Newsline for February 20, 2006

“Have mercy upon us, O Lord….” — Psalm 123:3a

1) Nigerian Brethren injured, churches burned in rioting protesting cartoons.
2) Brethren enjoy ‘front and center’ spot at World Council of Churches assembly.
3) Historic Peace Churches offer a unique voice for nonviolence.
4) US Christian leaders apologize on violence, poverty, and ecology.

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1) Nigerian Brethren injured, churches burned in rioting protesting cartoons.

At least five churches of Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN–the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) were damaged or destroyed in Maiduguri, Nigeria, during riots and protests of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, according to an e-mail report received this afternoon from Robert Krouse, Nigeria mission coordinator for the Church of the Brethren General Board. Five EYN members were seriously injured in the rioting on Saturday, Feb. 18, in addition to the damage to buildings.

The Associated Press reported that at least 15 people were killed as Muslims attacked Christians and burned churches in the northern Nigerian city of Maiduguri, in “the deadliest confrontation yet in the whirlwind of Muslim anger over the drawings,” the AP report said. The cartoons that are considered offensive for their depiction of the prophet first appeared in a newspaper in Denmark in Sept. 2005, but have been reprinted in other European newspapers. Recently the cartoons have been protested in many places around the world, sometimes with violence. In Maiduguri, 15 churches, including those of EYN, were burned as thousands of rioters held a three-hour rampage, the AP report said.

The five EYN churches that have been damaged are EYN Farm Center, which was completely destroyed; EYN Polo, which was burned but not completely destroyed; EYN Gomarigana, which was burned but not completely destroyed; EYN Bulunkutu, which has steel beams that could not be burned, “so all the pews and other furniture were put in a pile and burned,” Krouse said. EYN Dala, which was destroyed in similar violence in 1996, also was completely destroyed, Krouse said. Maiduguri No. One church, which is EYN’s largest congregation with thousands of members, was not affected by the violence, Krouse said.

“There is no (loss of) life involved in the crises in Maiduguri in EYN churches, but many people died from other denominations,” reported Markus Gamache, a business manager for EYN, in an e-mail to Church of the Brethren representatives attending the World Council of Churches assembly in Brazil. EYN’s president, Filibus Gwama, is currently at the assembly.

“Unfortunately there may be additional things to report,” Krouse said, adding that the rioting may have affected more EYN churches. “As of late afternoon, Monday, Feb 20, the situation had not been contained,” he said. “In addition to the violence in Maiduguri, Katsina saw a flare up as well, but no church buildings were destroyed there. There have also been outbreaks of violence today in Gombe and Bauchi. There are EYN churches in both of those cities.”

There is the potential for similar episodes of violence in other places in northern Nigeria, Krouse said. “At this point all Church of the Brethren staff are safe and secure,” he reported.

Krouse asked for prayers for peace in Nigeria. “Pray that leaders within the Muslim community will call for peace among their people. Pray that the violence will not continue to escalate. Pray that Christians in Nigeria won’t react to the acts of violence that have been committed against them by going on a rampage themselves,” he said.

“We need to be remembering our Nigerian church leadership in the quest for bringing about interfaith peace in these times, and for the members of each EYN community affected, as they reach out to the families who have lost loved ones in this round of violence,” said Stan Noffsinger, general secretary of the General Board, in an e-mail note from Brazil where he also is at the WCC meeting.

Noffsinger reported that EYN recently created a Peace Education Committee at its headquarters in Mubi, in northeastern Nigeria. “Times like these test the fibre of newly founded program, and understanding of the gospel,” Noffsinger said as he called for prayer for the Nigerian church.

“We continue to pray for…God’s intervention,” said Gamache.

2) Brethren enjoy ‘front and center’ spot at World Council of Churches assembly.

By Walt Wiltschek

Church of the Brethren delegate Jeff Carter and advisor Stan Noffsinger have prime seating at the World Council of Churches (WCC) 9th Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The assembly runs Feb. 14-23.

The Brethren delegation was seated in the front row, center stage in the plenary hall. Filibus Gwama, the delegate from Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN–the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria) arrived on Friday, Feb. 17, and is seated with the US delegation.

All three participated Saturday in a workshop on the Historic Peace Churches’ contribution to the Decade to Overcome Violence (see story below).

