Assembly calls for peacemaking in Israel/Palestine

Photo of a large room with rows of people seated at tables. Speakers stand on a stage in front of a large screen at the front of the room.
The Committee on Peacemaking and International Issues reported on Latin American issues on Friday afternoon. Photo by Joseph Williams

SAN JOSE, June 27, 2008 — Commissioners to the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) “stayed the course” of being peacemakers around the world. The Assembly called for “responsibly” bringing the troops home from Iraq, continuing peacemaking in Israel and Palestine and supporting human rights in Zimbabwe, the Philippines, North Korea and Colombia.

Issues concerning peace, as it relates to the Middle East and other crisis areas of the world, took the majority of the committee’s time during deliberations earlier this week. Their mindful discernment helped the full General Assembly to move business quickly and collaboratively. As a result, the full assembly quickly passed overtures that affirmed immediate food aid to North Korea, civil rights accompaniment to citizens of Colombia and a careful approach to peacemaking in Israel and Palestine.

Moderator of the committee on Peace and International Issues, the Rev. Nancy Kahaian repeatedly talked about how the committee was mindful of listening to all sides, striving to achieve balance.  

“I think (the time spent) reflects the deliberate care that this committee displayed when confronted with the many issues related to human suffering,” Kahaian said in a press conference following the Assembly actions.

“(Our) committee considered what it means for us to be Christian people who are instruments of God’s mercy and grace in a broken and fractured world,” said Kahaian.

“I’m always struck by the people who don’t realize that the largest Protestant church in the Middle East is the Presbyterian or Reformed Church,” said Cliff Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the General Assembly. “So it is no accident that we care passionately.”

“We all agree issues in the Middle East are complex indeed,” said the Rev. James Patten, commissioner from the Presbytery of Seattle and a member of the committee, “but we believe that 11-01 gives us a biblically grounded way to say that we ‘dare not be neutral.’”

Item 11-01 affirms the prophetic role of the church in speaking truth to governments, creating resources and supporting the Amman Call. The Amman Call affirms a “two-state” solution, a shared Jerusalem, the human rights of refugees and occupied peoples, a call to resist extremism and push for reconciliation and a commitment to imperatives of ecumenical solidarity in action for Just Peace….” The Amman Call was created at a World Council of Churches conference in 2007.

The Assembly voted 504-171-7 to approve the 11-01 after voting down an amendment that would have removed an endorsement of the Amman Call.

The committee’s report to the Assembly lasted longer than any other committee, and was accompanied by several commissioners making persistent efforts to make sure all sides of the issues were heard and discussed thoroughly.

At the press conference after the report of the committee, Kirkpatrick summarized the range of concerns commissioners expressed in taking the action on the Iraq-related items. He said concern is for the withdrawal of troops, Iraqi women’s rights, human rights in the region, religious liberty, reconstruction and particularly Iraqi refugees. There was broad agreement among commissioners on each of these issues, except for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

Kirkpatrick also expressed a continued sense of sorrow that the U.S. government did not grant a visa to the general secretary of the Presbyterian churches in Iraq to enter the U.S. and attend the Assembly.

Kahaian said the committee’s desire to consider all perspectives on the issue was shown by the inclusion of two minority reports, demonstrating the depth of debate and consideration of all perspectives in the committee.