CHICAGO (Sept. 8, 2016) – Voting members of the 2016 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Churchwide Assembly in New Orleans Aug. 8-13 approved two memorials that address concerns over human rights in Israel and Palestine. The assembly also affirmed the ELCA’s inter-religious partnerships and efforts to address anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other forms of hatred based on religion and reaffirmed actions of previous assemblies regarding responsible investment in Israel-Palestine.

Through the first action – “Peace with Justice in the Holy Land” – the assembly reaffirmed the commitment of the ELCA to continue its awareness-building, accompaniment and advocacy for  a peaceful resolution of the Israel and Palestine conflict, as well as seeking ways to support Palestinians and Israelis in restorative-justice dialogue.

The memorial also called for assisting the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) and other Christians to sustain their endangered presence in the Holy Land and promoting the economic empowerment of Palestinians, including through investment, prayer for the ELCJHL and the work of The Lutheran World Federation Jerusalem program.

The action reaffirmed the need to protect the human rights of Palestinians and Israelis and oppose all violence and actions that discriminate or deny any people their freedom, dignity or human rights.

It also urged the church’s members, congregations, synods, agencies and presiding bishop to call on their members of Congress and the administration to require that, to continue receiving U.S. financial and military aid, Israel comply with internationally recognized human rights standards as specified in U.S. law, stop settlement building and the expansion of existing settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, end its occupation of Palestinian territory, and enable an independent Palestinian state.

Dennis Frado, director of the Lutheran Office for World Community, said that these actions “called for greater accountability by the U.S. government on the basis of international human rights standards for Israeli practices in order for Israel to continue to receive foreign and military assistance.”

Frado emphasized that these laws apply to all U.S.-aid recipients. “The ELCA has made similar calls for accountability for U.S. aid with respect to the civil war in El Salvador in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as well as signed a letter to Congress in May 2016 concerning military aid and sales to several Middle East nations, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt as well as Israel,” he said.

In the second action – “Justice for the Holy Land through Responsible Investment” – the assembly called on the church to reaffirm the actions of the 2005, 2007, 2011 and 2013 ELCA churchwide assemblies regarding responsible investment in Israel-Palestine. The memorial directed the ELCA’s corporate social responsibility review team to develop a human rights social criteria investment screen based on the social teachings of the church and on human rights concerns raised in the ELCA Churchwide Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine, adopted by the ELCA Church Council in 2005.

The memorial also encourages ELCA members, congregations, synods, agencies and institutions to increase positive investment in Palestine and other under-resourced areas where human rights abuses materially impact the well-being of all people and to engage in shareholder advocacy in support of human rights.

The ELCA’s social criteria investment screens provide a guide for this church with regard to corporate social responsibility. They delineate areas in which the ELCA would like to invest or refrain from future investing and provide criteria to evaluate the scope of corporate social responsibility work. The social criteria investment screen policy was approved by the ELCA Church Council in 2006 and revised in 2012.

“The Churchwide Assembly voted to develop a human rights social criteria investment screen taking into account the concerns raised in the ELCA Churchwide Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine. It did not vote to divest,” said Frado.

The assembly welcomed two guests who brought greetings and shared their respective commitments to partnering with the ELCA and others opposing hatred based on religion and to building peace. 

Rabbi David Sandmel, director of interfaith affairs of the Anti-Defamation League, told those gathered, “All of us who are people of faith, who are proud to identify with a particular tradition, must stand together and speak out, to act, and to protect those at home and around the world who suffer because of their religious identity. This is one of the great challenges of our generation, one that we can only address together.”

Dr. Sayyid Syeed, national director of the Islamic Society of North America’s Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances, commended the ELCA’s shared vision of a society where “different religious are working together, and different religions – shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand – are creating and translating our religious ideals of equality, respect, and of peace and justice together.” Both guests received a standing ovation and warmly embraced each other.

Sandmel lifted up the ELCA’s 1994 “Declaration to the Jewish Community,” which repudiated Luther’s anti-Judaic diatribes, denounced anti-Semitism, and reached out to Jewish neighbors.

“This declaration serves as the framework for our church’s Jewish relations – past, present and future,” said Kathryn Lohre, ELCA executive for ecumenical and inter-religious relations. “The actions of the assembly must be understood in relationship to these commitments – as challenging the policies of the government of Israel– and not as an affront to Judaism or the Jewish people. Therefore, we must continue to engage in dialogue seeking mutual understanding and collaboration for the common good.”