Historic Black Churches Delegation to Holy Land Finds Pain and Hope
Bishop Dr. Munib Younan and fellow bishops
Lutheran Bishop in Jerusalem Dr. Munib Younan, center, gathers bishops
(l-r) Ronald M. Cunningham, C.M.E. Church; Louis Hunter, A.M.E. Zion;
and E. Earl McCloud, A.M.E., symbolizing his desire for "a closer
relationship" with U.S.historic Black churches.
Photo: Lesley Crosson/CWS
November 9, 2006
ORLANDO -- A delegation of leaders from historic African American
churches just returning from Jerusalem and the Holy Land says conditions
for Palestinians in the West Bank painfully echo the injustices suffered
by people of color during South Africa's apartheid era and during the
pre-civil rights era in America.
Black church leaders in the delegation, hosted by global humanitarian
agency Church World Service, now are vowing to work with their
communions and congregations, the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faith
communities, politicians, and Palestinians in diaspora to focus
attention on the deteriorating situation in the Holy Land.
residents in the West Bank from residents in Israel-controlled
Jerusalem, African Methodist Episcopal Church Bishop E. Earl McCloud,
Jr., said, "I'm surprised by the blatant attempt of Israelis to separate
themselves. I've also been on the backside of fear of Black people," he
said, "and it makes me sad to see this wall and to hear so many say this
wall has been built with money I have sent to the U.S. government in tax
Supporters call the nearly 26-foot-high wall portion of the barrier,
which in some places runs through the home sites and farms of
Palestinians, a "separation barrier." Palestinians alternately referred
to it as the "apartheid wall" or the "segregation wall."
The controversial 400-mile-plus West Bank barrier is being constructed
by Israel using a network of 90% fences, with vehicle-barrier trenches
averaging 65 yards wide, and 10% of concrete wall that is up to 26 feet
Supporters say the barrier is necessary to protect Israeli civilians
from Palestinian suicide bombing in public places. Opponents say the
barrier violates international law, is an illegal effort to annex
Palestinian land, and severely restricts the normal life movements of
Palestinians who live in the area.
His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, the Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem with
Rev. John L. McCullough
His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, the Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem tells
the delegation that Palestinian terrorism, violence, and anti-Israel
attitudes are all fruit of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. "Take
away the occupation and all these things will go away, he said." At his
right is CWS executive director Rev. John L. McCullough.
This delegation, led by Church World Service Executive Director and
Chief Executive Officer the Rev. John L. McCullough, is the first time
that the historic Black churches have been invited by Christian leaders
in the Holy Land to come as a group to witness people living severed in
the heart of a divided land.
Delegates are reporting their findings today (Thurs Nov 9) in Orlando at
the combined General Assembly of Church World Service and the National
Council of Churches U.S.A.--an annual meeting of leaders from 35
mainline Christian denominations.
"I found myself tearful at times as I looked at the consequences of that
wall," said delegate Rev. Dr. Charles Mock of the National Baptist
Convention USA. "I come back with mixed emotions because I also see
complacency and a lack of commitment to struggle in defense of the
have-nots at home."
The 12-person delegation met with heads of the region's oldest Orthodox
and Latin Catholic churches and with Anglican, Lutheran, and Jewish
faith leaders and government officials. The group also conferred with
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Foreign
Affairs Ministry representative Shmuel ben Shmuel.
In a sign of unity, after his meeting with the Church World Service
delegation on Nov. 6, His Beatitude Theophilos, the Greek Orthodox
Patriarch of Jerusalem, was moved to visit the Evangelical Lutheran
Church in Jerusalem following Reformation Day services at the church. It
was the first time that the Greek Orthodox Church--considered the mother
church of Christendom in the Holy Land--has visited the Evangelical
Lutheran Church in Jerusalem.
The patriarch told the delegation that Jerusalem, the Holy City, "has
been watered with the very blood of Christ," and that the Christian
presence survives only because of the holy places.
He added that beyond moral support, the church also needed material
support--in the form of schools, churches and job opportunities to
assist the Holy City's mostly-Palestinian Christian community.
His Beatitude Theophilos with leaders from the historic Black churches
in the United States
His Beatitude Theophilos, Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church in
Jerusalem, told leaders from the historic Black churches in the United
States, "You are the right delegation to come to talk about these
problems because of what you have experienced yourselves." Pictured l-r:
Rev. John L.McCullough, CWS; Rev. George T. Brooks Sr., National Baptist
Convention of America; Bishop Ronald M. Cunningham, Christian Methodist
Episcopal Church; His Beatitude Theopolis; Bishop Louis Hunter, African
Methodist Episcopal Zion Church; Rev. Dr. A. Wayne Johnson, National
Missionary Baptist Convention of America; Rev. Dr. Charles Mock,
National Baptist Convention U.S.A.
*President Abbas tells delegation: Palestinians' share of Palestine down
from 95% to 22% *
In a November 2 meeting with the delegation, Palestinian Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas shared his views on a two-state solution for
Israel and Palestine. "We should have our own state within the borders
outlined in the 1967 agreement," Abbas said. "In the past, Palestinians
owned 95% of Palestine. The share now is 22%."
