Proposed by First Congregational Church of Williamstown, UCC; Approved by the 206th Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ, June 4, 2005.
The Bible stories of political oppression are numerous, beginning with the Israelites in Egypt. God speaks to Moses from the burning bush (Exodus 3:7-10), “I have seen the affliction of my people…and have heard their cry...I know their sufferings…and I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them.” They were an enslaved people and God sent Moses to lead them out of Egypt. A righteous man is described as “He who despises the gain of oppression.” (Isaiah 33:15) When oppression includes murder, the Bible is even clearer. “Thou shalt not kill,” is one of the ten commandments that we all know by heart (Exodus 20:13). “Do not slay the innocent and the righteous,” God proclaims. (Exodus 23:7)
The Kingdom of God is based on justice and kindness, and the love of mercy (Micah 6:8). Oppression of another people is usually based on gain. The ten commandments are once again very clear: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house..wife..manservant or maidservant, or his ox or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:17).
In the New Testament, Jesus called on his disciples to follow him, and he went about feeding the hungry, healing the sick, bringing hope to the hopeless. He cared deeply for the poor and those who were in despair. He called upon his followers to actively participate in the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God, where justice and peace would prevail and the gifts of creation would be shared by all.
For these reasons, we believe that there is a strong imperative in our biblical tradition for standing with those who are oppressed and in need, those who are being slaughtered, raped and displaced by their own government and its minions, working diligently to stop the injustices and the indignities that are being inflicted upon them.
Text of Resolution
WHEREAS the crisis in the Darfur region of the Sudan continues unabated, and
WHEREAS violence and threats against the lives, health, homes and security of the people of the region persist, and
WHEREAS women in particular have been victims of brutal rape, have been captured and kept as sexual slaves, and have been denied their physical, emotional, economic and human rights; and
WHEREAS official policies of exploitation, racial discrimination and marginalization have been used to incite social divisions and cultural animosities for political control and ideological ends, and
WHEREAS the Sudan Council of Churches and the New Sudan Council of Churches have condemned the role of the Sudanese government in perpetuating the atrocities, and
WHEREAS the international community including the United States has condemned the assault on the people of Darfur as genocide, but has not taken effective action to pressure the government of Sudan to end the assault, and
WHEREAS the lack of security and restrictions on access in western Sudan have hindered the provision of humanitarian aid by international agencies, and
WHEREAS the conflict in Darfur should not be separated from the continuing conflict between the northern and southern regions of Sudan;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the 206th Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ deplores the suffering of the Sudanese people over the course of decades of conflict, and particularly in the current crisis in the Darfur region; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the 206th Annual Meeting calls upon the Sudanese government to cease hostile actions against civilians, to end support for militant groups committing violence, and to engage immediately in efforts to end the crisis in Darfur; to continue to work diligently to see that the just and peaceful resolution to the conflict against factions in the southern regions is implemented and honored so that displaced persons may return to their homelands; and to institute national policies and encourage civil institutions that respect the language, culture, religious rights and practices of all Sudanese, regardless of race, gender or color; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the 206th Annual Meeting supports efforts of the international community to intervene in bringing security to the region to ensure that the basic rights of the people are guaranteed, including the commitment of the African Union to provide peacekeepers to the region;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, given the continued systemic violence and widespread murder of civilians, the 206th Annual Meeting calls upon the U.S. government to intensify efforts with the United Nations and the international community to seek a comprehensive peace in Sudan that would end the conflict throughout the nation and ensure access to security and natural resources for all Sudanese; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the 206th Annual Meeting calls upon its member churches of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ and our Board of Directors to engage in prayer, study and public witness, such as writing letters to our elected officials, regarding Sudan through resources available through Justice and Witness Ministries, the Common Global Ministries, and Church World Service; and encourage and coordinate worship, education and public witness efforts among our ecumenical partners and non-governmental organizations that emerged from the United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance (WCAR); and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the 206th Annual Meeting calls upon its member churches to contribute generously to the One Great Hour of Sharing and Week of Compassion (Disciples of Christ) special appeals to support efforts to deliver humanitarian relief and supplies to the region and efforts to aid the refugees and internally displaced persons of Sudan; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the 206th Annual Meeting urges members of the Massachusetts delegation to General Synod 25 to support a resolution promoting peace for all in Sudan when it is considered.
Background Information: Contemporary Situation
In the summer of 2004, the world began to notice the atrocities that continue to take place in the western region of the Sudan called Darfur, a place-name that literally means “home of the Fur people.” The name of the region offers a hint at the complexity of the problem, as the sovereign nation of the Sudan is made up of a collection of tribes, a diversity of religious faiths, and a range of ethnicities. The number of civilian deaths in Darfur is in excess of 70,000, the number of villages destroyed is in the hundreds, and the number of displaced persons exceeds 1.5 million, including 200,000 who have fled to Chad. Those called the janjawid (a term meaning “armed horsemen”) are primarily a migrant population who compete with the agrarian tribes in western Sudan for basic natural resources. In order to quash possible uprising among the Fur, the central Sudanese government has given the janjawid arms and logistical support. This has both enabled the government to exert control over the remote region from the capital, Khartoum, and has given the janjawid a significant advantage in their local struggle, and they have used their strength to murder, execute, rape and loot, to name some of the reported violations of human rights that the janjawid have committed.
The atrocity perpetrated in Darfur – labeled genocide by many, including the U.S. – cannot be considered in isolation from the context of the current civil strife in Sudan that has raged since 1983, between the government in the north and the tribes of the south. It is mistaken, however, to characterize this conflict as a religious war, pitting Muslim authorities against Black African Christians. Both perpetrators and victims of the violence in Darfur are Muslims, and Muslims throughout Sudan are both Arab and Black African. A deeper look reveals a more nuanced and complex reality, in Darfur as throughout Sudan. The conflict involves ethnic, linguistic and religious aspects to be sure, set against an historical backdrop of advancing Arabicization, but it has at its core an attempt to control resources such as oil, water and arable land.
The United States has played a central role in brokering a truce in the North-South civil war, which has commonly been implemented among contending communities by various trusted tribal and civil parties, including religious organizations like the New Sudan Council of Churches. The U.S. is very interested in encouraging the Sudanese government to carry out its commitments in the treaty. While the U.S. has been critical of the Sudanese government’s support for the janjawid and the resultant tragedy, it has been careful not to apply excessive pressure that could destroy the accomplishment of important breakthroughs on the North-South peace track.
Even as the international community debates how to move forward, the death and wanton destruction continues. International humanitarian relief efforts, including those associated with churches, have been hampered due to denied access and desperately needed supplies being stolen. Security is lacking, and without the possibility for improvements in health and infrastructure, disease, hunger and displacement will only continue.
The Sudan Relief Task Force, an ecumenical group based in Williamstown, MA stands ready to help local churches as they seek to implement the requested actions of this resolution. They may be reached through the First Congregational Church, UCC of Williamstown,, at 413-458-4273 or firstname.lastname@example.org, to the attention of Rev. Carrie Bail or Ms. Jina Ford.
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