Sudan Council of Churches and New Sudan Council of Churches Consider Merging

Sudanese Christian leaders were encouraged to set a clear plan of action for the six-year window of time when the nation is united under an interim government, during a two-day meeting of African Christian leaders in Nairobi.

“Sudan is at the most dangerous stage now,” said the Rev. Mvume Dandala, a Methodist and chief executive of the Nairobi-based All Africa Conference of Churches, which hosted the Feb. 6- 8 meeting. “The churches must unite to fortify the peace.”

Prior to the 21-yearlong civil war, which came to a close last month with the signing of an historic peace-treaty between the Northern Khartoum government and Southern rebels, all of the Sudanese churches were represented by the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC).

However, the war, which broke out in 1983 when the Khartoum government tried to impose Islamic law in the mostly Christina south, led to the formation of a separate body of Sudanese churches, called the New Sudan Council of Churches (NSCC), to represent the south.

The January 9th North-South peace treaty established a deal where Sudan will be run under an interim government for six years before facing a referendum to decide whether the south should succeed or remain a part of the state of Sudan.

The two church councils also face the decision of reuniting or continuing with their separate leadership.

While many Sudanese church leaders urged for unity, saying such a plan of action would benefit the church by providing a clear voice to present before the government, many other leaders said steps to unity should not be hastily taken.

“It could confuse communities at this critical juncture,” said Haruun Ruun, executive secretary of the New Sudan Council of Churches. “It therefore calls for a gradual and smooth approach.”

The Rev. Paul Chol Deng, the chief executive of the Khartoum-based SCC, meanwhile, said there may not be a need to join since the churches were already united even with two groups to represent them.

Nonetheless, Deng said Christian-Muslim dialogue is still lacking and must be promoted.

"We have Muslims in the south whom we cannot abandon," he said. "We must move together."

Following his suggestion, the leaders at the meeting agreed to initiate dialogue between Christian and Muslim leaders in the south.

Puk also turned toward the devastating refugee situation as a way to bring resources, churches and people together.

"What we need are the resources. People who have been assisting us, like the Americans, must keep that assistance flowing," he said.

The 21-year war, the longest running war in African history, claimed the live of some 2 million people – mostly through starvation. Millions of Southern Sudanese were displaced both internally and internationally, as they were forced from their homes in the midst of the fighting.

Meloki Kifle of the World Council of Churches (WCC) explained that Sudanese southerners returning to their homes need access to information about human rights and democracy. Teaching southerners about the basics of civic education will allow them to own their peace process and guard themselves of further human rights abuses.

"The churches have a responsibility to start civic education immediately," said Kifle.