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Monday, February 11, 2008

Fair Witness' Rev. Dr. Peter Pettit Responds To Rev. Shafer's Ash Wednesday Message in the "Morning Call"

 On Ash Wednesday, the Rev. Eric Shafer published a guest editorial in the Allentown, PA newspaper, Morning Call (on line at  Rev. Shafer was at the time visiting in Jerusalem as a guest of Lutheran bishop Munib Younan and had arranged to have his Ash Wednesday sermon taped in Jerusalem and satellite-linked to his congregation in Lansdale, PA.  The editorial, timed to coincide with his media mini-event, ran under the title "God is on the Side of Peace in the Middle East."  Here is Rev. Dr. Peter Pettit's response to Rev Shafer's editorial:

Mind the Gap

Peter A. Pettit

8 Feb 08, for MCall publication 11 Feb 08 

I was deeply pained by Lutheran Pastor Eric Shafer's recent commentary on the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  I am a Lutheran pastor myself.  I have lived in Jerusalem and spent more than twenty years in regular dialogue with many people spanning the various communities who engage that conflict.  I was pained by the deep gap that separated Shafer's good intentions from the effect of his writing and the harm it could do when his readers fall into that gap. 

I was pained for the Palestinians he describes.  They indeed suffer hardships, at least as great as Shafer describes.  Few in the world can show such a sorry record of betrayal and manipulation, and there are few people around the world who know the whole of their story.  Shafer is right to inform us about their experience.   The gap opens up when he tells it as a story only of Israeli aggression and maltreatment.  The Palestinian leadership itself, as well as neighboring Arab states, European nations and the United States all share responsibility for the plight of the Palestinians.  For all of Israel's power, Israel cannot solve the Palestinian problem by itself, and I am pained when the Palestinians continue to be portrayed as mere pawns of other powers. 

I was pained for Israelis, whose total commitment to maintain their sovereignty and national existence was characterized as invasion, land grabs and the exile of another people.  Shafer says he admires what Israelis have done with their country in the past 60 years, but implies that they have done so only at the expense of Palestinians who lived on their lands "since the time of Christ" (really?). The gap opens up when there is no mention of the 1.2 million Arabs – Palestinians – who are full citizens of Israel.  It opens when the attacks of 1956 and 1973 by the Arab states, their war-mongering in 1967, and the two Palestinian Intifadas of the last 20 years are not counted with desert and climate and immigration and post-traumatic stress as hurdles that Israel has faced in its history.  For better or worse, Israel was granted existence by a decision of the United Nations, and I am pained when it is not granted the same rights of recognition and self-defense that other nations are. 

I was pained for Jews, who should have reason to believe that the season of Lent will no longer bring Christian accusations of causing the world's worst problems.  Pastor Shafer was traveling last week in Jerusalem as a guest of Palestinian Lutheran bishop Munib Younan.  His op-ed contribution was coordinated with his Ash Wednesday sermon, preached in Jerusalem and beamed by satellite back to his congregation in Lansdale.  The gap opens when no account is taken of the shameful Christian heritage of Jew-baiting and –bashing in the season that opens with Ash Wednesday and climaxes on Good Friday.  Too often the season brought violence against Jews at the hands of Christians.  For more than 40 years the Christian community has assured our Jewish neighbors that such violent abuse is a thing of the past, and I am pained when an eager plea for understanding Palestinian pain comes across as another Lenten broadside against Israel. 

I was pained for our Lutheran church.  Like most American churches, we have been traveling a long and difficult road that seeks to be faithful.  We have declared to the Jewish community our desire "to live out our faith in Jesus Christ with love and respect for the Jewish people."  We also bear a commitment to accompany our Palestinian Lutheran brothers and sisters in the reality of their circumstances and ministry.  Pastor Shafer's travel account and empathy for Palestinians reflect that accompaniment on church-sponsored visits to the region.  The gap opens when the church's advocacy for peace in coordination with Jewish and Muslim partners is not set alongside such accompaniment.  Our Presiding Bishop, Mark Hanson, has been a prominent leader in the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative, which implicitly accompanies all the religious and political communities who are invested in the conflict, guiding them together on a path toward peace.  For all our solidarity with Palestinian Lutherans, I am pained when their anecdotes of anguish are substituted for the serious analysis that any promising approach to peace will demand. 

Pastor Shafer points us to Lincoln's question about the side that God may be on.  The Lutheran heritage tells us that our greatest pitfall lies in too confidently identifying our side with God's side.  Ash Wednesday is a central occasion when that sin should be confessed and repented in ourselves.  Christian heritage tells us that God is found where pain is, and that godly living bears the pain of others.  In the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is too much pain on all sides, and a godly Christian response might first be to understand and help bear that pain with all those who suffer in the arena of violence. 

Peter A. Pettit is the director of the Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding of Muhlenberg College and a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Sr. Ruth Lautt, OP, Esq.

National Director

Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East

475 Riverside Drive, Ste 1960
New York, NY 10115

(212) 870-2320

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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