American Christians join the movement for ‘ceasefire now!’ – Mondoweiss
There will be no Christmas tree, boisterous parade and joyful festival on Bethlehem’s Manger Square this year. Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem have called for a more somber celebration in recognition of the suffering on the part of Muslims and Christians in Gaza.
For their part, thirty U.S. Christian leaders sent a letter to President Biden last week, calling on the president and his administration to support an immediate ceasefire in the war in Gaza. Organized by Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), a coalition of leaders from Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and Evangelical traditions, the letter condemns Israel’s collective punishment imposed upon Palestinians in Gaza, but falls short in naming Israeli apartheid and its decades-long practice of ethnic cleansing as root causes of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinians.
CMEP’s letter follows on a statement by the Governing Board of the National Council of Churches meeting just days after the war started, calling for “Israelis and Palestinians to cease hostilities” and for “all international actors to take actions that will lead to an end of the conflict, including the assurance of humanitarian assistance.”
Monday, the Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches issued a statement demanding “an immediate ceasefire and the opening of humanitarian corridors.” The committee condemned “Israel’s disproportionate retaliation,” urged “the UN and relevant authorities to investigate all war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law committed from 7 October 2023 until the end of the war,” and called “all members of the international community to re-engage in active and sustained support of efforts for a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians….”
One of the few church leaders to issue a statement on his own, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church Michael Curry declared, “Staying quiet in this moment would be a stain upon our souls and would deepen our complicity… As Episcopalians, we must call upon our leaders—President Biden, members of Congress, and others—to be unequivocal that we need to stop the killing. Today. This is clearly what love demands of us.”
Last week, over 900 Black clergy bought a full-page ad in the New York Times calling for a ceasefire. In a Washington Post article, the Rev. Michael McBride, a co-coordinator of the ad, was quoted as saying, “We are faith leaders in the African American faith tradition, in the Black church prophetic tradition, and we are people familiar with pain and suffering enacted by state actors.”
“A cease-fire is our minimum demand…” McBride said. “At some point, bombs and the fighting have to cease and move to a solution that is one of mutual coexistence, peace, and justice for all in the region.”
The Common Board of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ met last weekend and issued a statement insisting, “There is no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, either now or at any time.” The statement calls for a ceasefire and for the administration “to work diplomatically to bring a swift end to this crisis.” In its description of the war, Israel’s 16-year blockade of the Gaza Strip with reference to the 1948-49 Nakba (catastrophe), and charging U.S. complicity, the statement provides an overview for persons seeking a better understanding of the conflict and its roots.
Behind the official statements—and arguably a driving motivation for leaders to speak out—is a decades-long and growing campaign on the part of grassroots Christians.
Members in many church denominations have come together in what are described as PINs—Israel/Palestine Networks. These PINs and similar organizations—most not officially recognized by their denomination and therefore speaking to their church, not for their church—have for years been pressing their denominations and the U.S. government to recognize Israel’s apartheid system and to work to dismantle it. They base their advocacy in large part on the asks of their denominations’ partners in the Middle East, including the ecumenical Kairos Palestine and its document, A Moment of Truth, and statements from Jerusalem’s Patriarchs and Heads of Churches who have decried the war on Gaza.
Each PIN serves as an advocacy network, sharing resources, hosting informational webinars, maintaining web pages and Facebook accounts, participating in nonviolent demonstrations, and encouraging relationships with indigenous Christian and human rights organizations in Palestine and Israel. Working together, they organize letter-writing campaigns, calls and visits to members of Congress, protests, and other actions.
Earlier this month, Catholic activists hosted a “pray-in” outside the White House. They called on the president to advocate for a cease-fire. Michele Dunne, head of the Franciscan Action Network, said, “We came here today to deliver a message to President Biden, that we expect him as our president, as a Christian and, in fact, as a fellow Catholic, to be playing a role in the world for peace.” In addition to the Franciscan Action Network, the “pray-in” protest was supported by many other Catholic groups, including the Catholic Advisory Council of Churches for Middle East Peace, Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Pax Christi USA, and the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker.
