ELCA Presiding Bishop Leads Middle East Talks with White House Official
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and president of the Lutheran World Federation said “commitment, capacity and concern” defined the purpose of a meeting on Middle East issues with Denis McDonough, chief of staff of the White House National Security Council. Hanson led the July 1 meeting, which also included other national church leaders. The meeting was organized by Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), Washington, D.C. The UCC, Disciples, and ELCA are CMEP members.
“I talked about the long history of the commitment of religious leaders and particularly the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran World Federation, first to our partners on the ground, the Palestinian Christians, and to Jewish and Muslim people, and to Israelis and Palestinians,” said Hanson. “Commitment has been manifested in our humanitarian response and also a strong history of advocacy for a lasting peace with justice, which in this case involves a two-state solution,” he said. He said he also talked about capacity to support the current U.S. administration in its efforts to take a principal role in achieving peace. “The greatest antidote to religious extremism in the world is to see us, who are not religious extremists, consistently work with people of other faiths to achieve a just and lasting peace; and for people to see successes from these efforts,” Hanson said.
The church leaders also addressed concerns regarding Israeli settlement construction and settlement expansion, humanitarian relief into Gaza, the future of Christianity and the group’s commitment to Jerusalem as a shared city, both shared as a holy city for three faiths and also shared in terms of Palestinian and Israeli governments, according to Hanson.
“The continued expansion of settlements becomes that to which Palestinian people on the ground look to either substantiate or negate what politicians are saying about the progress being made,” he said. The conversation with McDonough was held prior to President Barack Obama’s meeting next week with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. If the rhetoric coming out of next week’s meeting is that progress was made, and yet all Palestinians see are settlements still being built, then people would question such claims of ‘progress,’ Hanson said. “We met with the previous administration about our concerns and, unless peace is achieved with this administration, we will be here with whoever the successor administration is because that’s the depth of our commitment, and we will persevere,” said Hanson.
In addition to the anticipated meeting between Obama and Netanyahu, Hanson said the meeting with McDonough was important because of the recent attention to Gaza and the flotilla raids, the proximity talks that former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell is conducting, an upcoming United Nations meeting, an upcoming Arab League meeting and the expiration of the moratorium on settlement expansions.
“There is a whole series of things lining up. This is the time for ELCA members to step up,” Hanson said. “Continue your deep prayers, advocate for the U.S. to continue to take a strong role and articulate specifics with regard to overall U.S. policy as well as the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.”
Others in the group that met with McDonough included Bishop Denis Madden, auxiliary bishop of Baltimore, representing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Father Mark Arey of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America; Rolando L. Santiago, United States executive director of the Mennonite Central Committee; Angel Nunez, senior vice president, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; and Warren Clark, executive director, CMEP.