Annual Conference moderator Ron Beachley and his wife, Linda, arrived at the assembly over the weekend, and Global Mission Partnerships director Merv Keeney arrives this week.

Noffsinger–general secretary of the General Board–also was on a press conference panel involving the US Conference of the World Council of Churches. The group presented a statement of confession for the US involvement in recent activities of violence and injustice (see story below).

A visit to Brethren churches in Brazil is planned following the assembly.

Walt Wiltschek is editor of “Messenger” magazine for the Church of the Brethren General Board. More information about the assembly is available at

3) Historic Peace Churches offer a unique voice for nonviolence.

By Walt Wiltschek

Marilyn Stahl has noticed recently that people have a growing interest in her church. “People hear I’m Mennonite, and they say, ‘I wish our church was a peace church,'” said Stahl, from the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle (Wash.) University.

The Historic Peace Churches are small compared to most of the World Council of Churches’ 348 member churches. But this group– the Mennonites, Brethren, and Friends (Quakers)–believes it has a unique voice with particular relevance for this time in the council’s work. The churches have a long pacifist tradition, based on Jesus’ commandment of nonviolence.

“Our gift to the ecumenical dialogue is to be a resource for those people who are thinking about (peace issues),” Stahl said.

The WCC sensed the need for that resource when it launched the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV) five years ago with an emphasis on networking and encouraging peace efforts worldwide. The central committee asked the Historic Peace Churches to give special attention to the DOV, and to provide leadership by speaking out of their experiences. Six churches from the three faith traditions are WCC members.

“It’s a culture we’ve grown up in,” said Stan Noffsinger, general secretary of the Church of the Brethren General Board. “We have an understanding of Christ talking about heaping love on our enemies. We understand the theology of peacemaking not just in response to violence or war; it’s a transformative way of life that looks at all of life through a very different lens.”

Those groups quickly sensed a need to coordinate their efforts, and a Historic Peace Church conference was organized in Bienenberg, Switzerland, in 2001. A book, “Seeking Cultures of Peace,” arose from that meeting. Seeking to broaden the discussion, the churches held their next conference in Kenya in 2004, bringing in voices from Africa. Plans for a third conference, in Asia in 2007 focusing on interfaith conflict, are under way, and a future Latin America conference is being considered.

The Kenyan conference has already borne fruit. Filibus Gwama, an assembly delegate from Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN–the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria), said his denomination began a peace education program following the conference. Last January a coordinator was called to oversee the network. “The church is working hard to see that there is peace,” Gwama said.

That was one of many stories highlighted during a “mutirão” workshop at the assembly, covering various Historic Peace Church contributions to the DOV. Tom Paxson, from the Christian and Interfaith Relations Committee of the Friends General Conference, recounted another effort: funding a WCC staff position for peace work.

The initiative was finally approved in 1996. Sara Speicher, a member of the Church of the Brethren, was the first to serve in the role, with what was then the Programme to Overcome Violence. Funded initially by Mennonite Central Committee and European Mennonites, it came at a time when the WCC was facing financial difficulties and cutbacks.

“The sustainability of the Programme to Overcome Violence and the Decade to Overcome Violence was very much due to the Historic Peace Churches’ engagement,” said Hansuli Gerber, director of the DOV since 2002. “Otherwise, I don’t know how it could have possibly happened.”

Gerber said such practical service is at the heart of what the Historic Peace Churches represent. “It’s not just talking, it’s not just a matter of what we think,” he said. “It’s what we do.”

Fernando Enns, a German Mennonite originally from Brazil, brought the motion to make overcoming violence a more central part of the WCC’s work at the council’s assembly in Harare, South Africa, in 1998. Delegates adopted the motion, and the DOV was formally launched with ceremonies in Germany in 2001.

At the mutirão workshop, Enns said the need for that emphasis hasn’t diminished. “All over the world, churches are facing the challenge of violence. The question is always before us: How do we respond?”

He said it is easy for Christians to say, “We’re fed up with turning the other cheek because they’ll slap us again.” But, as Historic Peace Churches, “We stick to the conviction that nonviolence is essential to Christian identity.”

Representatives of the Historic Peace Churches met during the assembly to speak from that conviction to public issues being studied in Porto Alegre. Of particular concern were pending statements on terrorism and on when the use of force is appropriate for humanitarian intervention. Unlike churches that espouse the “just war theory,” the peace church tradition says any use of violence is inappropriate for Christians.

