Written by Anthony Moujaes
The national officers of the United Church of Christ sent a message to the White House this week encouraging U.S. leaders to work for peace in Colombia. The four UCC executives joined a group of 50 leaders from religious communities and faith-based organizations in a letter urging lawmakers to help Colombia, by "encouraging the peace process to reach the finish line," and end a conflict that dates back to the 1960s.
The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, general minister and president of the UCC, the Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo, executive minister for UCC Justice and Witness Ministries, the Rev. James Moos, executive minister for UCC Wider Church Ministries, and the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister for UCC Local Church Ministries put their signatures to the letter, believing that the peace process represents the best hope for ending the decades-long conflict. The Rev. Michael Neuroth, policy advocate for international issues with JWM, the Rev. Sharon Watkins, general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and Julia Brown Karimu, executive for the Disciples' Division of Overseas Ministries also signed the letter.
Days of Prayer and Action is an opportunity for faith communities to stand in solidarity with the people of Columbia through prayer and advocacy. This year's event took place from April 5 through April 7, and faith leaders followed that with the joint letter underscoring the urgency of U.S. support.
"Each year, Colombia advocates and faith communities like the United Church of Christ lift up our shared concern and hopes for Colombia through the Days of Prayer and Action," Neuroth said. "The campaign involves federal advocacy to strengthen U.S. policy, but also encourages education and actions of solidarity by U.S. congregations and organizations coordinated with our friends in Colombia. The focus this year is on the peace process and our continued hopes for more robust U.S. support and the belief that all Colombians must be represented in the process and particularly faith community and victim organizations to ensure that real reconciliation happens."
For almost half a century, the country has been engulfed in armed conflict that has killed more than 218,000 people – over 81 percent who were civilians – internally displaced 6 million and wreaked violence to a countless number of others. U.S. leaders have publicly supported the peace process, which has improved steadily since 2000 as the Colombian government and the country's largest guerrilla group, the FARC, met in Cuba in 2012 and moved toward partial peace accords. Now faith leaders are pushing the U.S. to help finish the process.
U.S. government aid to Colombia, about $9 billion since 2000, has been overwhelmingly military. With a peace process well underway, faith leaders implored Obama and Kerry to "shift assistance away from military aid and toward "peace accord implementation, humanitarian and human rights assistance and strengthening civil institutions," the letter reads.
"I was pleased to see churches like Corvallis and other UCC churches involved again this year in the Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia," Neuroth said. "Additionally, I am encouraged by renewed interest in Colombia among the Connecticut and Central Atlantic Conferences which have long had partnerships in Colombia and have taken delegations over the past several years."
Last year during Days of Prayer and Action, Neuroth and the Rev. Barbara Gerlach visited the White House and presented a similar letter calling on U.S. leaders to help negotiate a peace settlement in Colombia.
"Days of Prayer and Action has united our spirit for one cause and strengthen our relationships with the people of Colombia, to whom we know and care for," said Gerlach, who has led many of the UCC's economic and anti-hunger initiatives in Colombia.
Read the full letter from faith leaders to Obama and Kerry online.