One of the newer Christian initiatives, Apartheid-Free Congregations, has brought together scores of congregations, faith groups, and organizations in an interdenominational campaign working to end the crime of Israeli apartheid. Supported by the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker ministry, the expanded Apartheid-Free Communities project now encourages other organizations—unions, schools, businesses—to sign a simple pledge to “oppose all forms of racism, bigotry, discrimination, and oppression” and “to join others in working to end all support to Israel’s Apartheid regime, settle colonialism, and military occupation.”
These Christian groups don’t operate on their own. They work closely with—and in many ways their work is shaped by—Jewish, Muslim and other faith and secular organizations, such as Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), IfNotNow, Center for Jewish Nonviolence, and Veterans for Peace.
It should be noted that more conservative Christians, described as Christian Zionists and led in large part by the Rev. John Hagee and his organization, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), have expressed their strong support for Israel’s war on Hamas. Christian Zionists believe that unconditional support of Israel is a Biblical obligation, that God has given the whole of historic Palestine (pre-48 Palestine) to the Jews, and that those who stand in Israel’s way will be cursed by God. In a video, Fight Back Against Supporters of Hamas, a CUFI spokesperson encouraged Christians to attend Tuesday’s rally on the National Mall in support of Israel.
While Christian Zionist voters exert pressure on elected officials to blindly support the State of Israel—some dispute Hagee’s boast of 11 million CUFI members—many expect CUFI’s influence to dwindle as under-40 evangelical adults are turning to embrace Biblical teachings related to justice and human rights. Still, many Evangelical Christians, not necessarily Zionist in their religious understanding, express a strong support for Israel and may be largely unaware that there is a vibrant Christian community in Israel and Palestine.
Last Sunday, Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA)—another ecumenical organization—joined a nonviolent, creative action in Philadelphia. According to their website,
A group of local Palestinian-American Muslims and Christians, together with Jewish American members of If Not Now, held signs and passed out flyers challenging attendees gathering for Sunday worship at a local megachurch to “Pray for the children of Gaza.” …Initially, the demonstrators were asked to leave the property, which they refused to do until they spoke to the lead pastor. Eventually, they were invited to come inside the church to pray with the entire congregation.
What followed was truly transformative, as seen in the attached video. The pastor declared before all that the church supported the call for a ceasefire now and an end to the killings. He then asked the veterans, in a congregation of 20,000, to come up front, lay hands on the demonstrators and join them in a praying for peace in Gaza and Palestine! As tears flowed, and those in the church felt the presence of God’s spirit as they prayed together, this promised to be the beginning of new relationships between the local Christian and Muslim communities, with an open invitation to the wider Jewish community as well.
FOSNA’s account continues, “…to simply call publicly for a ceasefire and pray for our government to recognize its role in our current political climate is an act of moral courage that we affirm and applaud. We applaud, too, the courage of the demonstrators in pressing the issue….”
In a conversation earlier this week, David Wildman, on the staff of United Methodist Church’s General Board of Global Ministries, offered a word at once both sober and hopeful. Wildman spoke of his having tried to join the JVP action at New York’s Grand Central Station. “By the time I arrived,” he told me, “all the doors into Grand Central were locked! Protesters had already shut down this central transportation hub in New York.” He was disappointed. Commuters voiced a variety of thoughts. “You know,” he said, “the action at Grand Central did not stop the war. It did not stop the killing. But it stopped all of us who were there from being spectators in the face of genocide.”
Wildman continued, “The temptation is to watch news feeds all the time… listen to the radio, check on social media. If that’s all, we are practicing being spectators in the face of the slaughter. Our actions, however humble or small, turn us from being a spectator to being an actor.”
As Christians in ever-increasing numbers turn from ignorance or indifference to exercise their faith and agency in the face of a brutal war, they may not be able to stop it. But they won’t be mere spectators. And they’ll discover some amazing partners as they take up their share in creating the community they pray for, “on earth as it is in heaven.”
At Mondoweiss, we understand the power of telling Palestinian stories. For 17 years, we have pushed back when the mainstream media published lies or echoed politicians’ hateful rhetoric. Now, Palestinian voices are more important than ever.
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