A call for peace: Amid Holy Week, UCC Officers pen pastoral letter on Palestine

A call for peace: Amid Holy Week, UCC Officers pen pastoral letter on Palestine

A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more. Matthew 2:18

Dear Siblings in Christ,

With the celebration of Jesus’ grand entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and with shouts of “Hosanna” still fresh in our minds, we are reminded not to pass too quickly from the celebration of Palm Sunday to the celebration of Easter Sunday and the empty tomb. To be hurried in our festivities will cause us to miss the moments with Jesus that are both painful and profound. This Holy Week, as we make the journey from celebration to the pain of the cross and the glory of the resurrection, we are confronted with the pain of war and conflict in our world and are asked to not look away.

Our world is afflicted by more than 160 crises today. To ignore them is akin to rushing from waving palm branches straight to the empty tomb, missing the pain, suffering, and tragedy of the cross. This we cannot do. We are especially grieved and angered by events in the Middle East. Long-simmering violence escalated on Oct. 7, 2023, as Hamas militants brazenly attacked Israeli civilians, killing nearly 1,200 people, and taking almost 250 persons hostage.

Since then, over 30,000 Palestinians have been killed and many more injured due to Israeli military response, most of whom are women and children. Three-quarters of the Palestinian population of Gaza are displaced from their homes and remain desperate for basic human necessities. In these days, while Muslims around the world are observing the holy month of Ramadan by fasting, Palestinians in Gaza — almost all of whom are Muslim — are suffering from starvation bordering on famine. Meanwhile, the intense Israeli air and land assault on Gaza continues.

In 2021, the United Church of Christ’s General Synod adopted a resolution affirming “that all people living in Palestine and Israel are created in the image of God and that this bestows ultimate dignity and sacredness to all.” It also declared that “the continued oppression of the Palestinian people remains … a matter of theological urgency and represents a sin in violation of the message of the biblical prophets and the Gospel.”

The violence, mass displacement, and starvation inflicted in Palestine today is nothing short of sin and a matter of moral and theological urgency. It is imperative that we speak clearly on injustice when we witness it, especially when our government is complicit in enabling and empowering the perpetuation of this colonial paradigm. We have consistently done so since early October, and persistently for decades in solidarity and accompaniment of our partners in the region through presence and public witness.

We also acknowledge that we have witnessed a stark increase of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim attitudes and actions in these past months within our communities across this country. Our Jewish, Muslim, and Arab-American siblings — as well as others who are perceived as such — have become victims, again, of bigotry and violent acts. We lament and denounce all such expressions of hatred as we stand with our neighbors against violence and dehumanization.

They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. Jeremiah 6:14

Our voices join with those of millions around the world calling for a permanent cease-fire. A cease-fire is an essential, yet minimal, requirement for peace. An immediate and permanent cease-fire must be accompanied by the unfettered and urgent delivery of humanitarian aid and medical supplies, protection of the population, with the release of Israeli hostages and Palestinian detainees. This is a part of the peace we seek for the world and for Gaza, the restoration of dignity, wholeness and flourishing beyond the woundedness and violence of these past weeks and years.

As we move through Holy Week, we remember that before the glory of the Resurrection was the agony of desertion, betrayal, and the cross. As people of faith, we also clearly see the pain and injustice too many are experiencing in the Middle East and around the world today. As Christ’s Church, we are invited to confront the suffering, respond to it with deep love and advocacy, and actively hope for a day of new life and rejoicing. May this be our path and our discipleship, this Holy Week and always.

Yours in Christ’s love,
Rev. Dr. Karen Georgia Thompson, General Minister and President
Rev. Shari Prestemon, Acting Associate General Minister