Friday, April 22, 2011

Christianity & Islam: Friend or Foe? Confronting Islamophobia

For folks in Washington state, please give your attention to this important event in Lynnwood next week. For assistance contact John Berg

Christianity & Islam: Friend or Foe? Tuesday, April 26, join a compelling conversation on confronting Islamophobia, sponsored by Middle East Peace Builders, a Life Group of Trinity Lutheran Church, Lynnwood.

The event begins at 7 pm in room 203 at Trinity Lutheran Church, 6215 196th St., Lynnwood, Wash. 98036

Christianity & Islam: Friend or Foe?
The affirmation “I am my brother's keeper” leads to the question raised in the Gospel: "Who is my brother?”

Come explore if Christianity and Islam can peacefully coexist and what the best of these religious traditions has to contribute to our communities. We will look at how to build relationships of trust with Muslims, extending hospitality to our new neighbors.

Many voices today pit Islam and Christianity against each other, as if neither could tolerate the presence of the other in the same community socially or theologically. Furthermore, some in America believe that we have much to fear from the growing presence of Muslims in our communities. The non-religious scratch their heads, viewing this as confirmation that religion is a scourge to our modern experience.

Some of the questions we will explore:

  • Can Islam and Christianity co-exist in the same world or are they bound to be the inevitable “clash of civilizations?”

  • What are some of the key differences and similarities between these two monotheistic religions? What are the core beliefs of Islam and what do Muslims believe about Jesus?

  • How do Muslims view Christianity? Do we worship the same God? What should be our attitude to the Muslim community down the street?

  • Is Islam compatible with democracy or capitalism? Does the Koran support terrorism?

Our Speaker: Rev. Dr. Andrew Larsen has been an ordained ministry in the Evangelical Covenant Church for more than 20 years, with extensive experience working cross-culturally in Latin America and now serving Muslim communities locally and abroad. He has also served as pastor in the USA for seven years, engaged in the broader work of the church in both local and global projects. He has taught classes on inter-religious engagement and is currently facilitating local churches across the USA, Canada and Latin America to serve their immigrant neighbors.

For further information contact John Berg - - Phone: 425-218-3682

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

`I am the Resurrection and the Life' an Easter message from Bishop Younan

2011 Easter Message from Bishop Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL)

"I am the Resurrection and the Life" - Jerusalem, April 20, 2011

"In a world of suffering and death, these words of resurrection and life transcend us. Jesus first addressed these words to Martha of Bethany when Jesus stood at the tomb of his good friend Lazarus (John 11:25). This occasion is one that has profound meaning because Jesus shows clearly his emotions in the face of death, weeping openly over the death of his friend."

And so begins Bishop Munib Younan's Easter Message for 2011. It is a powerful message of hope, promise, and call in the midst of our world today, rooted in Jesus' words: "I am the Resurrection and the Life."

Go to this link for the entire message.

"Martha understood fully that God always stands on the side of life. “Lord, if you had been here our brother would not have died,” she said pleading to Jesus. The whole Bible reveals this theology of life as God meant it to be. God chooses wholeness for us. God chooses life with dignity. God chooses life abundant. As Jesus proclaimed in the previous chapter of John, “I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

"This is the whole reason for Jesus’ life and ministry. This is the whole reason that John has recorded these stories, including the story of Lazarus called forth from the tomb. “These signs have been written,” says John in his summary conclusion, “that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you might have life” (John 20:31). This is why every child in Sunday School is taught, “For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only begotten son, that whoever believes in him will not die, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

"Over the last few weeks we have been overwhelmed by images of devastation and despair from Japan. And I have returned often to Jesus’ sorrow over the death of Lazarus. And I feel the tears that must be flowing over the loss of life, damaged homes, and the catastrophic possibilities still emerging from the ruined nuclear reactors."

Go to this link for the entire message.

For information on the ELCJHL, click here:

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Friday, April 8, 2011

Palestinian Christian community responds to Holy Week restrictions

The Palestine-Israel Ecumenical Forum (PIEF) has issued an alert regarding the rights of Christians to worship during Holy Week.

8 April 2011

Dear friends,

The Palestinian Christian initiative Kairos Palestine has issued a statement spelling out the position of the Palestinian Christian community concerning Israeli imposed restrictions on religious rights, especially during Holy Week.

