As Southern Baptists and other evangelicals rally support for Israel in its retaliatory war with Hamas, they are outliers compared to most other Christian groups in America — from Quakers to Catholics.
Other denominations and religious leaders have expressed more nuanced statements calling for an end to violence perpetuated by both Hamas and Israel.
Chief among those is the Quakers, for whom nonviolence is a doctrine. In an Oct. 13 statement, the American Friends Service Committee — a Quaker organization that began work in Gaza in 1949 — called for an end to Israel’s occupation of Gaza. The group particularly called attention to the Israeli demand that 1 million people who live in northern Gaza evacuate to southern Gaza on 24 hours’ notice.
The organization is mobilizing supporters to contact Congress and demand immediate humanitarian access to Gaza as people run out of food, water and lifesaving medical supplies.
“We call on Israel and the international community to honor civilian protection and international conventions,” said Kerri Kennedy, associate general secretary for international programs. “We need immediate humanitarian access to Gaza and an end to military escalation or even more people will die.”
Last week, the AFSC office in Gaza was damaged by a bomb that killed two journalists in a nearby building.
“Israel’s siege and bombing of Gaza only escalate this immense suffering.”
“Israel’s siege and bombing of Gaza only escalate this immense suffering. Gaza has been under a brutal blockade for the last 16 years. It is only by ending the blockade and occupation that real peace can be achieved,” said Mike Merryman-Lotze, Just Peace global policy director for AFSC.
On the other end of the Christian spectrum, Pope Francis condemned Hamas’ terrorist attacks on Israel and pleaded with the militants to free their hostages unharmed while also expressing concern about Israel’s siege on Gaza and the harm to innocent civilians.
“I continue to follow with sorrow and apprehension what is happening in Israel and Palestine. So many people killed, and others injured,” the pope said Oct. 11. “One who is attacked has the right of self-defense, but I am very concerned about the total siege under which Palestinians are living in Gaza, where there also have been many innocent victims.”
He added: “Terrorism and extremism will not help reach a solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, but only increase hatred, violence and vengeance and only make each other suffer.”
The Alliance of Baptists, one of the smallest Baptist bodies in the United States, has been advocating for Palestinian people for years — a rare position in a country that overwhelmingly identifies with Israel rather than the Palestinian people.
A statement by the Alliance’s Executive Committee and staff said: “We join our ecumenical and denominational partners and people all over the world as we mourn the lives of all those lost, call for an immediate end to the war, abhor the reports of crimes against humanity, and call on our government and world leaders to work toward peace and not the expansion of war.”
The Alliance is a member organization of Churches for Middle East Peace.
The Presbyterian Church (USA), the American Baptist Churches USA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church all issued statements calling for restraint on both sides of the conflict and equal justice for all people.
Like the Alliance of Baptists, the PC(USA) has been advocating for the plight of the Palestinian people for years. Bronwen Boswell, acting stated clerk of the PC(USA), issued a statement quoting Deuteronomy 5:17 — “You shall not kill.”
“Horrific actions committed by Hamas and the violent response by Israel have exacerbated deep wounds, inflicting physical and emotional pain and suffering.”
“Horrific actions committed by Hamas and the violent response by Israel have exacerbated deep wounds, inflicting physical and emotional pain and suffering,” Boswell said. “We acknowledge that the people of Palestine and Hamas are not one in the same, and we stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine and Israel who seek peace. Hamas does not. We condemn the violence that has taken place in recent days, and we grieve the decades of oppression that have led to this violence.”
The PC(USA) “stands firm in its support of Palestinians and their right to live free in their land, without occupation, aggression and bloodshed,” he added. “We support and protect Israel’s right to exist as a free and sovereign nation.”
Jeff Woods, general secretary of the American Baptist Churches USA wrote: “Perhaps nowhere else in the world is peace more complicated than in the territory of the Middle East. Yet, as Christians, we are called to be peacemakers in all circumstances.”
He pointed to a 1980 resolution passed by the American Baptist General Board that says:
“A Christian approach to the complex situation in the Middle East should be one of moral realism. It should acknowledge that all concrete initiatives and human solutions are imperfect and inevitably partial and cannot eliminate all the human suffering and injustice experienced in the area. Nonetheless, efforts can and should continue toward a total peace settlement for all the peoples involved in or affected by the conflict.”
Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the ELCA, said the church “denounces the egregious acts of Hamas, acts that have led to unspeakable loss of life and hope. At the same time the ELCA denounces the indiscriminate retaliation of Israel against the Palestinian people, both Christian and Muslim.”
She noted: “Among us are Palestinian Lutherans who are fearful for their families, their communities and their homeland. In our communities, we have Jewish and Muslim neighbors, who are also facing the horrors of this crisis and its impact on their loved ones.”
She added: “We must also call a thing a thing. The power exerted against all Palestinian people — through the occupation, the expansion of settlements and the escalating violence — must be called out as a root cause of what we are witnessing. We are committed to our long-standing accompaniment of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.”
The office of government relations for The Episcopal Church issued a call to prayer for peace in the Holy Land.
“The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem has consistently advocated for peace and justice, teaching us all what it means to walk in the way of love, to which Jesus points.”
“We pray for those who have been killed, injured, are searching for loved ones and are struggling with grief and fear,” said C.K. Robertson, canon to the presiding bishop for ministry beyond the Episcopal Church. “The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem has consistently advocated for peace and justice, teaching us all what it means to walk in the way of love, to which Jesus points. We are praying for Israelis and Palestinians.”
Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza is part of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. Hospitals there have faced immense difficulty because Israel has cut off water, electricity, medicine and food.
Bishops of the United Methodist Church issued a call for prayer and action.
“As a people who pray for and work toward peace, we in the United Methodist family are appalled and dismayed by the animosities and inhumane actions undertaken by Hamas. The declaration of war on the part of Israel as a result is also deeply saddening.”
The UMC statement added: “We condemn the Hamas militants who have killed and captured civilians, women and children in Israel. We equally decry the deaths of innocent civilians, women and children caught in the crossfire of the Israeli retaliation in the Gaza Strip.”
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