Noffsinger acknowledged that it can be hard for the Historic Peace Church voice to be heard, particularly in the current US environment. “We’ve tried to speak out, but the drums of war are pretty loud,” Noffsinger said. “On one hand it’s disheartening that the voice of Christ’s peace isn’t being heard, but on the other hand it’s encouraging: We must be relentless in our search for peace.”

They hope others continue to show interest in and join that effort, too. While only three faith traditions are known as Historic Peace Churches, representatives at the assembly said that any denomination–including theirs–can be a living peace church for the world today.

Walt Wiltschek is editor of “Messenger” magazine for the Church of the Brethren General Board. More information about the assembly is available at

4) US Christian leaders apologize on violence, poverty, and ecology.

Representatives of the US Conference for the World Council of Churches (WCC) addressed a message to the WCC’s 9th Assembly on Feb. 18 saying that the US-led Iraq war was a “mistake,” and apologized to the ecumenical community for failing to raise a prophetic voice to prevent it.

Leonid Kishkovsky, moderator of the US Conference for the WCC, made up of 34 US churches that are members of the council, told a plenary session, “We lament with special anguish the war in Iraq, launched with deception and violating global norms of justice and human rights.”

Speaking at a press conference earlier, Kishkovsky said the delegation was making the statement to the ecumenical community to “show repentance and solidarity with those who suffered”.

President of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the US (NCC), Michael Livingstone, referred to solidarity shown with the US over the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, saying, “In a number of ecumenical settings, we were deeply moved by post 9/11 visits, where we were offered sympathy over the tragic loss of life.”

Nevertheless, the statement says, the US responded to the attacks “by seeking to reclaim a privileged and secure place in the world, raining down terror on the truly vulnerable among our global neighbors.

“Our leaders turned a deaf ear to the voices of church leaders throughout our nation and the world, entering into imperial projects that seek to dominate and control for the sake of our own national interests. Nations have been demonized and God has been enlisted in national agendas that are nothing short of idolatrous.”

Presented in the form of a prayer of repentance, the message continues, “We confess that we have failed to raise a prophetic voice loud enough and persistent enough to call our nation to global responsibility for creation, that we ourselves are complicit in a culture of consumption that diminishes the earth. Christ, have mercy.” The statement says that while global warming goes on unchecked, the US refuses to acknowledge its responsibility and rejects multilateral agreements aimed at reversing disastrous trends.

It says, “Starvation, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the treatable diseases that go untreated indict us, revealing the grim features of global economic injustice we have too often failed to acknowledge or confront.”

“Hurricane Katrina,” it continues, “revealed to the world those left behind in our own nation by the rupture of our social contract. As a nation we have refused to confront the racism that infects our policies around the world.”

Sharon Watkins, president of the Christian Church Disciples of Christ, who supported the statement, said, “This letter is not an attempt to undermine American troops. They are brave men and women who are our sons and daughters and our neighbors. But here we gather with Christians around the world, and meet the parents of other sons and daughters.”

Visibly moved, she said, “We come face to face with brothers and sisters who suffered because of choices our government made, and we are making the statement to acknowledge solidarity with the suffering.”

The statement itself affirms, “We mourn all who have died or been injured in this war; we acknowledge with shame abuses carried out in our name.”

Explaining the timing of the statement, John Thomas, president of United Church of Christ, said, “An emerging theme in conversation with our partners around the world is that the US is being perceived as a dangerous nation.”

He said that the assembly was “a unique opportunity to make this statement to all our colleagues” in the ecumenical movement. The statement says, “We come to you seeking to be partners in the search for unity and justice.”

Thomas acknowledged that not all church members would agree with the thrust of the statement, but said it was their responsibility as leaders to “speak a prophetic and pastoral word as we believe God is offering it to us.”

The US Conference for the World Council of Churches is composed of 34 US churches which belong to the WCC. For more information go to The full text of the statement can be found at For more about the assembly, see This story is from a WCC release.


Newsline is produced by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of news services for the Church of the Brethren General Board, on every other Wednesday with other editions as needed. Newsline stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. To receive Newsline by e-mail or to unsubscribe, write or call 800-323-8039 ext. 260. Newsline is available and archived at, click on “News.” For more news and features, subscribe to Messenger magazine; call 800-323-8039 ext. 247.


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