ELCJHL Church Synod Elects Ms. Nancy Khair

The Women´s Desk Learns About The Status of Palestinian Women´s Rights

(left) Ms. Nancy Khair Qumsieh seen with Ms. Nahla Azar (right) photo: ELCJHL

Jerusalem – On the heels of The Status of Palestinian Women’s Rights and the Implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) workshop when more than 50 women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) met to discuss international conventions like CEDAW and to increase women’s participation in decision making within the church, Ms. Nancy Khair Qumsieh of Beit Sahour was elected to serve on the ELCJHL Church Synod, last Friday.

Ms. Qumsieh, who will complete the term of Ms. Muna Salfiti Tannous who resigned due to extensive travel abroad, was elected Synod Secretary until the end of Ms. Tannous’ term in 2021.

Of the 38 synod member seats, there are 31 men and six women. The other five female synod members are Hilda Thabet, Sonia Khoury, Rita Duqmaq, Basma Amer and Rana Khoury.

“This was a surprise for me. I am so proud to be chosen as a woman synod member for the church and the trust from the church. It is a huge feeling of responsibility, but I am kind of fearful because this is the first time I have taken such a sensitive role.” Ms. Qumsieh said. “ I hope and pray to be a source of inspiration for all.”

During the CEDAW workshops on 21 September, Bishop Sani Ibrahim Azar said that he would like to see the synod have a balanced representation of women, men and youth that mirrors the Lutheran World Federation Gender Justice Policy (2013) mandate for LWF member churches, which states 40 percent men, 40 percent women and 20 percent youth representation in church decisions and that the gender quota is also represented in youth representatives.

“It is good that you have gathered here together. You are one with the men and we are one with the women. You are the Church.

Bishop Azar

The workshop included lectures and discussions by Ms. Saida Al Atrash, Director of Mehwar Center for the Protection and Empowerment of Women and Families, Ms. Wafaa Al-Araj, legal Advisor at the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Justice Somoud al-Damiri, first female Chief Prosecutor of Personal Status for the Upper Council of Sharia Courts in Palestine and Judge Scarlet Bishara, first female Judge in the Ecclesiastical Court of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Following the lectures, Judge Bishara split participants into three groups to brainstorm recommendations to be taken to the church.

Three questions guided the brainstorming session:
• What are the challenges facing women in the church that limit their participation in decision-making positions?
• What do women need to participate in church decision-making positions?
• What programs are needed to increase women’s access to church decision-making positions?

Recommendations included:
• Provide continued training and education opportunities about the LWF Gender Justice Policy,
• Provide training to equip women for decision-making positions,
• Promote awareness on women’s rights,
• Promote gender equality in schools and the household,
• Hold workshops and conferences,
• Encourage pastors and church leaders to use their role to educate on gender justice,
• Ensure the presence of men at gender conferences and their comfort in discussing gender justice,
• Educate and encourage youth to become active members in the church.

Further follow up is required to put these plans into action.

“The workshop was a huge success, bringing together the Lutheran congregations of the ELCJHL in important dialogue, training and brainstorming regarding the status of Palestinian women’s rights and gender justice in the Holy Land,” Women´s Desk Director, Ranan Issa said.

Lecture Synopsis

Ms. Saida Atrash, Director of the Mehwar Center for the Protection and Empowerment of Women and Families, opened the workshop with an overview of the center’s services and shared their expertise in dealing with domestic violence survivors’ issues in the Palestinian context. Mehwar Center is the first in Palestine offering specialized anti-violence services for women and their children. It was inaugurated on 27 February 2007 as a shelter to provide services for the community at large. The center aims to improve physical and psychological health conditions among victims of violence hosted in the shelter, build up legal knowledge, improve social and life skills in order to help sheltered women and minors’ reintegration into society, reduce incidences of violent behaviors against women and children, and increase social engagement in women and children’s human rights.

Ms. Wafa Al Araj, Advisor in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, summarized and discussed the achievements of the Palestinian Authority in general and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in particular in the field of women’s rights and implementation of CEDAW. Ms. Al Araj highlighted the challenges Palestinian women face such as local customs and traditions, the Israeli occupation, old discriminatory legislations, lack of monitoring and workplace control mechanisms in the private sector, as well as a shortage of labor inspectors.

Justice Somoud al-Damiri, Chief Prosecutor of Personal Status for the Upper Council of Sharia Courts in Palestine, encouraged Lutheran women to push towards achieving significant changes in women’s rights awareness and public attitudes which will have lasting impacts for generations to come.

