Global conflict risks escalating extremism, LWF President warns in France

Visiting France in early March, LWF President Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan, called for a new, concerted effort to renew global commitment to confront the destructive cultural impulses of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Photo: LWF/S. Gallay
Visiting France in early March, LWF President Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan, called for a new, concerted effort to renew global commitment to confront the destructive cultural impulses of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Photo: LWF/S. Gallay

Churches must strengthen robust moderation in society

(LWI) – The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) President Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan, has warned while on a visit to France that globalized conflict is increasing Islamophobia and anti-Semitism and threatening civil liberties in Europe and North America.

“If we are seeing a self-fulfilling prophecy of clashing civilizations, extremisms of all sorts are strengthened as identities become more polarized,” said Younan, a Palestinian who heads the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.

He spoke on 4 March at the Paris headquarters of the Protestant Federation of France (FPF), during a meeting the FPF organized in association with the Friends of Sabeel France, which supports the Sabeel ecumenical liberation theology center in Jerusalem.

“In many different contexts, globalized conflict will create further strain within and between communities of Christians and Muslims who have lived next to one another for centuries,” Younan stated during a wide-ranging address on “Middle Eastern Christians, Religious Extremism, and the Threats of World War III.”

There is a growing argument in western media, Younan warned, that Da’esh, the so-called Islamic State, “somehow represents the ‘true’ face of Islam and that all ‘civilized’ groups are in battle with ‘savage’ or ‘barbaric’ Muslims.” Such arguments, he said, harm the ability of Middle East Christians to survive, and strengthen extremists on all sides, in Europe and the United States as well as the Middle East.

He called for a new, concerted effort to renew global commitment to confront the destructive cultural impulses of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, which “are two sides of the same coin.”

Referring to the November 2015 terrorist attacks on the French capital, in which 130 people died, Younan said “we share our pain [in the Middle East] with you; we expect to receive some of your pain as well.”

Faith institutions including churches, have a responsibility to strengthen political and religious moderates throughout the world, as the clearest way to diminish the appeal of extremism.
LWF President Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan

Strengthen robust moderation

The Holy Land bishop said he was convinced that faith institutions, including churches, have a responsibility to strengthen political and religious moderates throughout the world, as the clearest way to diminish the appeal of extremism. “This is not a wishy-washy moderation; it is instead a robust moderation that claims the mandate of faith and defends the wellbeing of all people, not only Christians.”

His 4-6 March visit included meetings with the Prime Minister’s office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sunday preaching at Strasbourg's St Thomas Church, and meeting with journalists.

Empower refugees

The Holy Land bishop highlighted the situation of the hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees attempting to reach Europe.

“With many of you, we have been distressed to see such strong resistance to refugees seeking safety and security in Europe. This is not just because we know intimately the conditions they are fleeing, but because this is not the face of Europe so many of us know,” he stated.

He described as “against human rights,” the situation near the French port of Calais, where up to several thousand people, many seeing to reach Britain, are camping out in conditions that have been denounced by churches and humanitarian organizations.

The LWF president urged churches to embrace and empower refugees through education and formation so that they may eventually return and rebuild their societies. The FPF which organized the meeting in Paris, includes three LWF member churches: the Malagasy Protestant Church in France, the Union of Protestant Churches of Alsace and Lorraine, and the United Protestant Church of France.

A Palestinian refugee himself, Younan said he did not know if he would have become a pastor and eventually a bishop, “had the churches not embraced me and prepared me for justice.”

Stephen Brown, a freelance journalist and communicator based in France, contributed this story.