Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Walking with Palestinian Christians

The United Methodist Church is taking steps to address the developing situation in Israel and Palestine.

TIPP CITY, OHIO — I was privileged to participate in a unique conference for United Methodists, “Walking with Palestinian Christians for Holy Peace and Justice.” It took place in the second largest United Methodist Church in the United States, the Ginghamsburg Church, in a suburb of Dayton, Ohio. Eight people from the Iowa Conference attended in addition to 250 persons from the other United Methodist conferences.

The conference sought to increase awareness of the Palestinian plight, educate participants on the positions and actions that the United Methodist Church has already taken and present ways that the Church can take steps toward bringing peace and justice to the Holy Land.

In light of the ongoing aggression against Gaza at the time, it was apparent that conference members felt an immediate sense of urgency, along with the conviction that this is truly a “Kairos time” (Kairos time is a Greek phrase meaning “God’s time”) in which we need to stand in solidarity as Christians and begin taking actions that really make a difference towards bringing peace and justice to all in this very troubled land.

Thomas Kemper, General Secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries, invited participants to “join hands with fellow Christians and discuss how we can contribute to holy justice and peace between people of all faiths,” while Bishop Ivan Abrahams, General Secretary of the World Methodist Council, reminded conference participants that “Tears and outrage alone cannot stop the violence.”

Bishop Abrahams, a native of South Africa, drew parallels between the apartheid era in that country and the Israeli occupation of Palestine, which many believe is even worse. In the 1980s, our United Methodist Church divested money against South Africa and we contributed to bringing peace and justice to the people of South Africa.

Many Palestinian Christians at the United Methodist Conference spoke of suffering that they had endured just to live their everyday lives.

“Living in Palestine is living under the shadow of the cross ... all of the time,” said Grace al-Zoughbi, a professor at Bethlehem Bible College.

Wisam Salsaa a tour guide in the Holy Land urged his audience to “be the voice for those who cannot speak, be the ears for those who cannot hear. We are human, we deserve to live just like everyone else on this globe.”

Rev. Alex Awad, Dean of Students at Bethlehem Bible College, and General Board of Global Ministries secretary, presented a “Biblical Call to Action,” suggesting that religion and politics are inescapably connected, and cited numerous examples from the Bible, beginning with Moses’ famous proclamation, “Let my people go,” which remains applicable to the occupation that continues in the Holy Land today.

So what are United Methodists doing? What should we be doing? Peacemakers from the General Board of Pensions, Church and Society, and Global Missions discussed how their respective agencies are responding to General Conference resolutions regarding Israel and Palestine that date back to 1964.

Most recently, resolutions have centered on boycott divestment and sanctions, a movement that started in Palestine in 2005. This issue received increased focus from the United Methodist Church when a resolution asking the Church to divest from companies complicit in the occupation came to the floor of the General Conference in 2012.

The resolution was defeated, but a resolution to boycott products made in Israeli settlements on Palestinian land passed and has been incorporated into the Book of Discipline of our United Methodist Church

Those following this issue, may be aware that the Presbyterian Church passed a divestment resolution this past summer. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has gone on record of divesting $184 million to stop supporting the Israeli prison system.

The Jewish Voice for Peace, an activist organization, is also supporting the Presbyterians and the United Methodists in taking these measures to promote peace and justice.

With one voice, the Palestinian Christians speaking to the conference in Dayton, Ohio, urged us to take this action, “The occupation is profitable for Israel,” and we need to change this, said Rev. Alex Awad, our Methodist missionary at Bethlehem Bible College.

Finally, our conference participants were asked to pray for the situation in the Middle East and for all who live and work in this troubled region.

Thank you for listening to this 85-year-old who is concerned about peace and justice in our world.

Darrell Mitchell is a minister in the United Methodist Church and serves on Iowa Peace Network's Joint Oversight Committee.

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