U.S., Jerusalem religious leaders support Secretary Kerry’s Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts

3/24/2014 12:00:00 AM

            CHICAGO (ELCA) -- As international and U.S. political leaders examine prospects for peace in the Middle East, the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), joins more than 40 other religious leaders in the U.S. and Jerusalem in supporting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to find "a secure and just peace" between Israel and Palestine.
            In a March 19 letter to Kerry, the religious leaders commend Kerry for his "active efforts to reach a comprehensive agreement to end the long-standing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians with the mutual recognition, dignity, justice, and security that each side deserves." The letter marks the first time the Catholic, Coptic, Lutheran and Episcopal heads of churches in Jerusalem and the Franciscan Custodian of the Holy Places are joining U.S. Christian denominations and groups to support urgent efforts to reach a comprehensive agreement to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Rev. Dr. Munib Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, is among the signers. Both the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land are members of The Lutheran World Federation, a global communion of 143 member churches in 79 countries worldwide.
            In an interview, Eaton said that "if a peaceful resolution to the conflict and suffering experienced by Israelis and Palestinians, by Jews, Muslims and Christians could be realized, that would be a sign of hope for the entire world. Surely a generations-old conflict within a family -- in this case the children of Abraham -- can be achingly painful and seemingly intractable. But with God all things are possible. We pray for Secretary Kerry and his work; that God might grant him wisdom and stamina, and we pray for the people of Palestine and Israel."
            In their letter, the leaders wrote that a failure for a resolution "will have negative consequences for both Israelis and Palestinians and exacerbate other grave problems in the region. Failure would have detrimental consequences for the entire international community, including the United States, as well as exacerbate ongoing humanitarian concerns. We hope that the framework will be based on international law."
            "The preservation and welfare of the Christian communities affected by this conflict are important to us. A comprehensive agreement should greatly strengthen opportunities for them to flourish. Moreover, the support and inclusion of all three Abrahamic faiths is critical as they will have an important role to play in promoting the peace process," they wrote.
            The letter to Kerry was initiated by Churches for Middle East Peace, a coalition of 25 national church denominations and organizations, including Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant traditions.
            In late February, Eaton and more than 30 U.S. Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders wrote to Kerry requesting a meeting to discuss what can be done "here at home" to encourage "success in negotiating a final peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians." These leaders wrote to Kerry on behalf of the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East.
            In this letter to Kerry, the U.S. religious leaders also urged the U.S. Secretary of State to meet personally with religious leaders in Jerusalem, including leaders of the Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land. The council "includes the highest official local religious leaders who have consistently condemned incitement and hateful acts of vandalism against any holy sites." Younan is a member of the council's executive committee.
            The leaders told Kerry that "the coming months are critical to achieving a negotiated two-state peace agreement, the only realistic resolution of the conflict. While we know that some in our communities will oppose any compromises, as leaders of (the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East), we support benchmark principles and practical ideas developed in earlier official and informal negotiations that provide possible elements for necessary compromises on key issues that could be acceptable to majorities of Israelis and Palestinians."
            Text of the February letter to Kerry is available at http://download.elca.org/ELCA Resource Repository/Letter_to_Kerry_Feb2014.pdf and text of the March letter is at http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/2014_Ecumenical_Letter_and_Signers.pdf.
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with about 4  million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.

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