This article represents a portion of Bishop Pryse’s remarks at Assembly 2023 as Anglicans and Lutherans considered a joint resolution on Peace and Justice in Palestine and Israel. https://elcic.app.box.com/s/pn24luwv6aqx4lwfh0hbw8yv08wxv3e6/file/1214779289584
My first visit to Israel/Palestine took place in late 1986. I was a participant in a study tour specifically designed for Christian pastors. The tour was heavily subsidized by the State of Israel in the expectation that we would eventually serve as hosts to subsequent pilgrimage groups from our respective church bodies. Our pilgrimage was part of a state sponsored business model that continues today.
We arrived on the eve of the first Sunday of Advent and prayed together the next morning in the Old City of Jerusalem. My spine tingled as we chanted the text of the appointed psalm for the day, Psalm 122. “I was glad when they said to me, let us go to the house of the Lord! Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls and security within your towers.”
On that study tour, we did, indeed, pray for the peace of Jerusalem, but we did so in the context of very specific narrative lens of current events and political realities as articulated by our tour guide. I didn’t question that narrative because I didn’t know any different narratives. On that visit we did not encounter even a single Palestinian Christian. We visited a lot of churches and saw a lot of stones. But the itinerary did not include even a single opportunity to encounter the ‘living stones” who are our siblings in Christ Jesus.
In time, my perspective changed. I took the time to study the history of the region. In 2009 the ELCIC established a partner church relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. Bishop Munib Younan visited our church on several occasions, and we began to learn about the lived experience of our Palestinian siblings in Christ. Then, in 2014, the Eastern Synod established a global mission companion relationship with the ELCJHL.
During my term of service as Bishop of the Eastern Synod, I have had the opportunity to participate in and host many visits to Israel/Palestine. I have established many friendships and experienced the work that the ELCJHL, the Lutheran World Federation, partner churches and many other organizations, both secular and religious, are doing to advance a lasting peace with justice in Israel/Palestine. I am still praying for the peace of Jerusalem but am doing so through a much wider narrative lens than was the case for me on the first Sunday of Advent in 1986.
When asked in 2009 what the ELCIC could do to support peace in the Holy Land, Bishop Younan replied, “You have to speak the truth. I did not come here so that you would become pro-Palestinian. It’s not my aim that you would become pro-Israeli. We want you to be pro-truth, pro-justice, pro-reconciliation.”
That is the intent and focus of the resolution that is before us today. This is an opportunity for our churches to act together in ways that are pro-truth, pro-justice and pro-reconciliation. I urge you to support it.