The statement notes that “for Christians, Holy Week in Jerusalem has a special spiritual connection.” It says that the various gathering points to which pilgrims from all over the world journey, namely the Old City, its gates and roads, the Mount of Olives, Via Dolorosa and The Holy Sepulchre Church, are equally important to the Palestinian Christians of the West Bank and Gaza.

The statement underlines the strong desire of Christians in the West Bank and Gaza “to join their Jerusalemite Christian brothers and sisters in the liturgical events leading to the resurrection, the holiest celebration in Christianity”.

The statement points out that “in every country that respects (and practices) freedom of worship, they do so without “restrictions from the governing authorities”. It proceeds to bemoan the fact that the occupying power has denied free access to Holy places of worship to both Christians and Muslims on several important occasions over the last decade.

This discriminatory and restrictive policy by Israel allows only 8000 pilgrims and few hundreds of locals to enter the city on Holy Fire Saturday. The Holy Sepulchre Church and other crucial religious sites are rendered “off limits for Christians through a complex network of walls, checkpoints, and security apparatuses”.

Traditionally, Palestinian Christians welcome The Holy Light seated on the roof of the Patriarchate and at the Church of Saint Jacob, adjoining the Holy Sepulchre. This religious tradition is something they are unwilling to forfeit because it is a violation of a fundamental human rights and a restriction on their right to religious freedom. It further upsets a centuries old tradition for the Palestinian Christians.

Kairos Palestine decries this unjust and one-sided policy which compels Christians and Muslims to apply for permits to enter while Jews continue to have free access. At best, not more than two or three thousand Palestinian Christians will receive entry permits. The permit system instated by Israel is in obvious violation of various Human Rights, international covenants and treaties to which Israel is a signatory.

Kairos Palestine rejects “the imposition of a permit/quota system to access our churches and shrines”. The Kairos statement points to how “the heavy presence of Israeli Police and Military forces prevents Christians from accessing the Holy Sepulchre Church and the Old City” thus disturbing the spiritual atmosphere of Easter”. The presence of Israeli commanders in and around the Tomb of Christ under the pretext of security is unacceptable.

The Kairos statement states that such actions taken against Palestinian Christians are an affront not only to them, the first and oldest Christian community in the world, but also to Christianity as a whole.

The Palestine-Israel Ecumenical Forum urges churches around the world to support the call of Kairos Palestine which invites “all our leaders, friends, brothers and sisters around the world to continue exerting pressure on Israel, to end its military occupation on this land and to respect international law and human rights”. In terms of practical measures, Kairos Palestine urges:

  • Church leaders not to submit and accept the conditions that deprive indigenous and international worshippers of the joy of celebrating Easter.

  • Letters to political representatives to pressure Israel by political means to end its restrictions on the freedom to religion in general and with regard to the Easter celebrations in particular.

  • Letters of protest to Israeli ambassadors in your countries complaining against such actions.

Click here for the full text of the statement from Kairos Palestine.

Ranjan Solomon, PIEF communications consultant

For more on advocacy actions by churches around the world please see

Thursday, April 7, 2011

David Housholder: `Being Pro-Israel?'

I sometimes read Pastor David Housholder's blog. I knew his dad and mom, Tom and Delphine, back in the 1970s when I first worked at the former American Lutheran Church. Dave was an earnest high school kid who sometimes came along with his dad on dark winter nights to pick up Delphine at the Lutheran Vespers office.

Someone recently forwarded this blog post, "Being Pro-Israel?" - which has some interesting points. Here's a link to the post:

[From David Housholder's Journal]

Being Pro-Israel?

March 21, 2011

If you are a conservative or a Christian (I am both), one of the boxes you seem to have to “tick” is “pro-Israel.”

This also seems to imply, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim.

I am a great admirer of Israel. They have the best democracy and the most vital and diversified economy (from electronics to agriculture) in the Middle East.

The Israeli national anthem “Ha-Tikvah” stirs me emotionally.

The Hebrew Bible is one of my happy places. Our congregation, Robinwood Church, is preaching through the Psalms (have been at it for a year and a half).

One of my mentors, Prof. Dr. Ralph Gehrke, read Isaiah in Hebrew with me every Saturday for ages.

However, I find that some of the black-and-white pro-Israel sentiment in the circles in which I run is often un-reflected at best. Ignorant at worst. Here are some random thoughts:

  • We don’t need to “defend Israel.” They have a formidable military and a credible nuclear deterrent. We have never fired a shot in defense of Israel and have never needed to intervene to help them. They buy our arms. Fine. So do many Arab states.

