by Kathryn Mary Lohre, who serves as Assistant to the Presiding Bishop and Executive for Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations & Theological Discernment for the ELCA
The government of Israel has declared its intention to annex West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley, as soon as July 1. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu depends on the backing of the US presidential administration to legitimize what would be considered illegal under international law.
The Palestinian people, who have lived under Israeli military occupation for nearly 53 years, are crying out once again. They are calling us to recognize yet another looming pandemic: the dissolution of prospects for peace with justice for Israelis and Palestinians – Jews, Christians and Muslims.
In recent weeks, these pleas from our Palestinian Christian family have included:
- “Statement on Unilateral Israeli Annexation Plans” by the Patriarchs and Heads of Local Churches of Jerusalem (May 7)
- “Liberation not Annexation,” A Statement and Pentecost Message from Bishop Sani Ibrahim Azar of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (June 2)
- The Other Side of the Wall: A Palestinian Christian Narrative of Lament and Hope, a book by Pastor Munther Issac (June 16)
- “This is the Holy Land (Exodus 3:5). It Needs Justice and Only Justice,” a statement by three former Heads of Churches in Jerusalem on the Israeli annexation plans (June 18)
To our Palestinian family, and especially our Palestinian Lutheran family: the ELCA hears your cries. This cannot be overstated – to you, and to anyone else who is listening. Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton has spoken out clearly on behalf of the ELCA, and also with ecumenical partners. This is critical.
At the same time it falls to all of us to work to amplify your call for “liberation not annexation,” and to accompany you in being a “disturbing presence” for peace through prayer, action, and advocacywith our elected leaders (For Peace in God’s World, 1995). Consistent with our social teaching, we denounce beliefs and actions that “ordain the inherent right of one people, race, or civilization to rule over another” and that “despair of any possibility of peace.” Therefore, as an act of Christian witness, we denounce the government of Israel’s plans for annexation and the political and theological beliefs that falsely justify it as a viable solution for peace.
When we are a disturbing presence for peace, our focus is on justice. Thus, we make a clear distinction between our critique of unjust Israeli government policies and our commitments to anti-Semitism and right relationship with the Jewish community. Our Churchwide Strategy for Engagement and Israel and Palestine can and does coexist with A Declaration of the ELCA to the Jewish Community. As Lutherans we live faithfully in the tension of this “both/and,” as justice is at the heart of both sets of commitments.
When we are a disturbing presence, we work to uncover the deep, systemic connection between the oppression of one people and the oppression of another, and between the liberation of the oppressed and the liberation of all. The racism that has kneeled on the necks of Black Americans for 400 years is part of the same global pandemic as the racism that has been kneeling on the necks of Palestinians for 53 years of military occupation, and that has been even more suffocating under Israel’s nation state law, adopted in 2018. The Palestinian cry for justice cannot be heard apart from the Black cry for justice. For those of us who are not crushed under the weight of anti-Black racism or military occupation, we must redouble our efforts to learn, listen, and be transformed for the sake of the liberation of our whole human family.
When we are a disturbing presence, we put people front and center. This means we look to our Palestinian partners, and especially our Lutheran family, to guide our work and witness for just peace. We also engage with our ecumenical and inter-religious partners to amplify these voices, and to enhance the impact of our collective advocacy. Importantly, it also means that we build strong relations with our Jewish partners so that when our church’s decisions, policies, and public witness cause misunderstanding, tension, or conflict, we can interpret as we seek to accompany both the Palestinian people and the Jewish community in seeking justice for all.
500 years ago, Martin Luther wrote the treatise “The Freedom of a Christian.” In it, Luther summarizes the Christian life, also reflected in Galatians 5:1: “For freedom Christ has set us free.” Our freedom in Christ is not a freedom for ourselves, but for the sake of our neighbors, lived out in love. As an expression of the liberating love we share in Jesus Christ, we join our Palestinian family, and our partner Bishop Azar, in calling for “liberation not annexation.”