CHURCH leaders from the Middle East and the United States, in a meeting convened by the US Episcopal Church at the Carter Center, Atlanta, last month, called for a two-state solution to resolve the Israel-Palestine crisis.
In a statement after two days of talks, the church representatives said that such a solution, “built on the basis of international resolutions, in which both Israelis and Palestinians can live in neighbourly relations and at peace with each other, must be viable politically, geographically, economically, and socially”.
The Archbishop in Jerusalem, the Most Revd Suheil Dawani, and the Mayor of Bethlehem, Vera Baboun, were among the Middle Eastern representatives in the gathering of about 100 churchpeople. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Most Revd Michael Curry, told the Episcopal Digital Network that Ms Baboun had been trying, “often against incredible odds, to help Bethlehem truly be the city where Christ not only was born, but where the presence of Christ and the love of God is really known for all”.
The concluding statement from the Atlanta meeting, “Pursuing Peace and Strengthening Presence”, urges the international community to challenge “laws that continue to constrain and control the Palestinian population, in contravention of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights”, and says: “We need to focus on bringing a new sense of equality, inclusivity, and mutual respect among all the citizens of the land, regardless of religious affiliation or ethnicity.”
The statement denounces “the continuing expansion of illegal Israeli settlements” on Palestinian land, and calls for Jerusalem to be “an open, shared city with no walls where the rights of all are equal and respected”. Furthermore, “churches and church-related organizations need to work together proactively to protect the existing and future presence of Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land.”
Israel, for its part, rejects the suggestion that West Bank settlement-expansion is illegal, and is adamant that Jerusalem is the undivided and permanent capital of the Jewish state. The Atlanta statement, therefore, is not likely to influence the policies of the Israeli government.
Despite calls from representatives of the US Episcopal Church for co-operation, a breach still exists between the Episcopal Church in the US and some branches of the Church in the Middle East over the issue of homosexuality.
This year, the President-Bishop of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, Dr Mouneer Anis, and the Area Bishop for the Horn of Africa, Dr Grant LeMarquand, reminded the US Episcopal Church that the diocese in Egypt with North of Africa & the Horn of Africa did not accept money from it. This was “one expression” of the “impaired relationship”.
The statement ended with words from a priest in Ethiopia: “We [would] rather starve and not receive money from Churches whose actions contradict the scriptures.”
Dr LeMarquand said that this policy had been in place since 2003, and applied to all provinces, dioceses, or parishes that “ordain anyone who could be described as a ‘practising homosexual’ or that have approved of blessing same-sex unions or marrying homosexual couples”.
This month, Friends of the Holy Land (FHL), an ecumenical charity established to help the poorest Christians of the Holy Land, held its first conference for the diocesan co-ordinators, appointed by Roman Catholic and Anglican bishops in England, Wales, and Scotland. Sixty people, including a few FHL ambassadors, representing 40 dioceses, took part.
The conference, hosted by Lambeth Palace, reviewed FHL’s first six years of operations, and “looked forward to the many challenges it faces as it reaches out to more and more Christians in that troubled region”.
The RC Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Revd Bernard Longley, who co-chaired the event with the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, said: “FHL are to be congratulated in creating such an opportunity for the sharing of ideas and good practice.
“The presence of lay FHL ambassadors demonstrated the importance of the clergy and laity working together in this ecumenical mission to support our Christian brothers and sisters in the Holy Land.”
The FHL had made “wonderful progress in the last few years”, Archbishop Longley said, “and I wish them every success as they spread their wings beyond the West Bank and Gaza into Israel and Jordan, seeking out the most needy families to provide support with education, employment, health, and housing issues. I commend their work, vision, and energy.”
Founded by a group of concerned Christians in 2009, FHL already administers nearly £700,000 a year, and expects to double this in a short time.