October 21, 2023
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled,
because they are no more” (Matthew 2:18, NRSVue).
The Mission and Ministry Board of the Church of the Brethren expresses grief and compassion for all who have lost loved ones in the violence in Israel and Palestine, beginning with the Hamas attacks of October 7 and continuing with bombings of Gaza and portions of southern Israel in particular, and cross-border clashes between Hamas and the Israeli military. While the Church of the Brethren has consistently opposed war, we are particularly concerned about the targeting of civilians.
We feel anguish for the Israeli people and those of Jewish heritage around the world, for whom the ruthless attacks by Hamas have brought back memories and fears of the violent antisemitism, ethnic cleansing, and genocide of generations past.
We feel anguish for Palestinians and people of Arab descent who are targets for hate crimes, and whose vulnerability is increased by the war between Hamas and Israel.
We acknowledge that the Christian church over the centuries has been responsible for and has exacerbated antisemitism, and at times Brethren have been complicit. We also acknowledge and lament the role that our own nation of the United States has played in the ongoing systemic military oppression of the Palestinian people. We note that $3.8 billion a year of military aid from the US is being provided to the state of Israel.
We must confess, repent, and recommit to the work of healing all forms of racism in our church and our communities. The evils of antisemitism and racial hatred, enhanced by the evil of militarism, have been a plague upon our world.
“Weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15b, NRSVue).
We weep with families in Israel whose loved ones were slaughtered in the October 7 attack by Hamas.
We lift up to God’s care the hostages held by Hamas, and we share their families’ fear for their safety.
We weep with the millions of Palestinians who are trapped in Gaza and their families, and all those who have lost loved ones in the violence there.
We lift up to God’s care the people in Gaza who are cut off from basic requirements for survival: water, food, energy, safe shelter, and healthcare. Just a few days before our fall meeting, the explosion at Gaza City’s al-Ahli Hospital—a church-run hospital of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem—was in the news, with reporting of the deaths of hundreds of people including many children.
We worry for the more than 1 million Palestinians ordered to leave northern Gaza, under threat of a ground assault by Israel’s military, and the thousands of people now displaced in southern Gaza.
“Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17, NRSVue).
We call on Church of the Brethren members to join in prayer for all the Israelis and Palestinians who are affected by this terrible situation, and for the Jewish and Palestinian peoples worldwide.
We join the Christian leaders in the Holy Land—the Patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem—in their call for prayers for peace and reconciliation and an end to the war between Israel and Hamas.
We join our ecumenical partners in the World Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and Churches for Middle East Peace in a spirit of lament, praying that God will come alongside and comfort all people who are suffering.
Even as we pray, we will find ourselves confronting immense pain, shock, and outrage on all sides and we must recognize that this is just the latest outbreak of violence in a half century of conflict, and that Gaza has been under a harsh blockade for the past 16 years.
“Will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?” (Luke 18:7a, NRSVue).
We call on our church members to engage in advocacy for political and humanitarian solutions to end the violence in Israel and Palestine. The World Council of Churches has noted that “it is now thirty years since the Oslo agreement was signed. In the meantime, the number of settlements has grown to at least 250 with 800,000 people. Instead of peace we witness more violence, displacement, and war. The international community must acknowledge the need for a new approach with an end goal of just coexistence. The peace process has failed both peoples, Palestinians and Israelis alike. What is needed is a fresh approach that puts justice and equal human dignity as the basis for the path forward” (www.oikoumene.org/resources/documents/statement-wcc-calls-for-a-new-approach-to-the-conflict-in-palestine-and-israel).
During such a complicated conflict it is difficult to know what actions may be effective, yet the call of Christ to his church is to witness and act for peace. Therefore we call for:
- The immediate release of all hostages.
- An immediate ceasefire and a halt to the transgressions of international law that protects civilians.
- A halt to the indiscriminate bombing of places of refuge.
- An end to attacks on hospitals, other health care facilities, and medical personnel.
- The immediate creation of safe corridors for humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza.
- No direct, on-the-ground involvement by the US military or additional weapons.
- Diplomatic engagement to de-escalate regional geopolitical tensions and the risk of broader violence.
- Effective work by the international community to address root causes of the conflict.
- An end to the dehumanization of people by all parties to the conflict.
The Mission and Ministry Board reiterates our core stance of discipleship to Jesus Christ as the Prince of Peace and reaffirms that in this situation—as in all others—all war is sin (1970 Annual Conference).
“Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:19, NRSVue).
The Mission and Ministry Board adopted the above statement during its Fall meeting, October 20-22, 2023, at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill.