Mennonites choose ‘third way’ on Israel and Palestine

Mennonite Church USA logoORLANDO, Florida (Mennonite Church USA) — Culminating a three-year process, delegates at the Mennonite Church USA assembly in Orlando on Thursday adopted a resolution titled “Seeking Peace in Israel and Palestine,” with approximately 98 percent voting in favor. The resolution addresses the injustices of military occupation as well as the suffering caused by antisemitism.

The resolution notes that “the suffering of [Palestinians and Jews] has too often been set against the other. We recognize, rather, that the legacy of Jewish suffering is intertwined with the suffering of Palestinians.”

At the Mennonite Church USA delegate assembly in Kansas City in 2015, delegates tabled a previous resolution on Israel-Palestine and asked that it be revised and brought back to the next delegate gathering. A three-person writing team and a 10-member reference group worked intensely during the past two years, consulting widely across the church and with Palestinian and Jewish partners.

“I could not support the resolution two years ago. It was too simplistic,” Mennonite World Conference president Nelson Kraybill said, speaking in support of the motion during comments at the microphones. “I commend the committee for their thorough work.”

During that period the denomination and partner agencies also helped more than 100 Mennonite pastors and leaders participate in “Come and See” learning tours to the region to deepen understanding of realities in Israel and Palestine.

Introductory remarks at Wednesday’s session included sharing from both Alex Awad, a pastor in East Jerusalem and professor at Bethlehem Bible College in Palestine, and Rabbi Brant Rosen of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council. Both of them praised the engagement and learning that had occurred through the process and pledged ongoing support.

“It’s been a wonderful journey the past two years,” Awad said. “I’m thankful you have been listening.” He compared Thursday’s vote to a “final exam” on the issue after all the studying that had taken place.

The resolution focuses on ways Mennonites have been involved in harms against both Palestinians and Jews and names concrete steps to address those harms. This restorative justice approach is one of the significant shifts from the resolution considered by delegates two years ago.

André Gingerich Stoner, former Director of Holistic Witness and Interchurch Relations for Mennonite Church USA and a member of the writing team, introduced the resolution to delegates with words from Psalm 85: “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.”

“That’s what we are seeking to do in this resolution,” Stoner said, “to hold together mercy and truth, grace and justice.”

A goal of the process, he added, was to “help different parts of the body have conversation with each other,” drawing together advocates, agency staff and others to create a more comprehensive document.

One of the commitments of the resolution is to avoid economic support for the military occupation of Palestinian territories. Drawing on a long-tradition of stewardship practices, the resolution calls on members to avoid purchase of products associated with the occupation or produced in settlements in occupied territories. It also establishes a process for the church to review its investments “for the purpose of withdrawing investments from companies that are profiting from the occupation.”

The resolution also calls on Mennonites to examine the legacy of antisemitism in their own history and life. It commends plans for several conferences in the next biennium on topics including Mennonite involvement in the Holocaust and examining how the church reads scripture in light of the Holocaust. The resolution encourages Mennonites at different levels of church life to strengthen and build relationships with Jewish communities.

Michael Crosby, pastor at First Mennonite Church of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, said his congregation “enjoys a robust set of interfaith partnerships” that includes the local Jewish community. “Already this resolution has opened up space for conversation that didn’t exist before,” he said.

The resolution underscores a commitment to active nonviolence and a rejection of violence as dehumanizing and ineffective. It highlights the work of Palestinian and Israeli peacemakers who work for peace with justice, rejecting violence and oppression, and challenges Mennonites to learn from and support these partners. Several speakers at the microphones urged the church to diligently provide resources and follow up on the resolution’s commitments so that it is not just “put on a shelf.”

Steve Kriss, a member of the resolution reference group who serves as executive minister for Franconia Conference of Mennonite Church USA in eastern Pennsylvania, stated:  “This resolution represents broad listening, hard prayerful work and takes into account our relatedness as well as the prophetic and repentant work that’s ahead of us.”

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In other business Thursday:

  • Moderator Patty Shelly of Newton, Kansas, welcomed delegates and walked them through the rules and procedural steps for the start of the meeting, lifting up the covenant for the table group process. “We’re here to hear the voice of the Spirit in our midst and to test the Spirit, if you will,” she said.
  • A series of introductions and acknowledgements included a welcome for a large group of international and interchurch guests.
  • Delegates voted on the slate of nominees for moderator-elect and a host of board positions, approving Joy Sutter of Harleysville, Pennsylvania, as moderator-elect for 2017-2019. David Boshart of Wellman, Iowa, will serve as moderator for the upcoming biennium.
  • Sutter, who is also serving as chair of the search committee to call a new executive director, said, “The search committee is off to a great start” as she gave an update to delegates. “We have already sensed the Holy Spirit leading our process.” She invited all of the church to participate in the committee’s discernment and issued a call to prayer for the process.

Most of the remaining convention time in Orlando will be spent in the Future Church Summit. Delegates will have just one other formal business session, for an hour on Saturday morning to act on the outcomes of the summit.

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