US church leaders in White House meeting over Middle East peace

By staff writers
July 5, 2010

The president of the Lutheran World Federation, the Rev Mark S. Hanson, says "commitment, capacity and concern" defined the purpose of a recent ecumenical church leaders' meeting on Middle East issues at the White House.

The meeting was organised by Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) in Washington DC, an organisation of which Hanson's own Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is a member. He is also the denomination's presiding bishop.

The meeting was with Denis McDonough, chief of staff of the White House National Security Council.

"[We] talked about the long history of the commitment of religious leaders, first to our partners on the ground, the Palestinian Christians, and to Jewish and Muslim people, and to Israelis and Palestinians," said Bishop Hanson.

"Commitment has been manifested in ELCA's 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 added.

Hanson said he also talked about capacity to support the current US 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," the Lutheran leader suggested.

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 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 this week with the Israel Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

If the rhetoric coming out of the 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 commented.

"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," he said.

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 US Senator George Mitchell is conducting, forthcoming United Nations and Arab League meetings and the expiry of the moratorium on settlement expansions.

Others in the group that met with McDonough included Bishop Denis Madden, auxiliary bishop of Baltimore, representing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Fr 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, Churches for Middle East Peace.


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