Judge Scarlet Bishara, Judge in the Ecclesiastical Court of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, offered statistics regarding the disproportions between men and women in high positions in the church. The church consists of three bodies of authorities: the church council, the synod and the church elders. In 2012, the synod approved the ordination of women and in 2015 a new family law was adopted. The ELCJHL is the first and only church in the Middle East to adopt a constitution providing gender equality in family issues including inheritance rights.

Gender Justice For All

Female participants from The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land listen to panelists describe how best to implement gender justice policy in Palestine. Photo by Adrainne Gray/ELCJHL

Ramallah – To further advance the development of gender equality in Palestine, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) invited Palestinian officials, partners, church members, Muslim judges, and international supporters to a Gender Justice For Palestine Conference.

Gender Justice For Palestine is a committee of men and women dedicated to the equality of women in Palestine. The committee members present at the conference were Jessica Lindberg Dik, Baseem Thabet, Scarlet Bishara, Ranan Issa, Alaa’ Saffouri, and Rania Salsaa.

The committee members present at the conference from left: Jessica Lindberg Dik, Ranan Issa, Bassem Thabet, Rania Salsaa, Judge Scarlet Bishara, and Alaa’ Saffouri. Photo by Adrainne Gray/ELCJHL

The conference is the first stage in the development of the gender justice committee. A follow-up committee is planned for implementing actual change on the ground.

The conference participants, who will hopefully be a part of the gender justice movement going forward, listened to panelists and discussed what might be the next steps in implementing changes to women’s rights in Palestine.

In Palestine, legal cases concerning the family are handled by the religious community. Outside of the Islamic Sharia court, there are four Christian Ecclesiastical courts: the Catholic, the Anglican, the Orthodox, and the Lutheran courts. Each of these denominations has its own law.

With a diverse gathering of over 70 participants – men and women – the goal of the conference was to collect ideas for future workshops and committees. The collection of input will help the Gender Justice For Palestine committee develop Lutheran Personal Status Laws that can be used throughout Palestinian society and with other religions.

“The Lutheran Family Status Law of 2015 provides a sustainable framework for answering questions raised about how to rectify gender imbalances in the personal status laws in Palestine that are still promulgated by religious institutions of all faith backgrounds,” wrote ELCJHL Ecclesiastical Court Judge Scarlet Bishara who is the only Christian Judge in the Middle East, in a paper for The United Nations Gender Justice conference this winter in New York.

ELCJHL Ecclesiastical Judge Scarlet Bishara and Sharia Court Justice Somoud al-Damiri prepare for their joint presentation on religious court laws. Photo by Adrainne Gray/ELCJHL

Along with Bishara, Sharia Court Judge Somoud al-Damiri who is the first woman Chief Prosecutor of Personal Status for the Upper Council of Sharia Courts in Palestine spoke of a need to come together – Christian and Muslim – on gender justice as citizens.

Justice al-Damiri stated, “We need to address this issue based on citizenship not just as Christians.” We should talk about partnership and citizenship in society.”

Photo by Adrainne Gray/ELCJHL

During the conference participants discussed the challenges that the gender justice initiative faces from men and women alike, stating cultural traditions that rigidly define masculinity and femininity, tribal laws, and the many segments of laws that a woman is subject to within the Palestinian society.

There are Ottoman laws, Jordanian laws, Egyptian laws, Israeli laws and tribal Bedouin laws that one woman may be subject to depending on the type of problem she has: family, civil, criminal, etc., Judge Bishara explained.

The issues of gender justice were looked at through Christian biblical studies, presented by ELCJHL Rev. Dr. Munther Issac and through Islamic studies by Dr. Mustafa Abu Sway, Director of the Islamic Research Center at Al Quds University.

Many guests suggested that the committee of Gender Justice For Palestine consider the influence of social media and other media.

“If we see how women around the world are doing things outside of the accepted roles here in Palestine then it will become more acceptable to us in Palestine,” a participant said.

It was also recommended to bring about social mobilization through the institutions in Palestine. How do we start it? How do we establish this? These are the questions presented by speaker, ELCJHL Hope Ramallah Principal Naseef Muallem.

The hope is that this conference will not be a one-time event but a bridge to an action plan, to a draft, to a charter, to the beginning of a movement, said Principal Muallem.

