US Church Leaders Press Bush on Problems Facing Holy Land Christians

U.S. Newswire Press Releases / Yahoo News
May 7 2004

U.S. Church Leaders Press President Bush on Problems Facing Holy Land

To: National Desk and Religion Reporter

Contact: Jim Wetekam of the Churches for Middle East Peace,
202-543-4150 or [email protected]

WASHINGTON, May 7 /U.S. Newswire/ — Fifty leaders of evangelical and
mainline Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox churches and
church-related organizations in the U.S. today delivered a letter to
President Bush (news – web sites) asking for a full understanding of
“the crisis in the Holy Land confronting Christian Palestinians,
Christian institutions, and those who wish to visit the birthplace of

Stating that the “churches have directed their concerns to the
Israeli government but to little avail,” the church leaders appealed
for the President’s intervention to help restore the normal
functioning of Christian institutions in Israel and the Occupied
Territories and claimed that “it is generally acknowledged that
relations of the churches and these institutions with the Israeli
government may be the worst they have ever been.”

The letter addressed the church leaders’ concerns specifically
regarding the effects of the separation barrier being constructed by
Israel, taxation issues that may force some church institutions to
close due to the removal of their longstanding tax-exempt status, and
“the denial and delay of visas, by Israel, for clergy and church
personnel result(ing) in understaffed seminaries, churches,
hospitals, education and other institutions.”

Speaking as one of the diverse group of signers, the Most Rev. Frank
T. Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, USA, said,
“Our churches, hospitals, schools, and other institutions are
important visible expressions of our faith’s concern for humanity.
While they serve Christians and non-Christians alike, they are also
expressions of our Christian heritage and its many contributions to
the region.”

Another signer, Brother Robert Schieler, Provincial for the De La
Salle Christian Brothers who administer Bethlehem University,
emphasized the destructive effects of the separation barrier on
Christian and Palestinian populations: “Even if the barrier is
intended for security, it has had the very real effects of separating
students and faculty from their classrooms, families from one
another, farmers from their fields, and Christian worshippers from
their churches.”

In the letter to President Bush, the church leaders observe, “We find
it difficult to be assured by your description on April 14 of the
barrier as ‘temporary’ in light of Israel’s plans to extend the
barrier far beyond the 1967 Green Line, encompassing on the Israeli
side those large West Bank settlements that you implied would remain
part of Israel.”

Speaking of Bethlehem particularly, Bro. Schieler noted, “The barrier
and checkpoints are now cutting off Christians in Bethlehem from
Jerusalem just a few miles away. I wonder if U.S. Christians who
visit Bethlehem as tourists know that many of their Christian
brothers and sisters who live and work and worship where Jesus was
born are not able to travel just a few miles to Jerusalem to where
Jesus died and was risen. Unfortunately, most American Christians
remain woefully uninformed about what is happening in the very land
where Jesus walked.”

Letter signers included the heads of many Catholic orders and
organizations in the United States; the General Secretary of the
National Council of Churches; the Presiding Bishops and leaders of
many denominations, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America; and
Armenian Church of America; evangelical leaders including Leighton
Ford, Robert Seiple, and Ron Sider; the heads of relief and
development agencies such as World Vision, Catholic Relief Services,
Church World Service, and the Mennonite Central Committee; and many
others. The complete text of the letter and list of signers is
available at

The signers, while specifically raising the concerns of church
institutions and Palestinian Christians, stated clearly that they “do
not mean to minimize the suffering of Muslims and Jews.” The letter
ended by imploring the President to assist all Muslims, Jews, and
Christians in the Holy Land, stating, “your help is needed as a force
for peacemaking that builds bridges to a new and hopeful future.”

Bishop Griswold summarized, “We believe that our institutions provide
services that are essential to bringing hope to people in need and
thus to our shared goal of two states, with secure borders, and able
to live in peace, one with the other.”