In pursuit of peace and to strengthen the Christian presence in the places where Jesus once walked, a historic summit is assembling the heads of several U.S. and Palestinian churches for two days of discussions in Atlanta.
The Rev. John Dorhauer, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, is one of the 24 communion leaders from both the United States and Jerusalem, joined by several public sector leaders from the West Bank, who aims to acknowledge and consolidate the role of U.S. churches as peacemakers in Israel-Palestine, and to strengthen the presence of Christians in the Holy Land.
"The United Church of Christ will remain a friend and ally with our partners and the people of Palestine," said Dorhauer. "While we recognize the right of the State of Israel to exist within secure and recognized borders, we will nonetheless continue to challenge that government to end its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories, and continue to assert Palestinian rights to self-determination in a state of their own."
"We will continue to ask our government to press Israel on its blatant disregard for human rights," Dorhauer continued. "We will continue to call for compliance of the US Arms-Export Control Act, which limits the use of U.S. weapons to 'internal security' or 'legitimate self-defense.' We will continue to call for a change in US foreign aid so that the militarization throughout the Middle East is constrained. We will continue to promote the Kairos Palestine document and amplify the voice of Palestinian brothers and sisters."
The unprecedented summit, taking place at the Jimmy Carter Center April 19 and 20, brings together representatives from Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic churches from both regions.
Also representing the UCC at the summit is the Rev. James Moos, UCC executive of Wider Church Ministries, and Peter Makari, Global Ministries area executive for the Middle East and Europe. They are joined by the Rev. Sharon Watkins, general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Rev. Julia Brown Karimu, president of the Disciples’ Division of Overseas Ministries, and Tom Morse, executive for mission engagement in Global Ministries. The delegation also includes executives from the Pension Boards-UCC and United Church Funds.
The summit began Tuesday with the heads of Jerusalem churches and civil leaders framing the challenges they face living in the occupied West Bank, and their roles as communities of faith.
"The church’s role in the Holy Land is not purely ecclesiastical," said Patriarch Fouad Twal, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. "The role is to continue what Jesus began — helping and healing, and [being] an agent of reconciliation."
"We must speak out against all violence and all obstacles for peace," Twal concluded.
"The Christian community was thriving in the early 1900s. Christians made up more than 15 percent of the total population in Greater Palestine," said the Rev. Mitri Raheb, pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem and one of the event’s organizers. "Today there are 5 million Palestinian refugees, and 2 percent of the population is Christian. Our history now starts with the Catastrophe in 1948, and we’ve forgotten our identity."
The heads of U.S. churches outlined their roles around the need to advocate for policy change and to name the injustices taking place in Israel-Palestine.
"Legislators hear statistics all day long, but their minds and hearts can be swayed by a personal story," said the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.
Bishop John Richard Bryant, a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, said he hopes "to leave with a commitment so that these movements can become flesh and blood. Relationships are extremely important."
The church leaders will develop final recommendations for action before the summit concludes Wednesday afternoon.