Abbas said the international siege over the past ten months has
increased the suffering of people living in occupied Palestine, "with
invasions every day, fatalities, and increased demolitions of houses."
"We recognize the right of Israelis to live, but we also want them to
recognize our right to live safely within our own borders," Abbas told
When Abbas revealed that his optimism has grown because the American
government now is trying to facilitate, with the help of a mediator,
discussions to resolve the conflict, CWS head McCullough told him, "I am
encouraged to hear you say that America has been showing some positive
As a relief, development and refugee assistance agency, Church World
Service advocates in the U.S. and internationally for human rights and
The Latin Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Michel Sabbah,
said to the delegation, "The conflict is not just the business of
Palestinians and Israelis. It is the business of every Christian whose
obligation is to witness justice, equality and love for all, not just
for a chosen few." He described life for Palestinian Christians as an
existence "behind walls, with checkpoints, like prisoners living life by
Sabbah said that Palestinian terrorism, violence, and anti-Israel
attitudes all are fired by the Israeli occupation of Palestine. "Take
away the occupation and all these things will go away," he said.
He asked the delegation to tell U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
that "Palestinians are able to live with and love the Israelis, but the
Israelis do not believe this. They will live in peace once the
Palestinians have their rights."
The severely limited freedom and discrimination against Palestinians,
who comprise the majority of the Christian presence in Jerusalem, make
social and economic development impossible. "In the political arena,"
Sabbah said. "I think that we have no place on the agenda and we do not
count," he said.
In another meeting, Bishop Aris, the Armenian Patriarchate Ecumenical
Officer for Jerusalem, said he wanted the people and government of the
U.S. to know that "We have the same Lord and Savior, the same Bible that
"Christians should therefore unify in the common cause of maintaining
the holy places of Jerusalem for people of all faiths," Aris said.
The Christian community represents less than 1.5 percent of the
population in the region. Says CWS head McCullough, "If the current
situation continues it may well result in the extinction of the
Christian presence in the Holy Land and seriously endanger continued
collaboration amongst the three Abrahamic traditions represented there.
"The mostly Palestinian Christian community is facing a period of
intense crisis because of the expanded separation wall and restrictions
on the ability of Palestinians to travel from the West Bank into
Jerusalem," McCullough said. "Israeli security and defense policies also
seem to unfairly infringe upon the churches, including the effective
conduct of their affairs, the nurturing of their members, and the
fulfillment of their ministries," he said.
The American group also visited the Evangelical Lutheran School in Beit
Sahour, just outside Bethlehem. The school's principal, Salameh Bishara
says the pass laws for Palestinians--similar to the apartheid-era pass
laws in South Africa--mean that he and other Palestinians in the
occupied territories "are living in a box; a big ghetto. My daughter has
never been to the sea. We live a one-hour drive from the Dead Sea and I
cannot take her."
Bishop Louis Hunter of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church,
said, "I don't care what anyone says, I'm going to do something for the
kids in that Lutheran School." Hunter, whose episcopal seat is in
Suwanee, Georgia, also declared that he will "become a megaphone in the
AME Zion Church" to bring attention to the inequality in the Holy Land.
Others delegates share those sentiments. Christian Methodist Episcopal
Church Bishop Ronald M. Cunningham says he is "prepared to become a part
of a prophetic ministry to bring this situation to the forefront and to
be a part of the search for a solution."
AME Bishop McCloud says, "We're going to be looking for ways to
positively and dramatically impact this situation. We're going to work
with Church World Service. We're going to work with the Congressional
Black Caucus. We're going to work with the ecumenical leadership. We've
got to bring attention to this in America."
In a somber assessment, Church World Service Board Representative Dr.
Belletech Deressa of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America,
observed, "This crisis is different to me than any other one. I always
thought that yes, there is a difference between the Palestinians and the
Jews; yes, there is animosity. But now I realize that it is worse than
racism and worse than apartheid. I don't really have a word for it."
In describing Church World Service's decision to sponsor the historic
delegation in response to the invitation from the Mideast church
leaders, McCullough said, "Our goal was to provide African-American
religious leaders with an opportunity to analyze this crisis through the
lens of their faith and their experience of the civil rights movement in
the United States.
"We wanted to give them an open forum through which they could expand
their previous knowledge of the region and give them sufficient space to
reach to their own unbiased assessment."
Other members of the delegation included Dr. Tyrone Pitts, general
secretary, Progressive National Baptist Convention; Rev. Dr. A. Wayne
Johnson, general secretary, National Missionary Baptist Convention of
America; Rev. George T. Brooks, Sr., pastor of St. James Baptist Church,
National Baptist Church of America; and Church World Service staffers
Lesley Crosson, media relations officer, Cheryl Dudley, Senior Advisor
to the Executive Director, and David Weaver, director of mission
relationships and witness.
Lesley Crosson, CWS/New York, 212-870-2676;
Jan Dragin (24/7), 781-925-1526; email@example.com mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org