Hearing a cry for help from Christians and other vulnerable religious and ethnic communities in Northern Iraq, leaders from United Church of Christ are focusing attention on the intimidation and tyranny against minority groups in the region, calling for prayers and advocacy from congregants nationwide. By doing so, the UCC is joining a firm and focused effort across the globe, through the World Council of Churches, to lift up the affected people in Iraq, many of whom are fleeing for their lives from persecution by Islamic extremists.
"Having recently returned from the meeting of the WCC Central Committee, where I heard similar concerns raised by church leaders from that area, I was reminded of the desperation and sense of abandonment experienced by sister and brother Christians there," Black said. "This is an urgent plea for help. We are in a position to respond and I believe we must."
Christians and members of other religious and ethnic minorities in Northern Iraq are being forced from their homes, or even worse, persecuted and killed, by the "Islamic State," a group of Sunni Muslim extremists formerly known as the "Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham" (ISIS).
According to some reports, ISIS has executed people by beheading them for not sharing their fanatical view of Islam. They placed the heads of their victims on spikes to illicit fear within the population, one U.S. official told CNN.
"We are deeply concerned about the violence in Iraq, and deeply concerned about persecution of minorities, whatever their ethnicity or religious heritage," said the Rev. James Moos, executive for Wider Church Ministries. "Ultimately there will not be a military solution. There must be a political solution in which minority rights are respected and they are given a voice in Iraqi society and government. We continue to pray and advocate for a peace based on justice."
The uniqueness of the situation and request prompted the Rev. Davida Crabtree, interim conference minister for the Florida Conference, to act quickly to share the WCC’s plea with her colleagues and friends.
"In my 42 years of ordained ministry, 24 of them in conference ministry and 13 of them on the governing board of the National Council of Churches and involved with WCC, I have never seen a request like this one," Crabtree said. "The slaughter that is taking place over there just is overwhelming. I believe we need to stand not only with the Christians there, but with others who are endangered by ISIS."
The WCC is asking that members of the ecumenical organization respond by contacting their government officials. The organization hopes its plea for worldwide advocacy will result in the United Nations Security Council for taking protective action against vulnerable Iraqis, a binding resolution by the U.N. that ensures an immediate and safe return home for displaced families, and a groundswell of humanitarian efforts to aid refugees.
"Churches and property belonging to religious communities are being desecrated and destroyed by ISIS, and ancient manuscripts have been burned as an assault on the people’s religious beliefs," said Isabel Apawo Phiri of the WCC. "[W]hole towns in northern Iraq have been emptied of their populations.
"Let us join in prayer and unite in action to restore these shattered communities, and to aid their people," he added.