CHICAGO (ELCA) – As the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip further escalates, the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), expressed her profound concern for members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land in a July 17, 2014, letter to that denomination’s bishop, the Rev. Dr. Munib A. Younan.
“Our hearts are heavy as we read about and see images of the violence being inflicted on both Israelis and Palestinians. This suffering and loss of life are inexcusable before God. As followers with you of the Prince of Peace, and as children of God, the Creator and Sustainer of all life, we long for peace and a just resolution to the escalating conflict between the State of Israel and the Palestinian people,” Eaton wrote, adding that she is responding directly to Younan’s call to participate in interventions and actions “to create hope in a hopeless situation.”
In a July 16 public statement, Younan asked that Christians and “all people of good will intervene in the present situation of unacceptable violence and bloodshed.” He said, “If we cannot take steps towards peace, we will continue to be held hostage by extremism. Please do not leave us alone in this moment of struggle. The whole Middle East is boiling. We need your prophetic voice and support so that peace built on justice and reconciliation built on forgiveness will prevail.”
In her letter to Younan, Eaton shared that “we join you in your call for a cessation of all hostilities between Israel and Hamas and a return to direct peace talks to achieve a comprehensive and sustainable peace based upon a two-state solution and adherence to international human rights and humanitarian law.”
The ELCA presiding bishop wrote that she will encourage all ELCA congregations to continue their prayers for peace in the Holy Land, including participation in “a minute of silence” during Sunday worship.
Although her intended visit to Jordan and the Holy Land scheduled for later this month has been postponed, Eaton told Younan that she looks “forward to our time together.” In her letter, she noted the “steadfastness” of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land: “The church’s strong witness for coexistence grounded in peace with justice permeates every level of congregational, educational and diaconal service. Our faith is strengthened by knowing how, even in the midst of great difficulties, the Body of Christ is working in Palestine and Jordan for the good of all communities.
“Along with the witness of your pastors and lay leaders, your witness, Bishop Younan, has strengthened our confidence that peace can indeed be achieved among the two peoples and three religions that share the Holy Land. Your statements, speeches and sermons have been a model for promoting both political and interreligious coexistence, along with your strong support of the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, which you helped found,” Eaton wrote.
The ELCA presiding bishop also expressed her gratitude for Younan’s capacity to uplift “the voices of moderation and against extremism.” She expressed her appreciation in particular for the long-standing work of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land’s schools in demonstrating “the importance of education through a curriculum based on peace, nonviolence, peaceful co-existence and the strengthening of civil society for the benefit of all communities.”
Through an ELCA “Peace Not Walls” action alert issued July 17, ELCA members are being encouraged to contact members of U.S. Congress to ask for an end “to the latest round of violence.” The alert offers a sample letter which ELCA members can use to contact U.S. Senators and Representatives, featuring elements of Younan’s July 16 statement that calls for the “immediate cessation of hostilities in Gaza.”
Younan also calls for the resumption of direct peace talks to achieve a comprehensive and sustainable peace; critical support for healthcare infrastructure; material support for interreligious cooperation and peacebuilding through the educational and diaconal ministries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land; and that the global Christian community, including member churches of The Lutheran World Federation, provide necessary assistance to those who have been internally displaced or affected by the current wave of violence and to help the economic and development of the growth of the Palestinian people.
The ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land are member churches of The Lutheran World Federation – a global communion of 144 churches representing more than 70 million Christians in 79 countries. The ELCA is the communion’s only member church from the United States.
To read the full text of Bishop Eaton’s letter, practice advocacy with the ELCA’s Peace Not Walls Ministry, or read the ELCA’s “Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine,” visit the ELCA’s press release regarding Bishop Eaton’s letter.