November 17, 2011

Church Groups Push for Divided Jerusalem

Delegation gathers for a photo
The delegation included (L to R): Sara Lisherness, Mark Hanson, CMEP Executive Director Warren Clark, Katharine Jefferts Schori, James Madden (Photo credit: Churches for Middle East Peace)


An American ecumenical group is challenging Israeli sovereignty over a united Jerusalem, while the U.S.-based Episcopal Church is urging the Obama Administration to openly back the policy of a Jerusalem divided between Israel and a Palestinian state.

Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), which represents 24 denominations, including Mainline Protestant churches, sent a delegation to the White House on November 8. The delegation included the presiding bishops for the Episcopal Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, among others.

Meeting with Dennis Ross, then-Special Assistant to the President (Ross announced his intention to depart the role two days later), and Catherine Powell, Director for Human Rights, Office of Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights in the National Security Council, the visiting church officials discussed U.S. policies toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and problems facing Christians in the Holy Land.

Among those problems were travel restrictions and unreliable procedures for visas and permits faced by indigenous Christians. The group did not mention threats from militant Islam in their own account of the meeting.

Calling for U.S. support of a shared Jerusalem, the church officials asked for increased U.S. pressure against Israeli settlement growth in East Jerusalem. The church prelates argue that any expansion of Jewish settlements, even due to natural population growth, threatens a potential two-state solution of Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side. Visiting officials also asked for a high-level U.S. official visit to the region that would include meeting Christian leaders there.

CMEP has promoted a “shared Jerusalem” campaign since 1996, placing a full-page ad in the New York Times that year signed by several denominational officials. The group also released resources including worship and study materials urging this policy to congregations in the United Church of Christ, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Church of the Brethren, The Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in AmericaPresbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America, and United Methodist Church.

Among the church officials in the recent White House meeting were Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Denis James Madden, Auxiliary Bishop of Baltimore and Chairman-elect of the Committee for Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Neil Irons, Executive Secretary of the United Methodist Council of Bishops; and Sara Lisherness, Director of Compassion, Peace and Justice for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Seemingly in tandem with the CMEP visit, the Episcopal Church’s “grassroots” public policy arm, the Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN), distributed an e-mail imploring Episcopalians to directly urge President Obama commit to a shared Jerusalem as part of any Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

In the mid-1990s, a resolution passed at the Episcopal Church’s triennial General Convention calling for a shared Jerusalem. At the most recent General Convention held in Anaheim, CA in 2009, members of the church’s House of Deputies passed a heavily modified resolution that was critical of Israel. Members of the House of Bishops defeated the measure, citing its one-sided nature.

The United Methodist Church adopted a 2004 resolution, reaffirmed at its 2008 General Conference, that also calls for a shared Jerusalem. In neither resolution do the churches address the security concerns of two separate and potentially hostile nations sharing a national capital.

While the CMEP announcement and denominational resolutions do not cite Israeli concerns about a split capital, the EPPN communications notes that prior to the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, when Jerusalem was divided between Israel and Jordan, access to holy sites controlled by Jordan was denied to Jews. Israel allows universal access to holy sites. But EPPN claims Israel has made movement into Jerusalem “functionally difficult or impossible” for Christians living in the West Bank.


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