Subject: NCC Weekly News: Netanyahu and Other News

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From Jim: Netanyahu and why he matters to the NCC
I have received many emails and text messages since Benjamin Netanyahu won re- election for another term as Prime Minister of Israel. All of them reflect discouragement.

Netanyahu pledged during the final days of his campaign that there would be no two-state during his tenure, effectively ending negotiations that would create a Palestinian state alongside Israel. And in a warning against the influence of Arab Israeli voters, he offered a glimpse of what may become of their rights under his rule. It is challenging to find a silver lining for those who have long worked and prayed for peace in the Holy Land.

This is a matter of great importance to the National Council of Churches and our member communions. Why? Precisely because this is where Jesus lived, died, and was resurrected, and therefore the place where Christianity is rooted. This is why we travel there, study it, pay attention to developments there, lament the violence that envelops it, seek reconciliation for its inhabitants, and yearn for the day when Jews, Christians, and Muslims will live there in harmony.

On each of my visits to the region with NCC delegations we have met with the patriarchs of the ancient Christian churches, including the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, and Latin patriarchs. From these churches did many of our denominations emerge. We have also met with Mideast leaders of Protestant and Anglican churches, with which many of our U.S. communities have denominational ties.

Always, those religious leaders have asked visiting American religious leaders to do more for their communities.They have pleaded with us to speak on their behalf to American political leaders. They have told us how they have suffered under the Occupation, how their sons and daughters have moved abroad because life is too harsh and restrictions too great. Always, I have left with a heavy heart because I know this message is not received in the corridors of power in Washington, DC., where wielding the right influence could affect real change.

Over the decades, the NCC has repeatedly spoken to and acted on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. For example, in 2002, the NCC urged the US government to play an active role in working toward a peaceful and just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within the context of the UN and in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions. In 2003, the NCC called for the removal of Israel’s Separation Barrier and reiterated its long-standing support for the establishment of a Palestinian State alongside the State of Israel, and for the preservation of the City of Jerusalem as an open, shared city where free access to holy places and freedom of worship are assured for people of all faiths.

In 2007, the NCC again expressed concern over the diminution of the Christian community in the Holy Land and called again for a two-state solution, which takes into account the right to self-determination of, and security for, both Israelis and Palestinians; an end to the Occupation which involves resolution of issues such as refugees, the Separation Barrier, checkpoints, illegal settlements, water sources, and the status of a shared Jerusalem, and human rights for all people in the region, which leads to the monitoring of alleged rights violations and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians.

All along we have condemned the violence perpetrated by each side against the other.
Without a doubt, if he sticks to his pledge the re-election of Netanyahu will deepen the isolation of Israel in the world. I confess that, like many others, I have serious doubts about the Prime Minister’s quick backtrack on his pledge and I possess those doubts because of his long track record of intransigence, inflammatory rhetoric, and disinterest in a Palestinian state.

In the face of all this, we must not lose hope. Instead, we must rededicate ourselves to peace for all peoples in the region.


A Lenten Reflection on the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday

I was in the number, one of the tens of thousands that converged on Selma, Alabama, a small and but for the occasion that brought us all there, a relatively unknown city. We were there to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the March for voting rights and freedom, from Selma to Montgomery, a turning point event in American history. Some have incorrectly referred to this annual pilgrimage as a reenactment; we would never want to recreate the lived experience of broken bones, cracked skulls, bruised bodies, and blood soaked pavements. We do, however, honor those who walked before us, and try to channel the genuine fear of those, whose spirits were shaken but never broken, who were the foot soldiers of that first 50 mile journey. 

Mr. President: address root causes of violence in Syria and Iraq

Dear President Obama,

This week marks two significant anniversaries that should cause us to reflect on events that have contributed to the current crisis in the Middle East. As U.S. churches and Christian organizations with long and deep ties to the churches and faith communities of the Middle East, we are especially concerned about the possible repercussions of continued, and possibly renewed, U.S. military intervention in the region. The voices we hear tell us that the violence and death must end, on all sides; it must not be stoked with the recourse to lethal action.
Reports from Nigeria: Returning Home

The dynamics of the violence in Nigeria are changing dramatically in the recent weeks. Boko Haram has lost the momentum that they previously had in waging battles where they chose and usually overcoming any opposition. They have been unable to hold the initiative in any recent conflicts. They have sustained heavy losses, had hundreds of fighters arrested by Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad. Their camps and headquarters have been overrun by Nigerian troops supported by heavy air bombardment.

Boko Haram fighters are scattered but in their frustration are striking out at any soft targets. So places like Chibok are again facing attacks from those groups. An EYN member from Chibok reported that Boko Haram had gone door to door in that community killing inhabitants and burning houses. Suicide bombings are scattered across the north of Nigeria. Individuals carry out those bombings – one seven year old girl was strapped with a bomb and the other recent suicide attack was a man boarding a long distance bus when his explosives detonated. But Boko Haram is no longer able to rally large forces for any major attacks. There are even reports that Nigeria has arrested the Boko Haram leadership.

Lyle Schaller, Preeminent Church Consultant, Dies at 91

Because he was born April 19, 1923, and reached retirement age in the last century, he is best known to America’s senior church leaders. Schaller outlived many of those whom he most influenced, dying on March 18, 2015, at the age of 91.

Lyle certainly was a major influence in my life and ministry. And a long time personal friend. When he was at the peak of his career we led conferences together, co-authored an audiobook for Abingdon Press (The Best Is Yet to Come: For Churches Ready To Change) and made the dedication pages of each others’ books. After his retirement, we exchanged letters (he wasn’t much into computers) and every year Charleen and I went to visit Lyle and Agnes in their Naperville, Illinois, and Oklahoma City homes. We wanted them to know that they were important to us long after the spotlight of fame moved to others on different stages.
New Book Explores the “Fierce” Side of Mister Rogers

Fred Rogers is not usually thought of as fierce or radical; he has been restricted to the realm of entertainment and children, and been ripped out of his political and religious context. In Peaceful Neighbor: Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers, Michael Long explores how Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister, used his children’s program as a platform for sharing countercultural beliefs about caring nonviolently for one another, animals, and the earth.

“The popular image of Fred Rogers . . . separates him from his faith-fueled pacifism and progressive politics as well as from the historical context in which he shared his treasured convictions,” Long writes. “The result is that Rogers often appears benign, anemic, even ‘namby-pamby.’” Rogers, Long reveals, is actually a far cry from that “namby-pamby” image. In fact, Rogers opposed all U.S. wars in his lifetime, countering the attitudes, policies, and practices of a political society poised to kill through letters, sermons, interviews, books, and his popular television show. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, it turns out, is far from sappy, sentimental, and shallow. It’s a sharp political response from one of the most underappreciated peacemakers in U.S. history.

Registration open for 2015 Christian Unity Gathering!

The 2015 NCC's signature event, the annual Christian Unity Gathering, will again be held outside of Washington, DC at the Hilton Washington Dulles International Airport. This year's gathering will continue our focus on Mass Incarceration as well as spend significant time examining NCC's second priority area, Interfaith Relations with a Focus on Peace. In addition, there will be a special service of commemoration for the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide held at the Washington National Cathedral. This service will include visitors from around the world and from many levels of government as well.

Thursday's keynote address will be given by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee. During the Liberian civil war, Gbowee organized Christian and Muslim women to demonstrate together, founding Liberian Mass Action for Peace and launching protests and a sex strike. Gbowee's part in helping to oust Charles Taylor was featured in the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell. This will be a powerful event you will not want to miss!
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