LETTER TO THE REV. ELIZABETH A. EATON, BISHOP OF THE ELCA (EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA): THE PASSING OF TWO ANTI-ISRAEL RESOLUTIONS AT THE AUGUST NEW ORLEANS ASSEMBLY
Dear Bishop Eaton,
I write to you with a sad heart. Our ELCA has chosen a specific course of action in seeking a just solution for both Israelis and Palestinians in their conflict. With overwhelming votes, the Assembly has chosen to take action against one side in the conflict, Israel, and this, after having only heard from Palestinians in the conflict. I am deeply disappointed that this can be defined as justice!
My goal in this letter is two-fold. One, to respond specifically to resolutions regarding actions against Israel that passed in our August assembly, and two, to go beyond the assembly itself, to address matters of the heart, and some serious speculation as to our pattern of singling out Israel in our resolutions. Sometimes points one and two overlap, because they do.
1. We claim to be seeking justice for both Israelis and Palestinians in our resolution language. This gives our voters the impression that we Lutherans are fair, and that both sides will be regarded fairly. Yet, our resolutions propose action against only one side in the conflict.
We are not honest about our intent to present only one side, the Palestinian side, which we do by inviting only Palestinian Lutheran pastors to speak at our assemblies. When resolutions about Israel come before our assemblies, we should invite Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, and non-ELCJHL (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, (www.elcjhl.org) Palestinian Christians, and the thousands of Philippine workers who support their families by doing domestic and basic personal care to Israeli families. They all have their personal stories which we should not overlook. Our resolutions are also about them. We do listen to select Jewish organizations concerning the conflict, but only those, such as Jewish Voice for Peace, who take the side of the Palestinians. There are more than just two sides that need our attention, yet we give unique credence to the ELCJHL version of the conflict.
2. In our quest for justice, the ELCA has a dedicated website, called Peace Not Walls (PNW, www.elca.org/PeaceNotWalls). This website is totally dedicated to incessant Israel bashing, without one word regarding any Palestinian wrongdoing. Does this fit our criteria for justice? My fear is that Lutherans who view this site are receiving all of what the ELCA wants them to know about the conflict. Do we have to guess what this misleading and biased reporting stirs in the hearts of its readers?
3. Resolution 16-06.27 charges the CSR review team to develop a human rights screen regarding investments in any country. Is this deceptive in intent? I think Lutherans would prefer that resolutions simply be honest in their real intent, and not hide under a deceptive general concern. Will Israel be the only country targeted for divestment or non-investment?
4. Resolution 16-05.13 asks the U.S. to withhold military aid to Israel, showing that we are willing to allow other countries to threaten Israel’s very existence. U.S. law already requires compliance regarding upholding human rights as a condition of receiving money. The Oslo Accords, as agreed to by both sides, states that a two-state solution will only come through negotiation. A resolution to encourage this would be fair and appropriate since it would not attempt to force one side to make all the concessions.
The two resolutions passed at the assembly this August in New Orleans stand against Israel, bearing witness about who Lutherans are, not about who Israel is. There is not one resolution regarding wrongdoings of Palestinians, not one resolution regarding human rights violations in the Palestinian territories, and not one resolution about human rights violations in any other country. While we might hear from some of our Jewish friends that our resolutions are “more balanced” than that of other resolutions against Israel by the UCC and Presbyterian churches, they are still only about Israel and our Lutheran special focus on them. A Jewish colleague of mine, seeing that I was upset about the resolutions, was indifferent to them. She said to me, “You are so upset with these resolutions; we Jews are used to it.” And she shrugged her shoulders. My stomach cringed at her assessment that it has always been this way for them. I responded to her, “I will be upset, then, for you, and I am upset as a Lutheran.” It is our witness that history will assess.
Beyond the resolutions
1. Many Lutherans have their first entry into any discussion about the state of Israel through the conflict, specifically through Palestinian eyes or anti-Israel Jewish voices (Jewish Voice for Peace). Christian tours of the Holy Land ignore nearly everything of Israel that does not support the “occupation narrative.” Can we address this imbalance?
2. The Lutheran church has a long history of anti-Judaism, starting with Luther and his treatise, “On the Jews and their lies.” Most Lutherans are unaware of our history, of Hitler’s use of Luther’s words to outline a strategy of persecution and destruction of Jewish life, or of our 1994 statement to the Jewish community. That statement addresses both Luther’s works and German Lutheran culpability in the Holocaust. Because Israel (as a collective Jewish community) remains a special subject for our Lutheran assemblies (as it continues to be in other mainline Protestant churches), our history should be known, studied, and discussed.
3. Today, unlike any other time in our history, Christians acknowledge that Jesus was a Jew, that he was born, lived, and died a Jew, that he never left his faith in the God of Israel, or left the Jewish people. We know the debates he had with Pharisee and Sadducees in our scriptures were normal intra-Jewish debates of the Second Temple era. This was not Jesus being anti-Jewish. Jesus's “background” wasn't Jewish; his being and reality were Jewish. We need to teach a positive view of Judaism and see Jesus as the Jew who links us to one another, instead of the one who separates us from one another.
4. We also now acknowledge what has always been true, but that we were blind to, that God remains faithful to the Jewish people, and that the Old Testament is not old at all, but a living covenant, never revoked. These realities should encourage us to ask what God is doing with the Jewish people and with the state of Israel, as well as with the Palestinian people. We already show that we love the Palestinian people. If we can show that we love the Jewish people too, as our 1994 declaration asserts we do, perhaps our resolutions will reflect that complicated, multilateral love that will enable an honest discernment needed to establish an honest peace and true justice.
Yours in Christ
The Rev. Dr. Kathleen J. Rusnak, Ph.D.
New England Synod, ELCA)
CC:Mr. William Horne, Vice-President ELCA
Ms. Kathryn Lohre, Executive Director for ELCA Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations
Dr. Kathryn Johnson, Director for ELCA Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations
The Rev. Rafael Malpica-Padilla, Executive Director for ELCA Global Missions
The Rev. Cynthia G. Halmarson, Area Program Director for Europe/Middle East, Global Missions
THE BISHOP WAS INFORMED THAT THIS LETTER WOULD BE POSTED
THE BISHOP WAS INFORMED THAT THIS LETTER WOULD BE POSTED