There were suggestions to begin the movement in our schools with the students and parents, changing the way fathers interact with daughters, for example.

Photo by Adrainne Gray/ELCJHL

Others were adamant that if the laws do not change, nothing will change.

Randa Siniora of The Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC) warned that we should not forget when asking for changes for Personal Status Laws to consider we have different geographical laws: the Jordanian law, the Israeli law, the Egyptian law, and how do we address them all?

Overall, Ranan Issa, the ELCJHL Women’s Desk Coordinator and member of the Gender Justice For Palestine committee said,

“ What we [the Gender Justice For Palestine committee] hope for is unification. We are working for unified laws among the Christians and the Muslims to create justice for all women in Palestine.”

Called to Lead The Way

Female Palestinian Lawyer to Speak at The UN For International Women’s Month

Scarlet Bishara is a judge in the Ecclesiastical Court of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and a member of Beit Jala congregation. Photo: Ben Gray/LWF

West Bank/New York – As the only female in the entire Middle East serving as a judge on the church Ecclesiastical Court which governs family matters among Christians, attorney Scarlet Bishara, a member of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), will be a panelist at the United Nations’ Sixty-Third Commission on the Status of Women (CSW63) in New York, USA on 13 March.

The UN Bureau of the Commission will meet 11 – 22 March 2019, to reaffirm statements and review future strategies that support the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) document adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979.

Bishara will speak during a side event, organized by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Church of Sweden, on the topic of Religious Actors Promoting Gender Equality Through Personal Status Laws in Palestine as a social protection system.

After the recognition and establishment of the Lutheran Ecclesiastical Court in 2014 by the Palestinian Authority, and inspired by the LWF Gender Justice policy, the ELCJHL established a groundbreaking amendment to its Personal Status laws in 2015.

I hear them.

Attorney Scarlet Bishara

One example of changes to the policy was an increase in the age that a girl can be allowed to marry from 14 years old to 18 years old.

Suad Younan, then head of the ELCJHL Women’s Committee and co-organizer of a 45-member seminar which launched the Arabic language Gender Policy in 2016, continues to encourage striving for equality in all religions and in the government.

“[It is important for the ELCJHL] to use its prophetic voice and effective tools to challenge ecclesiastical and socio-political fixtures,” Younan said in a 2016 LWF article.

The Personal Status Laws are cases such as divorce, inheritance, child custody, alimony, and other family matters, such as marriage age as mentioned above.

In Palestine, legal cases concerning the family are handled by the religious community.  Outside of the Islamic Sharia court, there are four Christian Ecclesiastical courts: the Catholic, the Anglican, the Orthodox and the Lutheran courts. Each of these denominations has its own law.

Bishara says that because of the culture, when a case reaches the Ecclesiastical court it is usually the last resort for a family, especially for women.

Most of the time the women come to the courts after consulting the family, their fathers, and their pastors. Bishara says that often they continue to face suffering because usually, particularly in the case of the Catholic and some Orthodox churches, they are judged by unmarried men – priests.

“As an unmarried man, it is difficult for them to understand the situation of women,” Bishara said.

She explains that because of the culture, most of the men will place the blame on the wife first, saying, ‘she didn’t cook well, and made her husband angry. She didn’t raise the children well, or she didn’t satisfy her husband, therefore, he beat her.’ This is the cultural norm that we face in the Middle East.”

As a woman, Bishara says her role as a female judge is simple… “I hear them [the women].”

She also understands the consequences of not listening to women. In the past, many were turned away and told to ‘be patient’ or to give their husband another chance, which has led to women and children being badly hurt by domestic violence.

“I am trusted with their stories because I am a woman.”

Bishara says that her male colleagues, the two ELCJHL pastors and head of the court, ELCJHL Bishop Sani Ibrahim Azar, respect her insights, support her position as judge, and accept her decisions in cases, fully.  She stated that Bishop Azar, installed as bishop of the ELCJHL January 2018, has given his blessings to continue the progressive work of gender equality within the church.

“She understands how other women are feeling. She explains things that the men don’t understand,” said Bishop Azar.

“She represents us in a good way. We notice the positive outcomes of what we have today with her on the court as judge.”

Bishara wrote in her paper to the UN,  “the Lutheran Family Law of 2015 provides a sustainable framework for answering questions raised about how to rectify gender imbalances in the personal status laws in Palestine that are still promulgated by religious institutions of all faith backgrounds.”

