The Blog

Fences and a "Just Peace"

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America makes a stand against Israel's security fence and in favor of a "just peace." (Never mind Palestinian terrorism.)

7:40 AM, Aug 15, 2005 • By JOHN HINDERAKER
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THE EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA ("ELCA") is the nation's largest Lutheran denomination, with nearly 5 million members. The ELCA's highest legislative body is its Churchwide Assembly, which convenes every two years. The ninth such Churchwide Assembly has just ended. Yesterday, the Assembly adopted a resolution calling upon the ELCA's members, congregations, and agencies to "participate in the churchwide campaign for peace--Peace Not Walls: Stand for Justice in the Holy Land. . . ."

The elements of the "campaign for peace" are hard to discern from the language of the resolution itself. The resolution calls for "praying for peace with justice between Israel and Palestine," "learning about the situation there, sharing information, and building networks," "intensifying advocacy for a just peace in the region," "stewarding financial resources--both U.S. tax dollars and private funds--in ways that support the quest for a just peace in the Holy Land," and so on. Such vague provisions no doubt strike many as uncontroversial. Curiously, the only really tangible point of the resolution--opposition to the construction of Israel's security fence--is nowhere mentioned in the text of the resolution itself.

The resolution's intent is manifest, however, in the name of the campaign which support it encourages: "Peace Not Walls," as though the two concepts were in self-evident opposition. (Why not "Peace Through Walls"?) And the real content of the resolution is made explicit in the "Whereas" clauses which introduce it:

Whereas, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) and the Lutheran World Federation have drawn to the attention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America not only the extreme hardship brought to Palestinian communities by the continuing Israeli occupation and construction of the separation wall, but also the imminent threat they pose to the future of the ELCJHL and other Christian churches in the Holy Land; and

Whereas, the emerging fragile prospects for a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine require both Israelis and Palestinians to (1) avoid taking any actions that would undermine the peace (e.g., attacks on civilians, confiscation of land) and (2) actively engage in actions that will strengthen the will for peace; and

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Whereas, in carrying out this mandate, the Church Council in April 2004 joined the Lutheran World Federation, the World Council of Churches, and others seeking peace in the region in calling for an end to the construction of the Israeli separation wall being built on Palestinian land . . .

The Churchwide Assembly's adoption of the anti-fence resolution came as no surprise; on the contrary, it was a foregone conclusion. The Assembly, which is attended inter alia by lay representatives of the ELCA's congregations, merely rubber-stamped an initiative that was already in place, adopted over the past two years by the ELCA's monolithically liberal staff. The Lutheran Office of Governmental Affairs went on record opposing the fence by July 2003, and other church agencies had fallen into line before the denomination's members had an opportunity to be heard. The fact that the resolution passed by a vote of 668 to 269 suggests that many rank and file church members were rebelling against the national organization's fait accompli.

The ELCA paved the way for the "Peace Not Walls" resolution with an article in the May 2005 issue of the denomination's official magazine, the Lutheran. The Lutheran article was permeated by anti-Israel bias and riddled with false allegations against Israel. The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) identified 12 major factual errors, and one overriding omission:

A crucial omission marred the [May 2005] article as a whole. There was not one reference to Palestinian terrorism originating from terrorist strongholds in West Bank cities, the causal factor in Israel's erecting a protective barrier. The omission is indicative of the striking disregard for Israeli suffering and loss of life that underpins the piece.