Ecumenical Leaders Denounce Violence in Wake of Middle East Protests

(Photo Credit: World Council of Churches)Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary-elect of the World Council of Churches, delivers his acceptance speech at the Central Committee Meeting 2009

Ecumenical church leaders denounced violent attacks in the Middle East, which are linked to the death of a U.S. Ambassador, in the wake of protests about a controversial online video about Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

WCC Secretary General Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit on Friday said a controversial film about the founder of Islam was gratuitously offensive to Muslims, said the violence that ensued was not an appropriate response, and said Christians and Muslims needed to stand together in condemning such insults.

The head of the World Council of Churches called on authorities to protect Christian minorities in the Middle East, Asia and elsewhere.

"In my role as General Secretary I have a special concern for the safety and well-being of Christians who are living as minorities in the Middle East, in Asia and elsewhere. It is vitally important that the relevant authorities ensure that such potentially vulnerable groups are protected and do not become the target of violence by misguided individuals reacting to the actions of those far away," said Rev. Tveit.

In the wake of the release of the video, violent Anti-American protests have emerged in nearly 20 countries, including demonstrations at the American Embassy in Tunisia. More than 220 people have been injured in clashes since Tuesday, state media in Egypt reports.

The U.S. Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens was killed in Benghazi, Libya on Tuesday as protesters threw rocks and gasoline bombs near the American Embassy.

Rev. Tveit said a violent response "merely plays into the hands of those who wish to foment tension."

The head of the New York-based National Council of Churches President Kathryn Lohre said people of faith and good will everywhere "are deeply distressed" by the reports of Stevens' death.

"Member communions of the National Council of Churches USA denounce this mindless violence as a travesty and mindless rejection of the historic precepts of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, which are based on God's love and a peaceful regard for all God's people," Lohre said.

Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) said on Wednesday the views expressed in the video "do not represent the best of the United States and of faith communities. We join the calls for all people to respect one another's faith."

Rev. John L. McCullough, of the faith-based agency Church World Service said Thursday that hi organization was "saddened and dismayed" by the violence which led to the death of the Ambassador. CWS provides relief and development assistance around the world, including in the Middle East.

He said the CWS condemns public actions and media creations which denigrate religious leaders and religious faiths."

"In the fulfillment of its mission to eradicate hunger and poverty and promote peace and justice around the world, Church World Service works with people of different faiths and beliefs, affirming mutual respect, solidarity and cooperation, in order to address the common, global challenges faced by all. Church World Service appeals to all people of faith to join together in this work."

He said it would be "tragic if the reactions provoked by this film were in turn to lead to negative stereotyping of Muslims and an increase in Islamophobia in the western world."

He called on relevant authorities to ensure that potentially vulnerable groups – including Christians who are living as minorities in the Middle East, in Asia and elsewhere – be protected.

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