman Catholic and Eastern-beginning with he Anglican Church of Canada (Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate) and ending with the United Church of Canada (Nora Sanders, general secretary).


  • Diana Swift

    Diana Swift is an award-winning writer and editor with 30 years’ experience in newspaper and magazine editing and production. In January 2011, she joined the Anglican Journal as a contributing editor.

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