The Common Good

Sojourners/Call to Renewal Joins Religious Delegation for Peace Talks in Iran

Date: February 13, 2007

February 13, 2007

Media contact: Jack Pannell, 202-745-4614; Colin Mathewson, 202-745-4625

 

Sojourners/Call to Renewal Joins Religious Delegation for Peace Talks in Iran

A U.S. religious delegation is set to visit Iran Feb. 17-25 with plans to meet religious and political leaders in the hope of improving relations between the people of Iran and the U.S.

Washington, D.C. – (Tuesday, February 13, 2007) A delegation of 13 U.S. religious leaders will be visiting Iran next week (Feb. 17-25) in order to deepen dialogue between religious and political leaders there in the hope of defusing tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

During the week long visit the group is scheduled to meet with Christian and Muslim religious leaders, women serving in the Iranian parliament, former president Mohammad Khatami and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In addition to Rev. Jeff Carr, Chief Operating Officer of Sojourners/Call to Renewal, the U.S. delegation includes representatives from the Mennonite, Quaker, Episcopal, Catholic and United Methodist churches, as well as the National Council of Churches, and Pax Christi.  The trip, organized by the Mennonite Central Committee and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Philadelphia, comes after 45 religious leaders met with Iranian President Ahmadinejad for 75 minutes during his visit to New York, Sept. 20, 2006.

“A growing number of American evangelical Christians, mainline Protestants, and Catholics believe that a diplomatic solution is possible in Iran and the only path to real security for all people living in the Middle East,” said Carr.  “Americans are realizing that the Iraq War is causing greater instability, and continuing bloodshed, throughout the region.  We pray that dialogue with various people in Iran may offer new hope in this tense time between our countries.”  Rev. Carr will be blogging about the visit at www.GodsPolitics.com.

As the rhetoric of war appears to be intensifying on the part of both governments and the fact that neither government is speaking directly to one another about peace, the group is hoping their visit will make a positive contribution toward ensuring peace between Iran and the United States. 

 “Our primary goal is to engage in dialogue with a variety of Iranians,” said Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) international program director, Ron Flaming.  At the same time there is great risk that our goal to encourage improved relations between the people of Iran and the U.S. will be overshadowed by the controversy surrounding President Ahmadinejad,” he said.

Ahmadinejad has been the target of international criticism for his controversial statements denying the Holocaust and a recent conference in Tehran supporting that view, as well as his condemnation of the state of Israel.  Iran also has an ongoing dispute with the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“We are making this trip hoping it will encourage both governments to step back from a course that will lead to conflict and suffering,” said Mary Ellen McNish, general secretary of the AFSC.  As we did at the meeting in New York, we intend to continue to engage the president on his statements regarding the Holocaust,” she said. “The Holocaust is a historical fact and one of history’s greatest human tragedies.”

“These statements make it difficult for Americans to believe that a constructive dialogue is possible,” she added.

The delegation will spend most of their time with religious leaders in Tehran, Qom and Isfahan.  They will meet with Iranian Evangelical Protestant leaders, the Archbishop of the Armenian Orthodox Church in Iran and Muslim religious leaders in the religious city of Qom. 

After the visit the group will meet with members of the U.S. Congress informing them of what they heard leaders in Iran saying and ways to move toward lessening current tensions.

When several members of the delegation met with members of Congress in Oct. 2006 after the New York meeting with Ahmadinejad, congressional staff members encouraged them to continue their efforts and visit Iran if possible.

“We are hopeful,” Flaming said. “As Christians we are called to talk with those we are in conflict with and move toward forgiveness and reconciliation.  We pray this will open doors to diplomacy.” 

For information about the visit go to http://irandelegation.org. For more information and setting up interviews with delegation members, contact: Mark Beach,  Mennonite Central Committee, 717-538-5099 and after Feb. 17, Larry Guenegerich, 717-859-1151 ext. 282.

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Sojourners/Call to Renewal is a Christian ministry whose mission is to articulate the biblical call to social justice, inspiring hope and building a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world. Visit www.sojo.net, www.RedLetterChristians.org, and www.GodsPolitics.com.