Bishop Margaret Payne of the ELCA's New England Synod took part in an interfaith delegation in December. Here is the ELCA news article. Bishop Payne's blog is at this link: http://bishoppayne.blogspot.com/
ELCA NEWS SERVICE
December 30, 2009
ELCA Synod Bishop Joins Interfaith Delegation to Middle East
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- An interfaith delegation's recent visit to the Middle East could provide "a model and encouragement" for other Christians, Muslims and Jews to work together to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
That was one of the observations of the Rev. Margaret G. Payne, bishop of the New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Payne was one of 15 U.S. Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders who traveled Dec. 16-23 in Jordan, Israel and the West Bank.
The trip was organized by the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative (NILI), an organization of U.S. faith group leaders that has spoken publicly about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Payne represented the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, on the trip.
If more Christians, Jews and Muslims could work together for Middle East peace, their collective voice could influence governments, she said in an interview. "This was a real witness to the joint work together of Christians, Muslims and Jews," she said. "Every place we went to visit, we went as representatives of the three Abrahamic faiths."
The visit included a week of praying together and meeting with Jordanians, Israelis and Palestinians, according to a NILI news release. Payne said the group had productive meetings with Israeli and Palestinian citizens, U.S. Ambassador to Israel James B. Cunningham, and Jordanian leaders, whom she said are active in the peace process.
"We met with some of the members of their parliament," Payne said. "They, too, mentioned that witnessing such a mixed delegation was unusual. To them, this was a sign of hope that there can be joint efforts toward peace."
The interfaith delegation spent considerable time in discussion, sharing observations and perspectives with each other during the visit, she said. The leaders were united in their view that construction of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory be frozen, and that existing Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands be dismantled, she said.
"Even on the most emotional issues of refugees and Jerusalem, we believe most Palestinians understand that they will have to accept a negotiated solution regarding refugees that does not jeopardize the Jewish majority in Israel, and most Israelis understand that they will have to accept a negotiated solution regarding sharing Jerusalem that includes provision for both Israel and Palestine to have their capitals in Jerusalem," said Rabbi Paul Menitoff, executive vice president emeritus, Central Conference of American Rabbis, in the NILI release.
"Of course, it is the parties themselves that must make the negotiated agreements for peace, but most people we met believe that active, fully engaged U.S. leadership is essential to making that happen. We are united in support of such U.S. leadership for peace," said Dr. Sayyid Muhammad Syeed, national director, Islamic Society of North America.
The delegation called for active, fair and firm U.S. leadership in 2010 to restart negotiations for a two-state solution, involving an end to occupation and security for Israel and Palestine, the release said.
The religious leaders repeated NILI's goal to build on the Arab Peace Initiative for comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace, including peace agreements between Israel and Syria, and Israel and Lebanon, the release said. NILI leaders who organized the trip said they will seek high level meetings with the Obama Administration to offer their support for U.S. leadership for peace.
NILI said the delegation was united in calling on the Obama Administration and Congress to be catalysts, in cooperation with Egypt and other parties, for achieving "an effective, sustainable ceasefire." That includes international measures to prevent resupplying of rockets, for allowing the flow of humanitarian and economic assistance to the people of Gaza, for continuing efforts to improve the capacity of the Palestinian Authority to increase security and economic development, for further reducing the number of checkpoints, and for freezing settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, according to the news release.
Other Christian leaders who made the trip represented the Roman Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox Church, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), National Baptist Convention, the Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church. Other Jewish leaders represented the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation and Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association. Other Muslim leaders were with the Islamic Center of Southern Maryland, Georgetown University and the Council of Mosques, USA.
Bishop Margaret Payne's blog about the interfaith Middle East visit is at http://bishoppayne.blogspot.com/ on the Web.
Information about the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative is at http://www.nili-mideastpeace.org on the Web.
ELCA news is at this link: http://www.elca.org/news
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