Dr. Azza Karam, formerly of the United Nations, tells the World Council of Churches it’s time to ‘act as believers’
December 9, 2022
During each of her nearly 20 years working for the United Nations, Dr. Azza Karam, now secretary general for the organization Religions for Peace, would take in “the awe-inspiring moment” along with prime ministers and presidents as the U.N. General Assembly got underway each year.
“To be very honest with you,” Karam told the World Council of Churches recently, “this [11th] Assembly and this room is far more inspiring and far more meaningful.”
Nearly two dozen representatives of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) were among those attending the WCC Assembly in Karlsruhe, Germany.
Karam, a citizen of the Netherlands living in the United States, said she understands both the power and responsibility of politics. “It is a very big burden and a very serious responsibility to deliver on the mission of a government to protect its citizens and the people within its territories,” Karam said. “The challenge, however, is far greater for faith leaders” because it’s a spiritual, moral, political, emotional, mental “and a big set of practical challenges. That is why,” she said in the first of several applause lines, “I firmly believe the power of faith leaders far, far exceeds the power of political leaders.”
“I wish to make a plea,” she said, “and if I hadn’t been so short, I would get on my knees as I make my plea. … The plea is this: Christ’s love wasn’t mean only for people of the Christian faith. If Christ’s love is meant for all of humanity, what would that mean practically for each of us in this room? I believe very firmly as a Muslim that Christ’s love was meant for me, too.”
“Consider how much more of Christ’s love can be spread when we work multi-religiously to serve everyone — not just one community, not just one religion, but everyone,” Karam said.
To Karam, Christ’s resurrection “is meant to symbolize that moment when we all come together to serve each other regardless of our genders, nationalities, religions or nations. But in order to do so, we have a political and moral obligation not to be used by the politicians and the political establishments,” Karam said to more applause. “We have a moral obligation to be the conscience of the political establishments.” That requires first an inward look “to make sure that when we point a finger at one another or at the political establishment, we are also looking inward to see where we ourselves may be replicating the same distancing, exclusion and superiority that sometimes we claim our political establishments do.”
“Our political establishment today, everywhere in the world, has proved that it cannot serve the needs of everyone,” Karam said. “Furthermore, our political establishments today, regardless of east, west, north or south, democratic or not, have also proven that war is an easier option. You,” Karam said, looking out at the thousands gathered in plenary, “can demonstrate not only through words — though heaven knows the Word is powerful because that is how we see God and know God’s presence — but you can demonstrate through actions of standing together in solidarity. Regardless of your faith tradition, regardless of distinctions, you can demonstrate that war is not an option.”
If every single Christian “were to come together in very firm solidarity and unity, when that day happens, God willing — whether it’s under the aegis of the WCC or any other aegis — please believe me it will be a wonderful moment,” Karam said. “But it will not be enough, because our world consists of so many more who deserve Christ’s love but who may not come under that church aegis.”
“But they come under the church that is the mother of us all — that is, the faith that brings us all together,” Karam said. “We can be believers. Let’s act as believers. Thank you.”
Extended applause followed her remarks, with many standing to show their appreciation.
Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service
Today’s Focus: Dr. Azza Karam, secretary general for the Religions for Peace organization
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray
Merciful God, make us courageous and compassionate in our outreach to our neighbors living beyond the doors of the church. Shine your light through us that we might be a blessing to them. Open your church to the blessings you have for us from those we have yet to meet. Amen.