Mennonite Church USA responds to appeal from Palestinian Christians

Congregations encouraged to read and discuss Kairos Palestine document

By Annette Brill Bergstresser

Elkhart, Ind. (Mennonite Church USA)—In December 2009, after years of prayer, struggle and anguish, Palestinian Christian leaders spoke with one voice to the global body of Christ in an 11-page appeal, titled “Kairos Palestine: A moment of truth.”

They hoped the piece would be welcomed and find support, as was the 1985 South Africa Kairos document, which became a tool in the struggle against oppression and occupation in that region.

“Our word is a cry of hope, with love, prayer and faith in God,” wrote the 15 Palestinian church leaders. “We address it first of all to ourselves and then to all the churches and Christians in the world, asking them to stand against injustice and apartheid, urging them to work for a just peace in our region, calling on them to revisit theologies that justify crimes perpetrated against our people and the dispossession of the land.”

In October, Mennonite Church USA leaders responded to the Palestinian Christians’ appeal, committing to expand opportunities for Mennonite leaders to visit Palestine and learn firsthand about the suffering there. They also wrote a letter to members of Mennonite Church USA, asking them to read and discuss the Kairos document, to study Scriptures together on the matter and to consider how their financial lives may be enmeshed in the occupation of Israel.

The response, sent by Mennonite Church USA Executive Director Ervin Stutzman in consultation with the Executive Board, acknowledges the ongoing reality of the suffering described in the Palestinians’ letter and their persistence in clinging to hope and love.

“We are humbled and grateful for the way, even in your situation, you trust in the power of love as modeled and inspired by Jesus Christ,” Stutzman writes. “We are deeply moved by your testimony that even in the midst of cruel circumstances, you bear the strength of love rather than that of revenge. We are inspired by your continued vision that the only way forward is for Palestinians and Israelis to see the face of God in each other.”

In his letter to Mennonite Church USA members, Stutzman notes that across the church, people’s perspectives and commitments related to Israel and Palestine vary greatly. For more than 65 years, Mennonites have lived, studied and ministered in Israel and Palestine, forming deep friendships and bonds of faith with brothers and sisters there. Persons representing a range of opinions about the conflict and Mennonite responses to it have been in conversation with Mennonite Church USA leaders and were consulted as the Kairos response was drafted.

“This is a region with much hurt and pain,” he writes. “In part what is needed is careful listening to the pain and trauma experienced by the Jewish people. These horrors were often committed by those who claimed Christian faith. Ongoing reflection and repentance is called for. At the same time, Palestinians suffer deep and profound loss and pain. Their cries, too, have reached us.”

In May 2007, a 10-person delegation representing various Mennonite agencies and organizations visited Palestine/Israel and engaged in dialogue with Christians, Jews and Muslims there. Upon returning, the delegation sent an open letter to Mennonite Church USA, urging the church to deepen its work for peace in the region. In response, an Israel/Palestine task force was formed, which called for Mennonite Church USA to respond to the Palestinian Christians’ letter.

Stutzman encourages Mennonites to read the Kairos Palestine document and Mennonite Church USA’s response and to take steps such as:

  • learning about the situation in Israel/Palestine, including visiting the region and meeting with Christian brothers and sisters there;
  • re-examining what the Bible says about the land of Israel and engaging in conversation with each other about the theology of Christian Zionism and its impact on Christian brothers and sisters in the region;
  • considering how their financial lives are enmeshed in the policies of occupation, especially through tax dollars and investments;
  • deepening their commitment to the way of the cross, which binds together love for every person and resistance to injustice and sin.

“The suffering in this region has repercussions for the whole world,” says André Gingerich Stoner, director of holistic witness and interchurch relations for Mennonite Church USA. “We want to hear deeply the cry of our brothers and sisters and to join them in being a sign of the healing and hope that Jesus brings.”

Links:

2009 Kairos Palestine document: www.kairospalestine.ps
(Click on “responses” at left to read Mennonite Church USA’s response)

Mennonite Church USA response to Kairos Palestine document

Mennonite Church USA letter to sisters and brothers in Mennonite Church USA re: Kairos Palestine

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