The Jerusalem Conference
Franz and I made a road trip to Houston for the Oct. 11 Jerusalem Conference, presented by Bright Stars of Bethlehem amid its Texas-wide Room for Hope Festival. The goal was to advance the vision of an inclusive, diverse, and equitable Jerusalem. It was just one day of programming, but that day was jam-packed.
We gathered under the theme Jerusalem: What Makes for Peace? It was a thrill to be among excellent organizers, activists and supporters from all over the USA who are taking part in the struggles for justice and peace in their churches and communities.
The Rev. Mitri Raheb and his planning group put together a stellar group of presenters and panelists. A standout speaker was Tarek Abuata, director of Friends of Sabeel-North America. (Sabeel is the liberation theology center in Jerusalem.) He was born in Bethlehem and grew up in a Lutheran church in Houston.
Abuata told us that his story is tied to our Christian history as a people. Churches’ oppression against the Palestinian people is united with the US empire. The sins of Christian Zionism are responsible for “the pillar of sins that form Jerusalem and Palestine today, built on white savior-ism and “Christian” dominance.”
“Palestinian Liberation Theology is the prophetic Christian antidote to this sin that flips the tables in the temple,” Abuata said. Christians should act and flip the tables in their churches and out in the streets.
Abuata gave a stirring, challenging speech that can’t really be summarized briefly. He remembered, “My 10-year old Christian child self in Bethlehem” reflecting Christian dominance this way: They didn’t want to know me. In the shadows of the Holy Land, they rushed by my Christ to genuflect to their idols. And my people’s wound was for them a showcase for a pilgrim who was enamored more by the churches of Narcissus than the Streets of the Divine. He said, “Don’t mold me into your image, forgetting that I am already molded into His Image!”
I was pleased to see ELCA leaders like the Rev. Rafael Malpica Padilla, Dennis Frado, Bishop Michael Rinehart, and former bishop Dean Nelson, along with a number for former ecumenical accompaniers and other friends. Breaks were few, but we managed to get in a little fellowship.
Christian, Jewish and Muslim speakers were both inspirational and difficult. There were testimonies to suffering, struggle and endurance. While the subject of Jerusalem came from our president’s move of the US embassy, a number of speakers pointed to much earlier factors such as the sequestering indigenous people on reservations, the “western project” that created the state of Israel, Christian Zionists truncating American Christianity, and a culture that makes extremism acceptable,
Dr. Iva Carruthers said we are engaged in “a conversation on what it means to be human. What does it mean for us to allow the humanity in us to lead? The question is who we are becoming. In Flint (Michigan) and in Palestine, water is being weaponized. We have to speak truth to power in a way that allows us to stand and do what we must do.” Carruthers is general secretary of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference.
She outlined some action steps for church leaders, including: Create a framework to exegete the appropriate scriptural texts; use the arts to create a “non-marginalized narrative”; raise consciousness about Israel and Palestine; address policies; cease the “devastating policies of weaponizing natural resources,” challenge and interrupt anti-BDS legislation.
There was just too much to share effectively in a blog post. The event ended with powerful calls for justice and peace. The Rev. Mae Cannon, director of Churches for Middle East Peace, said, “We need to continue to encourage the choir but also nominate people across the aisles. Talk with people! Talk with conservatives in rural Iowa. Inform them! Change the face of the Palestinian people for those who do not know them.”
Raheb said the occupation continues because of hardware provided by the international community to Israel ($38 billion from USA) and software given to them by Christian seminaries. They connect the Israel of today with biblical Israel and view the occupation as part of a divine plan.
I felt like everyone in the room, all attentive and diligently taking notes, was connected that day. Raheb said about the networking that is so necessary, “We need more and more togetherness to develop joint strategies.”
The four sponsoring organizations of The Jerusalem Conference (Bright Stars of Bethlehem, the National Council of Churches in the USA, Churches for Middle East Peace, and the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference) affirmed a statement that is worth sharing with your networks. It can be found at this link: Affirmation for an Inclusive Jerusalem.
I took part in two other important events in September and October, the FOSNA Conference, Prophetic Action: Christians Convening for Palestine; and the big US Campaign for Palestinian Rights conference: Together We Rise. I hope I can share some ideas from these outstanding events sometime soon.
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