ELCA Bishops Urge Obama Stay Committed to Mideast Peace Efforts

Bishops within the largest Lutheran denomination in America are asking President Obama to "remain firm" in his commitment to achieving a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

"The U.S. plays a key role in negotiating necessary compromises and in holding both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to their obligations," expressed the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and 58 of the denomination's 65 synod bishops.

"We express profound concern at the stalemate that persists and at the fading hopes for a two-state solution due to the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem," the bishops added in their letter to Obama, dated Tuesday. "It is our firm belief that a just resolution is within reach if the United States remains unwavering in its determination to help the parties finally reach agreement."

According to the Rev. Bruce H. Burnside, bishop of the ELCA South-Central Synod of Wisconsin, Tuesday's letter was sent to demonstrate to the Obama administration and to the Church as a whole that the ELCA "stands behind just peacemaking."

"We hope that the outcome is to encourage these extraordinary moves and to encourage support throughout the ELCA," said Burnside, according to the denomination's news service. "We see this as an opportunity to speak in both directions, from the church and to the church."

In their letter, the bishops urged the nation's leadership to insist upon an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land as well as an end to Palestinian violence against Israelis.

The bishops also reiterated "with a deep sense of urgency" their years-old call for a halt to the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, stating that the growth of settlements and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza are "immediate impediments toward finding a just peace."

"The deteriorating conditions in Gaza make a resumption of violence more likely," the bishops stated, while also noting that opening the borders in a "carefully monitored way" that respects Israel's security needs will contribute to the well being of Palestinians in Gaza and the safety of Israelis in Sderot.

"We continue to offer you our support and prayers as we hold fast to the hope that this region of turmoil can be a land where all of God's children dwell in peace," they concluded.

A copy of the bishops' letter to Obama was delivered to members of Congress.

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