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Mennonite Church USA delegates voted overwhelmingly to pass the resolution “Seeking Peace in Israel and Palestine” on Thursday afternoon. Only 10 were opposed and two abstained.
Andre Gingerich Stoner, former director of holistic witness for MC USA, who helped to lead the resolution’s development process, introduced the resolution, saying it tries to take “modest but concrete steps in seeking peace.” He explained that it is the fruit of extensive work that took comments into consideration. It involved hearing from Palestinian and Jewish leaders and was shared publicly for comments; the writing team received over 80.
“Engaging a wide range of perspectives makes the work harder,” he said, “but also much better.”
Cyneatha Millsaps, pastor of Community Mennonite Church in Markham, Illinois, said she participated in a Come and See Learning Tour, sponsored by Mennonite Church USA. “In Hebron,” she said, “I felt the oppression that reminded me of what African-Americans have experienced in this country.”
Alex Awad, a Palestinian Christian who taught at Bethlehem Bible College and served as a pastor, expressed thanks for how Mennonites care for Palestinians and for the Jewish people. He imagined what various people from Israel and Palestine might say to the gathered delegates. He imagined a young woman who might relate how 75 percent of the land around Bethlehem has been taken from Palestinians by Israeli settlements. He imagined a boy from Gaza, which, according to a UN report, will be uninhabitable in a few years. He imagined an Arab Christian leader who might say that Christians are disappearing from Israel and Palestine.
He urged delegates to support the resolution.
Rabbi Brant Rosen, representing the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council, said the resolution is “a beautiful statement.” As a Jew, he said, “it’s not for me to give you permission to vote for this. You should vote your conscience.”
Delegates discussed the resolution in their table groups for about 30 minutes. Then MC USA moderator Patricia Shelly invited anyone who wanted to speak to go to the microphones.
Most spoke in favor of the resolution. Charlotte Lehman, pastor at Reba Place Church in Evanston, Ill., also was on a learning tour. She said, “My eyes were opened and my heart was broken.”
Kathi Oswald, representing Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference, also went on a learning tour, where she talked to both Palestinians and Jews. She, too, found it heartbreaking to see homes destroyed, and thought of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem.
Others expressed concerns about the resolution. Renee Kanagy, pastor of Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship, asked why there was no statement of the right of Israel to exist.
Stoner said that there was extensive conversation in the writing group on this matter. He cited passages in the resolution which recognized the “longing for a secure Jewish state” that resulted from persecution of Jews. He noted, however, that the idea of the right of a state to exist is foreign to Mennonite theology; rather the document emphatically underscores the desire for peace, security and well-being of Jews and all people of the region.
Tim Bentch of Souderton (Pennsylvania) Mennonite Church said he fears that the use of the phrase “end the occupation” will lead some to ignore the statement.
Others addressed benefits of the resolution.
Ryan Ahlgrim, pastor of First Mennonite Church in Richmond, Virginia, said, “We are not be able to change things in Palestine, but this resolution can help form us as people who work for justice.”
Emily Hedrick of Lima (Ohio) Mennonite Church said that what has brought her to faith were Mennonites’ commitment to peace and justice. “And I see that in this resolution,” she said.
Jenny Duskey of Ambler, Pennsylvania, said she has experienced how Christians and Jews can accomplish more by working together, and “this resolution will help us do that.”
Janeen Bertsche Johnson of Eighth Street Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana, said she hopes the church will make available resources that identify what products to avoid purchasing and that are connected to occupation.
Jessica Miller, representing Franconia Mennonite Conference, also expressed the desire for resources.
Following the vote, Shelly said, “This is only the beginning of our work together on this issue.”
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