There is a great need for ministry among Presbyterian churches in Lebanon and Syria. One reads with both joy and tears the updates on the Syrian churches on the Outreach Foundation site. Reading Syria Relief Update - February 2014 by Marilyn Borst, Associate Director for Partnership Development, one feels and sees the Christian care, need and love that is so very evident. But another ministry, undoubtedly of a more political type, is redoing itself in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as a means to help the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, our partner churches. An announcement on the Chicago Presbytery site states:
An Organizing Group mainly from the Middle East Task Force of Chicago Presbytery has called a meeting for April 3 – 5, 2014 at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary to re-start the Syrian Lebanon Mission Network (SLMN). The Christians from Syria and Lebanon are greatly affected by the Syrian conflict and have asked for the support of their Ecumenical Partners.
Pauline Coffman attended a Consultation called by the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon in Lebanon, January 12 – 22, 2014 and heard from Syrian and Lebanese pastors and Synod leaders of their current reality. Several churches have been destroyed in Syria. Lebanon, a country of about 4 million people, is dealing with another 1 million refugees now. Syrian Christians are scattered and meeting in homes where possible.
There is a similar news article on the Presbyterian News Service site, “A Church No Longer Subdued: Be a Voice for Peace: Syria-Lebanon Network Meeting.” And there are several links to information about the meeting.
So why should this be a concern to members of the PC (U.S.A.)? Because the person one is to contact in the Presbytery of Chicago is Pauline Coffman. Because Coffman is the Temporary Convener for the working group for the renewed network. And because Coffman through her contributions to the soon to be published book, Zionism and the Quest for Justice in the Holy Land, became one of the main contributors to Zionism Unsettled the publication of the Israel/Palestine Mission Network.
In ZU one can read in the chapters attributed to her that, “As expected, war broke out between Jewish and Arab forces when Israel declared independence in May 1948.” Nothing about five Arab nations attacking Israel. In another section rather than commiserating with the Jews forced out of neighboring Arab countries she uses them to emphasize what she calls ethnic cleansing by the new Jewish nation. Coffman writes of the Holocaust, suggesting that all Israeli governments have used it to manipulate the, “fear for political advantage both in domestic and foreign policy.”
Another reason to be concerned with this new formation is because one of the working members is Rob Worley leader of a group of Presbyterians who, while visiting in the Middle East in 2005, met with a member of the terrorist group Hezbollah. The New York Times reported that “Mr. Worley described it [Hezbollah] as "the group that's brought peace to that region of the world.”
Indeed, all of the working members of the group to re-form a new Syria/Lebanese network have, in the past focused on the Israel and Palestine issues. And part of the aims of the meeting to re-form the group is to possibly “Draft a Commissioner’s Resolution for General Assembly.” Hopefully this General Assembly will put accountability to the General Assembly and other restrictions within any draft that seeks to form a new Middle East network such as the Israel Palestine Mission Network.
One hopes for a network that will be concerned with human suffering on all sides and not use the word peace as a means to play politics to the determent of real peace. One hopes for a network that will seek to uphold the biblical goal of making Christian disciples in all nations. One hopes that Jesus Christ and his redemption will be foremost in their minds. Certainly the churches of Lebanon and Syria deserve more than a political advocacy group.