12/20/2013 1:00:00 AM
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) expressed concern for "the grave state of human insecurity in the Central African Republic." ELCA leaders urged Kerry and other U.S. elected officials to "continue the aid measures in the Central African Republic, support the efforts of religious leaders to prevent violence and promote peace and harmony among their communities and restore order."
Fighting between predominantly Muslim and predominantly Christian militias in the Central African Republic has escalated since March, when mainly Muslim rebels, known as the Séléka, seized the capital of Bangui and ousted former President François Bozizé, according to news sources. The United Nations estimates that about 400,000 people are displaced from their homes as a result of the violence.
In their Dec. 19 letter, the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, ELCA presiding bishop -- along with the Rev. Mark Narum, bishop of the ELCA Western North Dakota Synod, the Rev. William Rindy, bishop of the ELCA Eastern North Dakota Synod, and the Rev. Michael Rinehart, bishop of the ELCA Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod -- spoke of the difficult circumstances experienced by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Central African Republic.
The ELCA bishops shared a recent report from the Rev. André Golike, who related that "the situation has become so dire that many people have fled their villages and are living in the bush because of armed gangs running rampant throughout the country." According to the World Food Programme, more than a million people are at risk of going hungry.
"Golike and the leading Catholic and Muslim leaders in the Central African Republic are working tirelessly to respond to the basic needs of the people and are also urging their respective religious communities, which have been peacefully living side by side for many years, not to resort to violence and join armed groups who wish to exploit religious and other differences for their own purposes," wrote the ELCA bishops.
Their letter commends steps taken by the United States as part of an international response to the crisis. "By providing urgent humanitarian assistance to those in need, especially vulnerable groups, inside the Central African Republic as well as to refugees in neighboring countries, there is at least some hope that the rule of law can be restored."
Phillip and June Nelson, ELCA global mission personnel serving in nearby Cameroon, wrote recently in an ELCA blog about the situation in the Central African Republic. They asked ELCA members to pray for an end to the violence.
"People are suffering in ways that few of us have ever imagined. We continue to help in what little ways we can. Still by far the most potent weapon we have is prayer. Please use this weapon on behalf of our brothers and sisters in the Central African Republic. Pray that God's people in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic will once again be able to breathe free air and live the life that God created for them in peace."
The ELCA bishops wrote that they will "continue to raise awareness of the situation among [this church's] members and continue to assist those in need through the [Lutheran church in the Central African Republic] and The Lutheran World Federation."
"In the longer term, we support calls from religious leaders in the Central African Republic for the organization of credible free and democratic elections, including the creation of an independent electoral commission with adequate resources, and provision for independent foreign observers. Also, we endorse their call for an end to impunity in the Central African Republic."
In closing, the bishops wrote, "Mr. Secretary, please know that we appreciate and commend the efforts of you and your colleagues to address the crisis in the Central African Republic with sustained humanitarian, peace-making and diplomatic measures."
ELCA Presiding Bishop Eaton also sent a letter Dec. 20 to the president of the Central African Republic.
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with about 4 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.
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Candice Hill Buchbinder
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