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Liberal Episcopal Leaders Clash over Israeli Occupation of the Land

Liberal Episcopal Leaders Clash over Israeli Occupation of the Land
Episcopal Voices of Conscience invoke King in open defiance of TEC
Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori says it disregards due legislative processes

By David W. Virtue
January 21, 2013

Calling themselves Episcopal Voices of Conscience, fourteen Anglican leaders, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former PB Edmond Browning, Gay Bishop Gene Robinson and former HOD President Bonnie Anderson have issued what they call "A Prophetic Challenge to the Executive Council" of The Episcopal Church saying Israel must be held accountable for allowing a 45-year occupation of the land that has suffocated the dreams of freedom for Palestinians.

"Occupation cannot be justified as a tool of security. Occupation is its own form of violence, a prescription for frustration and rage among those shackled under its harsh restraints," they said.

"Today we want to invoke Dr. King's call for justice on the land where Jesus lived his earthly ministry, the holy land that is precious to all Jews, Christians, and Muslims - the people of Abraham. We affirm that God intends for Israeli Jews and Palestinians to live together in a just peace. Dr. King reminds us that justice must be the arbiter of this conflict, and we add that truth must be its accompanist. This is the justice Jesus called for when he said, "He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, ... to set at liberty those who are oppressed."

They said Palestinians have endured an Apartheid that Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has described as worse than it was in South Africa. "All peoples who have experienced oppression, including indigenous peoples have known what it is to be dispossessed of their land, understand the Palestinian issue."

The Anglican leaders called on the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church to look carefully at the full body of the Church's policy on Israel and Palestine, and to implement those policies whenever the opportunity arises. The July 2012 Episcopal Church General Convention adopted resolution A015 which reads in part: "Resolved, That that the General Convention reaffirms Resolution 1991 - A149, "Urge a Full Accounting of the Use of Foreign Aid to the Middle East,'" adopted by the 70th General Convention," which reads in part: "require(s) the State of Israel to account to the Government of the United States for all aid to Israel...in compliance with the Foreign Assistance Act."

"As elected leaders of The Episcopal Church, we ask Executive Council to immediately send a message to Congress that the Episcopal Church supports our 15 ecumenical colleagues, who include the church leadership of the Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, and United Church of Christ denominations, that wrote to Congress October 5, 2012, calling for accountability of Israel's use of foreign aid from our government. The voice of The Episcopal Church is woefully missing in the request our colleagues made to Congress."

The leaders demanded that the Church's financial resources not be used to support the infrastructure of "this suffocating occupation." They called for a public accounting of the Executive Council's work no later than the meeting of Council June 8-10, 2013.


Unhappy with the letter, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, President of the House of Deputies pushed back on the letter pressing the Executive Council to intervene in the implementation of the Episcopal Church's policies on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict calling it "extremely unhelpful and disregards due legislative processes."

"Just as we don't proof-text Scripture, we don't proof-text resolutions, and our polity does not provide Executive Council as an appellate process," Jennings told Episcopal News Service (ENS) after seeing a copy of the draft letter.

"Each triennium, however, faithful Episcopalians who disagree with a decision of General Convention work to craft new legislation for a new convention, and that process is open to all of us."

"Signing hortatory statements or partisan letters almost always raises the conflict level, and discourages those on the receiving end of criticism from the kind of openness or vulnerability that is a necessary prerequisite to negotiation," Jefferts Schori told ENS.

"Our work must begin by listening to those who live and work and have their being in the midst of the current conflicts, and equally attend to the conflicts in our own communities. ," "We cannot build a lasting peace by directing or imposing strategies on others. We can encourage non-violent and transparent methods like those Jesus and his disciple Martin Luther King, Jr. did."

Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani has said that investment in the Palestinian Territories and in the ministry of the Jerusalem diocese is what is needed at this time.

This is the first open clash of Episcopal liberals who, up till now, have staunchly defended Palestinian claims to much of the land arguing for a two state solution.

"Some Episcopalians had sought a different course for that policy at this past summer's General Convention, but the House of Bishops declined to pass it after expressing concern that it could set a trajectory toward supporting boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel," said Alexander Baumgarten, director of the church's Office of Government Relations. Baumgarten also noted that the House of Deputies separately rejected boycott, divestment, and sanctions by an overwhelming margin.

This clash also brings together old nemeses; former HOD president Bonnie Anderson and PB Jefferts Schori who sparred repeatedly at Executive Council meetings over how money should be spent in a church where millions are being spent on litigation.


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