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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17 thoughts on “Mennonites choose ‘third way’ on Israel and Palestine

  1. Your rhetoric suggests neutrality but your attempt to undermine Israeli “occupation” will, if successful put Israeli lives in danger. It ignores the objective fact that if Israel pulled out of the West Bank there would be a grave danger to Israelis- look at Gaza. Look at the PLO refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state. I know of no other people who would be expected to put themselves in harms way as you contemplate. While I am sure you are well intentioned, I regretfully must assume there is latent anti-Semitism that has clouded your view of this situation.

  2. History repeating itself. Looks like the Mennonites have chosen sides in a conflict instead of working toward peace. “The war also put a strain on Christian-Jewish relations in the U.S. as some Jewish leaders faulted Christian institutions for not speaking out against Arab enmity toward Israel in the weeks before the war. Christian publications initially acknowledged Arab responsibility for the war, but by 1968, Christian commentators and activists started using different lens — one of Arab innocence and Zionist culpability — to interpret the Arab-Israeli conflict.” The Six-Day War

  3. I highly appreciate your way to peace and justice in Israel and Palestine.
    We live in difficult times where working for justice is seen by some (?) as antisemitism. Stopping militarism (wherever it may be practised…) stopping occupation is a christian duty.

    1. The occupation ended in 1967 when the foreign Arab armies that invaded and illegally occupied former NON-ARAB Ottoman Empire territory west of the Jordan River were expelled. What the thieves took by force, they lost by force.

      They crossed their recognized borders to invade land that had been formally designated by binding treaties after WWI for a “reconstituted” Jewish homeland. For 400 years it was part of the Caliphate known as the Ottoman Empire.

      The British were named the administrators of the Mandate of Palestine (name of the region) with responsibility for facilitating development of infrastructure and institutions for eventual sovereignty. This was only one example of the Mandate system created by the League of Nations. While under this system Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq were entirely new creations on vast swaths of former Ottoman land, only Israel was recognized as “reconstituted.”

  4. It is Mennonite USA’s prerogative to show of defiance against Israel by supporting Palestinians call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). The action by Mennonite USA may in some ways also be shortsighted and possibly hypocritical of the canonical belief of non-violence and pacification against taking human life. Why, because Israel’s Arab neighbors invaded and went to war against Israel not once, but twice in 1948 (War of Independence) and 1967 (The Six Day War) with the intent of killing or ousting every Israeli. Now, most all middle-eastern Muslim countries surrounding Israel have publically stated and pledged that their eventual aim is not peace with Israel, not the return of boundaries to the pre-1967 war, but the total annihilation and genocide of every Jew. Can such a declaration for the genocide of all Jews by sovereign nations be ignored within your conscience and also in conjunction with your support of BDS?
    You can go along or maybe even truly believe that by returning the lands captured by Israel to the Palestinians will magically create peace, but deep down inside perhaps also your intellect tells you differently. Has it occurred to you that returning the lands back to pre-1967 boundaries might instead only create further strategic intervention by Israel’s sworn enemies, another devastating war, and more death in the middle-east? Can a devastating miscalculation such as this be an acceptable outcome?
    What will you say if the Mennonite USA and other institutions and countries support of BDS resulted in the interim return to pre-1967 boundaries, but then eventually to another Arab invasion as they have pledged, and war with Israel; opps, sorry, we tried? That’s not acceptable and you are accountable for your actions.
    You may say that I do a disservice to the Mennonites and my Bethel College education for my opposition to BDS. If so, so be it if that’s what you truly believe. If my disagreement with Mennonites U.S.A. support of BDS everts war, death, and the genocide of Israeli Jews; then I have fulfilled my conscience. I give thanks to Jesus Christ that I am Christian Catholic and for my education from Bethel College that eventually led me to become a conscientious objector for I will not take a human life by war, murder, abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, or suicide. I am also thankful to be able to use my intellect to realize that the objectives of BDS will create more harm and death and is not an effective method to peace.

    1. You forgot about the 1973 invasion.

      Also, in 1967, Judea, Samaria, and Gaza weren’t “captured.” Those areas were liberated from the foreign Arab armies that had 19 years earlier invaded and illegally occupied former non-Arab Ottoman Empire territory west of the Jordan River designated by international law and binding treaties after WWI for a reconstituted Jewish homeland. After liberation, the refugees from the genocidal ethnic cleansing of Jews from the Jewish heartland during the subsequent occupation returned to rebuild their homes and communities. Would Jesus consider them to be illegal settlers in illegal settlements?

      Elementary research using neutral-sourced evidence will validate the above inconvenient truths.

    2. Hi Robert, I respect your views, though I suggest a more sympathetic understanding of Mennonite philosophy might help, and dare I add, a more comprehensive view of how modern Israel originated, might emend some of your thoughts. Strangely, the advent of modern Israel was conceived by enlightened and deeply spiritual Jewish idealists such as Albert Einstein as a way of bringing Palestinian Arabs and Jews together. Its birth was marked, however, by terrorism on both sides. The Jewish community was the more unified and effective, and won the day despite the British, who experienced the horror of terrorism directly, having just liberated Jews from the Nazi death camps, leaving the majority of their arms to the Arabs. On the other hand, Israel has a large Arab population who largely live in peace. Yet it is undeniable that the recognition of Israel by the Truman administration in 1948 – note that the liberal Republican Dewey was prepared to do the same if elected, and received huge backing as a result – saw an ensuing 70 years of conflagration, having set Islam ablaze. It also ensured Israel’s back would be the wall daily, something we do not face to the same degree, but are reaping through global terrorism. As one who has published extensively against anti-Semitism, I have personally experienced how this kind of perpetual militarism leads to tribal indifference and cruelty towards others. Outside empathy with anti-Semitism is itself often resented as a form of unwanted patronage. Anything is justified in the end for the sake of victory and tribal integrity. It’s more complicated than the harsh ‘Commentary Magazine’ piece yesterday on this subject.

  5. What if Christians who support Israeli Jews institute a BDS against Mennonites? Why do Mennonites feel a need to be involved in International Politics? Mennonites want a BDS against Jews but then out of the other side of the mouth say we must establish better relations? I just don’t get this. It seems just another poke of the bear to cause animosity between two groups of peoples. Again, why are Mennonites getting involved?

  6. This is the same type of persecution Israel has suffered for too long. The Holocaust happened in the name of Jesus [who was a Jew] as well, so did so many other “conquests”, and all by the same type of misinformation. Remember that Abraham was told concerning his proceeding generations, “those who bless you will be blessed and those who curse you will be cursed.” Be careful not only of what you do, but of what you propagate – Matthew 5:19.

  7. How does this square with the longheld Mennonite doctrine against involvement in politics, including abstaining from voting or military service? This seems to clash with the Mennonite position that members “should not tell governments how to shape their policies (Romans 13:1-7).” It seems that involvement in the political anti-Semitic hate movement which is BDS (joining your voice with that of Hamas, Hezbollah, Muslim Brotherhood, and other terrorist political orgs in their efforts to violate Israel’s right to exist), would mandate that you also vacate your objections to voting and to military service, as this is absolutely a political matter.

  8. I can only suppose that a lack of historical context and an understanding of the will of our Father in Heaven has driven your decision to side with the enemies of the Children of Israel. Our Father is clear what will happen to those that do. Please reconsider.

    Should you decide to continue in the company of His enemies, may He be merciful to the well intentioned among you that could have refrained from acting in matters they did not fully understand. You have committed to a position that would weaken Israel against those that have sworn the annihilation of all Jews everywhere. The Son of David will soon sit upon the throne Israel and He will seek an accounting.

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