Churches for Middle East Peace conference begins

Churches for Middle East Peace conference begins

Advocates from churches around the country are invited to attend the Churches for Middle East Peace 2008 Advocacy Conference beginning this Sunday in Washington, D.C.

By Heidi Bright Parales, DisciplesWorld contributing writer 

Advocates from churches around the country are invited to attend the Churches for Middle East Peace 2008 Advocacy Conference beginning this Sunday in Washington, D.C.

Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) is a coalition of 21 U.S. churches and church-related organizations from the Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant traditions. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), as a member, is helping to sponsor the April 20-22 event.

“Calming the Storm: Middle East Peacemaking in a Turbulent Time” will focus on U.S. policy and Middle East peacemaking with speakers, workshops, advocacy preparation and a day of lobbying elected officials, according to Anna Rhee, grassroots coordinator with CMEP.

“The primary goals of the conference are to update advocates on key issues related to Middle East peacemaking, with a focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; to prepare conference participants for effective advocacy; and to encourage ongoing engagement on these issues in communities and congregations,” she said.

Relating the conference to the Annapolis peace process, Warren Clark, CMEP’s executive director, said in a news release, “The Annapolis peace process now underway deserves robust support from the U.S. Congress. The achievement of a two-state peace agreement will be an important step towards durable peace with security for Israel and will help build a positive future for all the people of the Holy Land, including the now rapidly declining Palestinian Christian community.”

U.S. efforts to promote peace are essential, added Peter Makari, executive, Middle East and Europe, for Global Ministries. “This conference provides an opportunity for the churches’ voices to be heard directly.”

CMEP will provide a great opportunity for church members to learn about current dynamics, focus on current U.S. involvement, and engage actively with their elected officials to raise up the seldom-heard voice of the Palestinian partners and community, he said.

“Resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and efforts to promote peace in the Middle East are clearly in the interests of the U.S., which spends exorbitant amounts in military aid to the countries of the region, and of the peoples of the region, who have suffered under the din of conflict for too long.”

Events include a special session for denominational gatherings Monday evening. Currently among registrants are two Disciples who are serving as mission personnel with Palestinian Christian partners and a Disciples Peace Fellowship member who is active in regional CMEP organizing, said Makari. Derek Duncan of Global Ministries will also participate.

Conference planners are expecting about 200 participants.

Featured speakers include Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Shibley Telhami, University of Maryland; Gary Sick, Gulf 2000/Project; Ziad Asali, American Task Force on Palestine; Ori Nir, Americans for Peace Now; B. Todd Deatherage, U.S. State Department Office of Policy Planning; and Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Workshops will cover a range of topics such as Evangelical Peacemakers, with Chris Seiple from the Institute for Global Engagement; Palestinian Christians, with Bernard Sabella ; and Iran-Israel-US relations, with Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council.

The conference starts Sunday evening with an opening program. Monday features plenary panels, a luncheon with a speaker, workshops, and preparation for advocacy.

During the conference, peace advocates from a variety of churches will learn about opportunities for Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking in the context of broader regional dynamics and with the Bush Administration’s initiative to move the peace process forward this year. Church leaders, issue analysts and policy experts will provide insights and updates to help prepare participants for meetings with elected officials.

The principal advocacy concerns are the avoidance and resolution of armed conflicts, human rights, arms control, foreign aid, and the unique nature of Jerusalem.

Tuesday begins with a Congressional Prayer Breakfast, followed by a Lobby Day on Capitol Hill, during which participants will lobby Congress with talking points designed to make delegates’ views heard, according to the conference flyer. CMEP will assist with arranging meetings between participants and their Congressional leaders.

Formed in 1984, CMEP guides church members and clergy in effective advocacy grounded in the principles of Christian faith. CMEP has either conducted its own conference or coordinated the Middle East track of the Ecumenical Advocacy Days conference since 2003, according to Rhee.