The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) affirmed a strategy for ELCA engagement in Israel and Palestine and acknowledged an “urgent” call from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) for action regarding the construction of an Israeli separation wall on Palestinian territories.

The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) affirmed a strategy for ELCA engagement in Israel and Palestine and acknowledged an “urgent” call from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) for action regarding the construction of an Israeli separation wall on Palestinian territories.
    
The Church Council is the ELCA’s board of directors and serves as the legislative authority of the church between churchwide assemblies.  The council met here April 9-11.  Assemblies are held every other year; the next is Aug. 8-14, in Orlando, Fla.
    
The council asked members, congregations and synods of the ELCA and its related agencies and institutions to implement actions outlined in “The Churchwide Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine” with a “sense of urgency, recognizing the window of opportunity for peace with justice” in the Middle East.
    
The council conveyed the strategy as a report to the 2005 Churchwide Assembly and recommended the assembly adopt a resolution that calls on all expressions of the church to participate in an emerging campaign for peace in Israel and Palestine.  The resolution also asks the 10,657 congregations of the ELCA to become part of a “chain of action” to link the assembly with the church’s 65 synod assemblies in 2006 through use of communion ware made in Bethlehem.
    
The Strategy for ELCA Engagement in Israel and Palestine provides a history and lists assets the ELCA brings to peacebuilding efforts in the Middle East, current ELCA policy and practice, sets of desired outcomes and action steps to achieve those outcomes.
    
Outcomes include achieving coexistence for Israelis and Palestinians in justice and peace, a reduction in poverty and unemployment among Palestinians, and a negotiated, final status agreement that includes a “shared Jerusalem.”  Action steps to achieve those outcomes include an ELCA churchwide campaign that involves building awareness, accompaniment and advocacy.
    
Last year the council asked the ELCA Division for Global Mission and Division for Church in Society to develop a strategy that would enable the ELCA, in relationship with its “ecumenical and interfaith partners,” to contribute to the wider movement for peace with justice in the Middle East.  The strategy highlights a campaign, “Peace not Walls:  Stand for Justice in the Holy Land,” designed to “energize” members of the church to build relationships with companions in the Middle East — particularly with the ELCJHL — and help the ELCA live out is commitment and call to be a “public church.”
    
Ghassan “Gus” Khoury, council member, Mount Prospect, Ill., expressed his appreciation for the strategy, citing that “there is just peace” for Palestinians and Israelis.  Khoury told members of the council that peacebuilding efforts in the Middle East are “about justice and equality.”
    
In his report to the council Carlos PeLa, vice president of the ELCA and chair of the Church Council, Galveston, Texas, said, “I spent a week in Palestine back in September and got to see firsthand the plight of our brothers and sisters in that part of the world.” PeLa said he “came back with a difference of opinion as to what needs to be done” and that the trip “has had a big influence on me supporting these strategies.”
    
“There is a sense of urgency” to implement these strategies “because of conditions in that region of the world” and “because of the hope that we feel with new leadership in the Palestinian government,” he said.  “We feel there is hope for a viable two-state [solution] in that part of the world and for just peace.”
    
In a separate action, the council approved a designation of $100,000 to support the implementation of the strategy.  The money is part of a $4.5 million designation plan — proposed by the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA — intended to strengthen the church’s ministry commitments.
    
In another action the council encouraged the ELCA’s five million members to become aware of the threat to the future of the ELCJHL and hope for peace in the Middle East posed by the construction of an Israeli separation wall on Palestinian territories.
    
The council called for an immediate cessation of the construction and removal of all existing portions of the separation wall, requested that the Division for Church in Society intensify its advocacy efforts in accordance with the Churchwide Strategy for ELCA Engagement in Israel and Palestine, and directed appropriate staff of the churchwide organization to provide information about the separation wall for use in congregations and synods of the ELCA.

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Information about the ELCA’s engagement in the Middle East is available at http://www.ELCA.org/middleeast/ on the Internet.

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or news@elca.org
http://www.elca.org/news