Free Churches call on churches to pray, governments to act for peace

The Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Churchand the United Reformed Church are calling for churches andgovernments to mark the International Day of Peace (21 September)by praying and working for peace in the Indian State of Orissa andGeorgia.

The three denominations, who work closely on national andinternational issues through the Joint Public Issues Team, arecalling on churches to pray for fellow Christians in Orissa whohave experienced a wave of persecution and violence in recent weeksfrom Hindu extremists and for the local authorities in the Indianstate to do more to halt the religious attacks.

The Revd Roberta Rominger, General Secretary of the UnitedReformed Church says, "Our partners report harrowing accounts ofthe violence in Orissa in which Christians, including priests andnuns, have been killed, raped or tortured. Over 150 churches havebeen ransacked and over 1,000 homes have been burnt down. We urgethe Indian State and national authorities to intervene to preventany further violence. The state authorities have failed to protectvulnerable people with tragic consequences. People's confidence inthe police and justice system needs to be rebuilt. Our thoughts arewith those who have fled their homes and those who are living infear. We also offer our prayers and support to Hindu and Christianleaders who are working to resolve the underlying tensions betweencommunities."

The denominations are also keen for churches to pray on 21September for relations between Russia, Georgia and the Westfollowing the military dispute in South Ossetia in August. Theycall on the UK government in particular to work for a just andpeaceful resolution of tensions in the region.

Graham Sparkes, Head of the Faith and Unity Department at theBaptist Union of Great Britain, says, "Humanitarian aid has alreadybeen sent to our partners in the region. But beyond the immediateneed for shelter, clothing and medical assistance, is the deeperneed for a just peace that will prevent future conflict. Russianand Georgian Christians plan to meet later this month as a sign oftheir commitment to seek reconciliation and reject violence. Wewant to see that same commitment from politicians on allsides."

The Revd Stephen Poxon, President of the Methodist Conference,believes praying for peace and reconciliation in Orissa and Georgiais living out the gospel message. "Love is at the heart of theChristian gospel. It should be remembered that Jesus' instructionto "love your neighbour" was given at a time of social conflict andoccupation. We see in Orissa, Georgia and elsewhere people of allfaiths taking big risks to break down barriers and buildunderstanding. The miracle of the God's love is its capacity toovercome hatred and adversity. The instruction to "love yourneighbour" is given to each and every one of us. On theInternational Day of Prayer for Peace we pray especially for thoseengaged in the task of peace and reconciliation in some of the moretroubled areas of our world."