Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Some Words from Bishop Munib Younan

At the end of March, I was privileged to host on our campus Pr. Dr. Munib Younan, bishop emeritus of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) and the past president of the Lutheran World Federation (2010-2017). He preached in our chapel on Palm Sunday and later spoke to my students about the challenges that Palestinian Lutherans face in his native Jerusalem and the West Bank. He shared some of these same concerns with a group of local Lutheran clergy that met with him on that Monday of Holy Week. The bishop's visit here was organized by Valpo's Office of Church Relations. I should add that Bishop Younan's son is a Valpo alum.

Pr. Dr. Mitri Raheb in Valpo's Chapel
I was greatly honored to have been invited by Dr. Mitri Raheb, former pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church, in Bethlehem, Palestine, and the founder and president of Dar al-Kalima University there, to write the introduction for the new edition of the Augsburg Confession and Luther's Small Catechism in Arabic. (Dr. Raheb was also on campus last month. He preached in our chapel on Good Shepherd Sunday. Over lunch the next day, we began discussing plans for a theological conference that we hope to co-lead in 2020.) This new Arabic edition of the AC and SC was a joint project between Valparaiso University and Pr. Raheb and is based on Dr. Younan’s earlier Arabic translation of these important Lutheran documents. (One of my Arab students will have to check the translation of my intro, since I don't read that language!) The new edition was presented to Dr. Younan on the occasion of his retirement in 2017, which coincided with the observance of the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. 

At Dinner with Bishop Emeritus Dr. Munib Younan
When Dr. Younan and I had dinner during Holy Week, I was able to thank him for his work on the important LWF document, From Conflict to Communion: Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017 (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt; Paderborn: Bonifatius, 2013), which I used when I led 108 pilgrims to Germany for the observance of the 500th anniversary last October. At dinner, I also learned a great deal about the “back story” to this document, including Bishop Younan’s important conversations with Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. Some of you will recall that in his role as president of the LWF, Bishop Younan jointly participated with Pope Francis in an historic reconciliation service in Lund, Sweden, in 2016.

In addition to having served as president of the LWF (145 member churches in 79 countries, ca. 70 million Christians), Bishop Younan is a key ecumenical leader in the Middle East. For example, he is past president of the Fellowship of the Middle East Evangelical Churches and has been a central figure in the Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land, which is comprised of leaders of Jerusalem's Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities. So he is in a position to tell you what he sees on the ground in his part of the world. It is a not a pretty picture. Witness, for example, the front-page photos and accompanying news stories in today's edition of the New York Times.

"We are hurting," he told me. "Your president's decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem denies human rights in East Jerusalem and it hurts Christians in Palestine and the Middle East. Jerusalem must be for three religions and two states.... The conflict is political, not religious, and the problem needs a political solution." 

When I asked him what he hoped Christian leaders in our country--particularly Lutheran Christians--would do, he said very plainly, "I hope your voice can be stronger. I hope it can be clearer. I hope that you would explain to your fellow citizens that anything that harms us, harms you. I want to hear more voices that are critical of Christian Zionism in the United States. It is a heresy." (For the 2006 Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism, which was signed by Bishop Younan, go here.) "I hope you will visit me in Jerusalem, so you can see the reality, so you can see what Palestinian Christians have been suffering."

Despite the obvious pain and frustration that Bishop Younan expressed during his visit, he also gave voice to an abiding, sober hope: "I'm not optimistic in the short term. Nevertheless, we have learned not to give up hope. My hope is in the living God who was in Jerusalem. My hope is in the risen Lord." (I hope the Cresset could get permission to publish Bishop Younan's Palm Sunday sermon. It was powerful.)

Seventy years ago today, the state of Israel was established. Its creation was not the fulfillment of any biblical prophecy but the result of Zionist (Jewish nationalist) calls for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. The murder of six million Jews in Europe radically changed the context for that aim. Its execution has led to ongoing conflict and outright war with Arabs and Palestinians who had been living on lands that were taken over and occupied by Zionists. That occupation has not ended. Instead, to quote today's main editorial in the NYT:  "Unilateral action, rather than negotiation and compromise, has served the purposes of successive right-wing Israeli governments. They have steadily expanded Jewish settlements in the West Bank, on land Palestinians expected to be part of any Palestinian state."

Today is a day for heeding the words of the Jerusalem Declaration, including these:

"We call upon Christians in Churches on every continent to pray for the Palestinian and Israeli people, both of whom are suffering as victims of occupation and militarism. These discriminative actions are turning Palestine into impoverished ghettos surrounded by exclusive Israeli settlements. The establishment of the illegal settlements and the construction of the Separation Wall on confiscated Palestinian land undermines the viability of a Palestinian state as well as peace and security in the entire region.prophecy. It was the start of an occupation that continues to this day."

Finally, I want to go on record as fully endorsing the statement sent out this afternoon by my presiding bishop:

May 15, 2018

Like so many here in our country and around the world, I am appalled and saddened by yesterday’s escalation of Israeli military action against protestors in Gaza. Many reports indicate that at least 60 Palestinians, including six children, have died and more than 2,000 have been injured as a result of Israel’s disproportionate use of force. Our church will support a planned medical mission from The Lutheran World Federation’s Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem to Gaza to assist the wounded.

I join Bishop Sami-Ibrahim Azar of our partner church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), who today said:

We mourn with the families of the dead and dying and pray for the recovery of the injured. We believe that violent actions against the Palestinian civilians will hinder the potential for peace and reconciliation efforts between Israel and Palestine and will only lead to more violence and bloodshed.

I endorse his call “upon the Israeli government to show restraint and to pursue negotiations with Palestinian leaders rather than choosing violent action against unarmed protestors.”

Yesterday’s events should also be seen in the context of the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. When that decision was announced late last year, I said:

This unilateral action would not support the cause of peace and a two-state solution but rather would unnecessarily create further tensions and possible violence that would make efforts to bring them back together for talks much more difficult.

I also support the ELCJHL’s long-standing position, affirmed by Bishop Azar today, that “any final status agreement will include Jerusalem as a shared city for Jews, Christians and Muslims with free access to holy sites for all and that it must serve as capital of both Palestine and Israel.”

Always, but especially in this time of deep distress, I urge us all to join his call to “continue to pray, advocate and faithfully work towards a peaceful and just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

God’s peace,
The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America