ELCA Treads into Middle East Debate

A key decision-making body of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) affirmed a strategy for engagement in Israel and Palestine and acknowledged an “urgent” call from its counterparts in the Middle East to take action regarding the separation barrier being built between the two nations.

The Council, the second-highest decision-making body of the 5-million-member denomination, asked “members, congregations and synods of the ELCA and its related agencies and institutions to participate in an emerging campaign for peace in Israel and Palestine,” according to ELCA news.

One such way is to implement actions outlined in “The Churchwide Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine” with a “sense of urgency, recognizing the window of opportunity for peace with justice” in the Middle East.

The strategy asks the 10,657 congregations of the ELCA to become part of a "chain of action" to link the assembly with the church's 65 synod assemblies in 2006 through use of communion ware made in Bethlehem.

The strategy also asks that the highest legislative body – the Churchwide Assembly which meets every two years – adopt a resolution that expresses the “desired outcomes” of the church for the Middle East.

According to ELCA news, outcomes include achieving coexistence for Israelis and Palestinians in justice and peace, a reduction in poverty and unemployment among Palestinians, and a negotiated, final status agreement that includes a "shared Jerusalem." Action steps to achieve those outcomes include an ELCA churchwide campaign that involves building awareness, accompaniment and advocacy.

Separately, the council approved a designated $100,000 to support the implementation of its strategy. The money is part of a $4.5 million designation plan -- proposed by the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA -- intended to strengthen the church's ministry commitments.

The Council met in Chicago from Apr. 9-11.