November 11, 2010
The leaders of the World Council of Churches and World Evangelical Alliance came together recently to say their organizations and member churches are speaking with a common voice when it comes to the January 2011 referendum in Sudan.
They said the referendum, which will be held 9 January 2011 and determines whether Southern Sudan remains part of Sudan or not, should be held on the date promised, be free and fair, and the results accepted by all parties.
The referendum is being viewed as a critical point in Sudanese history and is the promised outcome of a 2005 Naivasha Agreement between the Khartoum central government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army or Movement after years of war.
In a joint interview last week, Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and Rev. Dr Geoff Tunnicliffe, CEO and secretary general of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), said it was time to call on religious and political leaders in Africa and around the world to assure a free and fair referendum and for all to abide by the results.
They also stressed the importance of supporting the Sudanese people in southern Sudan as they make their decision on the future of south Sudan.
Tveit spoke of a recent meeting with Muslim and Christian leaders and scholars who said the election cannot be viewed as a point of tension between Muslim and Christian. Tunnicliffe said the WEA is calling for a day of prayer for Sudan on 5 December.
Both leaders pointed out that there are hundreds of thousands of Christians living in northern Sudan who could be impacted by the outcome of the referendum. But there are also million others, both Christian and Muslim, who remain internally displaced from the war and others living in volatile and disputed areas of the country that could be impacted if the referendum is delayed or the results not accepted.
“We have come to a point where we need to say the people of the Sudan have suffered enough and the people of Sudan must have the right through democratic processes to define and decide their own future,” Tveit said in the interview.
“And the people of Sudan should not now be the battlefield between religious actors or political actors in that region of the world,” he added.
“We have both been there and we’ve listened to the church leaders, and to underscore the fact that for 50 years Sudan has suffered greatly, we believe that the people of Sudan need a better way,” Tunnicliffe said.
“The reality is that 5 years ago when the peace agreement was finally signed and the agreement for the referendum was agreed upon as mechanism for the peace accord, we are saying we fully support and get behind the need for the referendum to take place,” Tunnicliffe added.
While the two organizations will not be issuing a joint statement on Sudan, they believe the need for speaking with a common voice is a vital step in bringing the situation of Sudan to the attention of the world as well as their own churches. Both recently issued separate but similar statements on Sudan.
Between them the WCC and WEA represent the vast majority of the world’s Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox and Evangelical churches with a combined constituency in the hundreds of millions people if not close to a billion people around the globe.
The WCC has 349 member churches representing some 550 million Christians. The WEA is a network of 129 churches worldwide represents some 600 million evangelical Christians. Some WEA churches are also members of the WCC.
Both leaders are concerned that while the situation in Sudan is on the radar screen of most political leaders, they want to remind them of their obligations to keep the referendum on track. Without this “we are going to face an ongoing huge problem with conflict, not just in Sudan, but in the region,” Tunnicliffe said.
At the same time they want to engage not only churches but Muslim leaders in making certain the referendum is successful, no matter the outcome.
During a recent Muslim-Christian consultation held at the WCC headquarters in Geneva (1-4 November) and sponsored by the WCC, the World Islamic Call Society and the Consortium of A Common Word, some 60 Christian and Muslim leaders and scholars referenced Sudan as part of their final conference statement saying, “It is important that these tensions not be seen as being between Muslims and Christians.”
“For average Christians in our community they know very little about Sudan so how do we make sure we get that message out there so we can be praying and supporting what’s taking place there,” Tunnicliffe said recognizing the challenge for the WEA with its constituency.
To that end, WEA is calling “for a global day of prayer on 5 December where we will provide prayer resources,” Tunnicliffe said. “On that Sunday churches around the world can pray for the upcoming referendum and the people of Sudan.”
“I hope this is a time when we can unite in this prayer and I commend that the WEA has made this effort to prepare these prayers and can only recommend that this will happen with the member churches of the WCC as well,” Tveit said.
Both organizations have been involved in Sudan for decades. The Sudan Council of Churches has recently invited WEA to place monitors on the ground during the referendum, according to Tunnicliffe. The WEA has also worked in Sudan through relief and development activities.
The WCC continues to work with the Sudan Council of Churches, the All Africa Conference of Churches and the Sudan Ecumenical Forum. Former WCC general secretary, Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, has been as a special ecumenical envoy for Sudan working with former South African president Thabo Mbeki who is special envoy for Sudan with the African Union, and also with American diplomats based in Khartoum, all in an effort to make certain the referendum remains on time and is free and fair.
WEA statement and prayers for Sudan
Final statement of the international Christian-Muslim consultation "Transforming Communities"
WCC member churches in Sudan
The World Evangelical Alliance is made up of 128 national evangelical alliances located in 7 regions and 104 associate member organizations and global networks. The WEA is the world¹s largest association of evangelical Christians serving a constituency of 600 million people. The WEA is a voice to governments, media, and other faith communities and holds consultative status at the United Nations.
Contact: WEA Communications, [email protected]