One organization that was conspicuous by its absence from the dinner with the Iranian president last week was the National Council of Churches. In a statement that NCC General Secretary Michael Kinnimon made at a rally against Ahmadinejad last week, we indirectly find out why:
Provocative, belligerent rhetoric is the enemy of peace! Therefore, those who claim to be peacemakers must know when to say No! to rhetoric that threatens the neighbor. Now is such a time.
President Ahmadinejad’s hateful language, denying the Holocaust and apparently calling for Israel to be “wiped off the map,” must be persistently and forcefully denounced by all who value peace. The Rev. John Thomas, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ and a leader in the National Council of Churches, has put it this way: “Revisionist history of genocide must never be accorded credibility among civilized people of any faith tradition. Anti-semitic efforts to rewrite evil events—not new in history or unknown even in the United States—endanger the Jewish people, disgrace faith communities who perpetuate them or choose to remain silent in their presence, and degrade the value of human life everywhere.” Indeed, we must not be silent when others use their voices to incite violence.
Such rhetoric has another consequence: It makes it difficult to trust other things that the person says. If President Ahmadinejad has so little regard for the verifiable facts of history and the legitimacy of a state created by UN decision, it is hard to believe he means it when he insists that Iran’s nuclear program is only intended for peaceful purposes. And as he continues that program in defiance of Security Council resolutions, he also shows his contempt for the community of nations.
The National Council of Churches has, throughout its history, been actively committed to dialogue, even with enemies. But dialogue cannot be built on the basis of truly reprehensible public positions. Those who would be peacemakers must know when to say No! to rhetoric that threatens the neighbor. And now is such a time.
There’s stuff I could quibble with in here, and the tone could be stronger. But overall I appreciate Kinnimon’s rejection of Ahmadinejad, and implicitly of meeting with him (the fact that the NCC was not represented at the dinner shows that that’s what this statement was pointing toward). I applaud Kinnimon for it and hope that it represents a turn toward a more realistic view of world affairs for the NCC.
UPDATE: By way of contrast, here’s what the news story from the World Council of Churches, which was one of the sponsors of the event, had to say:
Critical questions of how religions inform human rights and concerns over human rights violations, nuclear arms, religious oppression, and environmental abuse, in countries including the United States, Israel, Palestine and Iran, were all part of the evening’s dialogue.
“While there were points of contention and clear disagreements, the event reaffirmed that religious traditions insist on dialogue, respect and love for peace making,” Ferguson said.
The latter is the Rev. Christopher Ferguson, executive for the WCC UN liason office. He later summed up the evening’s presentations:
Ferguson, who presented the evening’s summation, noted the commonalities presented by the panel – all affirmed the place of dialogue for engagement, the fundamental place of justice to people of faith, and that our religious traditions direct us to love, dialogue and defend the rights of all persons.
Ferguson also noted that the evening was an example of the place of religion in dialogue and peace building. “In the midst of the current international crisis and tensions it became clear that religious leaders have much to contribute in peace making,” he noted.
This, of course, was two days after Ahmadinejad spewed Protocols of the Elders of Zion-type nonsense all over the UN General Assembly about “Zionist” designs on dominating the world. The story ended with this:
The WCC has a long history of dialogue and relationship building with religious, cultural and political leaders in Iran.
Just as it did with the Soviet Union and every other anti-democratic, anti-Western, anti-Christian regime that it could fawn on. Some things never change.