Her message to the commission is that the Lutheran Family Law can serve as a theological- and biblical-inspired model that other religious communities can use to craft their own laws guided by gender equality, including the Islamic laws.

“The religious communities in Palestine are uniquely positioned to champion the rights of women in Palestine.”

During her discussion with the CSW63, Bishara is excited about the future possibilities of the ELCJHL’s gender policy. She hopes to eventually see one ecumenical law for all Christians that upholds justice for all woman.

Overall, she believes that because of the dual court systems in the Middle East, civil and religious, it is the religious community that will be the leaders in a just system for women.

“Change in the Arab world is in the hands of the faith leaders.”

Dina Nasser, a health advisor to the Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem, site coordinator for the Juzoor International Training Center in the West Bank, and an expert on hospital infection control is also a panelist with Bishara during the UN CSW63 side event.

Bishop Azar Addresses ELCJHL Partners

Bishop Ibrahim Azar speaks to the ELCJHL partners on Saturday, January 13, his first full day as bishop of the church. Pictured, (left) Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Bishop Susan Johnson of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.  Photo by Ben Gray / ELCJHL

Jerusalem, 13 January 2018 – The day after the consecration of The Rev. Sani Ibrahim Azar as the fourth Palestinian Bishop of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), Bishop Azar addressed the international partner churches in attendance for the installation. The international partners of the ELCJHL include organizations, churches and councils that have entered into mutual companionship and accompaniment for the betterment of both.

Representatives from all of the 29 ecumenical partners, member organizations and companion churches attended the first address to them from the newly consecrated, Bishop Azar.

Bishop Azar casually stood in front of the group gathered in the refectory hall of The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Old City without a podium and without notes and greeted the longtime friends and supporters of the Palestinian Lutheran church.

In a gentle and measured manner,  Bishop Azar thanked partners for decades of missional work in the region. Peppered with humor, Bishop Azar told the partners that he would implement a new strategic plan for the next five years that would include: Spiritual care for the people of the church, financial sustainability projects, Diakonia to the community, and efforts to continue gender justice.

“Our pastors and laypeople will go where the people are, we will not sit by idly in our churches waiting for the people to come to us,” Bishop Azar said.

During the question and answer session of the address, Bishop Susan Johnson of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and the President of The Coordination Committee for Cooperation between the ELCJHL and Overseas Partners (COCOP) asked Bishop Azar which of his many names (Sani Ibrahim “Barhoum” Charlie Azar) should the partners to use.

“In writing, Bishop Ibrahim Azar and in speaking, Bishop Barhoum,” Bishop Azar humbly replied with a smile.

Photo Gallery of the Address

Youth Retreat 2017: Forming Christian Leaders Through Worship, Study, Fun

Pastor Fursan Zum’ot continues a theological discussion with students during lunch break.

 

Jericho – Tucked away at the Jericho Resort Village in a majority Muslim Palestinian community, Senior Lutheran Youth ages 18 – 25 years old gathered with youth pastors, Rev. Haddad, Rev. Tannous and Rev. Zum’ot and their wives, to unpack Sola Scriptura, Sola Gracia, Sola Fide in a Palestinian context.

The Senior Youth filled three days of their summer break with heartfelt worship, biblical studies, food, and swimming. The young adults felt safe enough with the three ELCJHL ministers to be themselves, to question Lutheran theology freely, and to worship unabashedly.

Familiar Western worship songs like “Lord I Lift Your Name on High,” to traditional Christian Arabic favorites streamed from the small conference room in the resort.  The youth and their youthful leaders swayed as they sang the words that reminded them of how they experienced God’s mercy and goodness, personally.

Then, when the music stopped, they delved into the Scripture, and challenged the words, challenged the theology, and challenged their leaders. They had questions and worked respectfully with one another to find the best possible answers to a faith that is evident.

During a reading of Genesis 17 and Colossians 2, one young woman named Sarah raised what she called a “feminist” question. She pondered why God made a covenant with Abraham through circumcision (males) but later includes women in the covenant through baptism in Paul’s writings.

“If both books are inspired by God, why didn’t God include women in Genesis? Did he change his mind?”

The Bible study was so rich and engaging that several students arrived at lunch late in order to have more discussions with the pastors about the sacrament of baptism and God’s new covenant with Jew and Gentile; Free and Slave; Man and Woman, in Jesus Christ.

The younger youth (12-17 years old) are gathering at the same location July 19-22. See posts @elcjhl for pictures.