  • We need to focus less on the Eastern Hemisphere and more on the Western Hemisphere. We have a fixation on the Middle East. Because we import oil? Most of our imported oil comes from Canada, Mexico, and South America. We are only 4% of the world population, and the main reason for our budget deficit is our bloated “police the whole world” military. We got entangled in the Eastern Hemisphere during McKinley’s term (Philippines) and we have been messed up ever since, with very little to show for it. The Founding Fathers warned us against “entangling alliances” in the Old World. We have the resources to make the Western Hemisphere a democratic, prosperous heaven on earth.

  • Although there is much overlap, biblical Israel and modern Israel are not exactly the same thing. Modern Judaism was hatched after the New Testament was written, when the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, and they had to reinvent themselves. As did Christianity, Judaism had a Reformation in the 1500s (the hasidic/lurianic impulse) that still affects them to this day.

  • You can’t draw a straight ethnic line between ancient Israel and the modern state of Israel. Golda Meir was born in Milwaukee. Most of modern Israel has Rhineland into Eastern European (Ashkenazi) and Spanish/Portuguese (Sephardi) bloodlines. Middle Eastern DNA roots among them are sketchy at best. You can look up Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jewish lineage on Wikipedia.

  • The main tribe (of the 12) remaining somewhat intact is the tribe of Judah. From which we get the word “Jew.” The “ten lost tribes” are, well…lost. The tribe of Judah was NOT given the entire holy land, only a county-sized area around Jerusalem. The tribe of Judah can lay no biblical claim to the northern West Bank (Samaria), the area around Tel Aviv, the areas of Galilee and the Golan Heights. God never, in the whole Old Testament, gave the entire land of Israel to the tribe of Judah. The other tribes are gone, as are their claims. It’s like Texans coming back after centuries and laying claim to the whole former USA territory. Not saying that Jews all over Israel (or anywhere in the world for that matter) don’t have a right to their homes, I’m just saying that their saying “the Bible says so” is overstated. There is another tribe, Levi, from which we get the Kohenim (priests), but they were, expressly according to the Bible, to be given no land. Just for the record, I believe Jews (and all of us) have a right to own land anywhere in the world, including the West Bank and Gaza, if they want to buy it. Being a libertarian, I believe in open borders.

  • There are lots of Palestinian Arab Christians. But conservative US Christians prefer non-Christian Israeli Jews over them anytime. They actually got angry when a Palestinian Christian got elected to be the head of the Lutheran World Federation. A pastor told me last week: “He’s probably really a Muslim.”

  • I often hear people say “God is pro-Israel so I am pro-Israel.” It’s simply not that simple. The Israelites were the “good guys” in the Bible, so anyone who uses the label Israel today must be the “good guy.” Often, but not always. Israel was very fallible in the Old Testament, and not always the object of admiration. You could bring that line or reasoning to its breaking point by being “Pro-Ahab” because he was the king of Israel. And using the label “Israel” today, which modern Israel has more of a right to do than anyone else, does not equate you with biblical Israel. The two nations (biblical and modern) are deeply related, but not identical.

  • The Bible is ambiguous as to whether Israel is a physical or a spiritual nation. Galatians 6:16 makes it clear that the two are not necessarily mirror images of each other (you can be one without being the other).

  • The Bible is also ambiguous as to whether or not the promise of the land (ha-aretz) is conditional upon Israel’s faithfulness, or permanent. According to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, only 57% of Israelis believe in a “higher power.” Israel is a much more secular nation than the United States.

Not asking anyone to be anti-Israel. The whole world should love and admire Israel. Modern Israel is an amazing nation. I tip my hat to them. I want to see them prevail. They have much to add to the world.

Just asking us to consider de-emphasizing our American fixation with the Eastern Hemisphere in general and the Middle East in particular. Had we stayed in the Western Hemisphere, our homeland, the New World; well then, Pearl Harbor and 9-11 would never have happened.

Also asking us to question the “straight line” thinking that equates ancient Israel with modern Israel. One was the mother nation of us all, at some level. The other is a different and amazing contemporary society. Sure, there are deep connections. But there are also some disconnects.

Your thoughts?

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Post them to Dave's blog:

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