Twenty-nine U.S. Christian leaders believe that religion can be a force for peace in the midst of the long-standing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
They issued a public letter at the end of August to President Obama in which they confessed to having “no illusions” about how difficult is the task to end decades of strife.
Organized by Churches for Middle East Peace, Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox leaders wrote to Obama, “We fully support your goal of ending the occupation that began in 1967 and achieving a just, lasting and comprehensive peace with a viable Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace and security.”
They said sharply: “The U.S. will need to empower both sides to take risks for peace and when necessary to make proposals to bridge remaining differences. The United States must be clear that actions or words by either side in the coming year that undermine confidence in the negotiations, incite disrespect or prejudge the outcome of final status issues will not be tolerated.”
Signatories pledged “to maintain and expand our dialogue on this issue with American Jewish and Palestinian communities.”
Among the signers were leaders of four Baptist organizations. One was David Goatley, executive secretary-treasurer of Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Convention.
In addition to his concern about “the violence, misery and suffering of people in the Middle East,” Goatley told EthicsDaily.com in an email that “a safe and stable Middle East is also important for our Palestinian Christian sisters and brothers who are caught in the larger political struggles.”
Another Baptist signatory, Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA, noted that the Middle East conflict adversely affects everyone.
“Because the theology of Christian Zionism has contributed to this conflict, it is important that those within the Christian faith, especially evangelicals who do not share that theology, speak of their support for a peace process that strongly supports both the right of Israel to exist and the right of the Palestinian people to a homeland,” said Medley in an email to EthicsDaily.com. “The tragic irony of the conflict is that two peoples who know deeply the loss of homeland have failed to reach a compromise that honors the need and the right of both to a secure future.”
One of the four Catholic signatories was Howard Hubbard, bishop of Albany, N.Y., and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace.
“This conflict continues to undermine the social, economic and spiritual fabric of the lives of all persons in the region, including Christians who have lived in the Holy Land since the earliest days of our faith,” said Hubbard, according to Catholic News Service. “With majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians supporting a durable peace, it is incumbent on their political leaders and our own to do everything possible to help bring about a just peace.”
Mark Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said, “My high expectation that direct negotiations will produce a lasting and just peace for Israelis and Palestinians, including resolution of final status issues, is born out of many conversations with those who live in hopeful anticipation of this outcome.”
These signatories underscored the importance of prayer and praying for the president.
Indeed, praying for those in authority and pursuing what makes for peace are biblically mandated duties. Yet these moral imperatives are all too often cast aside by U.S. Christians who reject Obama, regurgitate the myth that Christianity is at war with Islam and recite texts to place a divine hedge around Israel that dismisses the rights of Palestinians.
No wonder some think that religion is the problem in the Middle East, the place where the “eye for an eye” ethic seems to flourish.
Yet thankfully some goodwill U.S. Christian leaders know that the children of God are the peacemakers. Like the angels at the birth of Jesus, they, too, say, “On earth, peace.”
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. A shorter version of this editorial appeared Tuesday on the Washington Post’s “On Faith” Web page.