In his first sermon as president-elect of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the Rt. Rev. Dr. Munib A.Younan urged believers to pray that Christians in Palestine "not lose faith and leave the country."
"Who could imagine the Holy Land … without Christians?" the Palestinian bishop asked as he preached at the Andreaskirche in Uhlbach, a suburb of Stuttgart, Germany.
One day earlier, Younan's election as LWF president was confirmed by the votes of 300 of the 418 delegates present for the LWF's 11th Assembly – the church body's highest legislative body.
Younan, a bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) and president of the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches, will officially begin his term when the 11th Assembly concludes Tuesday.
Younan succeeds Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, who has been president of the LWF since the organization's last Assembly in Winnipeg, Canada, in 2003.
The Palestinian bishop ran for the position unopposed.
In his sermon Sunday, Younan said Christians have a role to play in reconciliation and interfaith dialogue in the Middle East.
Though Palestinian Christians comprise less than 1.5 percent of the population in the Middle East as a result of "the difficulties caused by the political conflict, a lack of jobs and growing political and religious extremism," Younan said Palestinian Christianity survived some 2,000 years for a reason.
Palestinian Christianity survived because "we have carried the death and resurrection of our Lord in our bodies, souls and minds," Younan asserted.
"We have never ruled the country, nor were we ever in the majority. We do not have much property, power, money or influence. Yet we have survived," he declared.
That said, Younan reminded Palestinian Christians how they should be "brokers of justice, instruments of peace, ministers of reconciliation, defenders of human rights including women's rights and apostles of love."
And he urged Christians, in general, "to serve every human being regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion or political affiliation."
As "children of the light," Christians should work to promote justice, peace and reconciliation and "to eliminate Islamophobia, xenophobia and anti-Semitism," he added.
Aside from leading the 3,000-member ELCJHL since 1988, Younan currently serves with three Jerusalem patriarchs and nine other bishops on the International Christian Committee of Jerusalem.
Younan also co-founded the Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land, a group made up of the two chief rabbis of Israel, heads of the local churches, the Chief Judge of the Islamic Court in Palestine and other Muslim leaders.
In remarks made after Younan's election, current LWF President Hanson said Younan's "passion for justice and peace will inspire us."
"Bishop Younan will provide exceptional leadership for the LWF," Hanson added. "His leading the ELCHJ in the midst of the suffering of occupation will become a sign of hope for all LWF member churches."
With 140 member churches in 79 countries, LWF claims to represent more than 70 million Christians worldwide.
The LWF 11th Assembly has been holding its once-ever-six-years gathering in Stuttgart, Germany, since last Tuesday. It is set to conclude its meeting with a closing Eucharist Tuesday evening.