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Click Here For Letter to Secretary of State Powell + Complete List of Signatories

Left to Right in Photo: McCullough, McCoid, Aykazian,
Oden, Powell, Griswold, Glodek, Karloutsos.  Photo by Mark Brown

Religious Leaders with PowellJune 7, 2001, WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. church leaders took their deep concern about escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians to Secretary of State Colin Powell today, delivering a letter in which they said, "There is no higher priority for peacemaking in the world today."

During their nearly one-hour meeting, they urged the Secretary of State "to use his influence to encourage both sides to hold back from use of arms and terrorism so we might enter a cooling down period and more rational discussion leading to a lasting resolution of the problem," reported the Rev. John L. McCullough, Executive Director of Church World Service, a delegation member.

Led by Episcopal Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold, the delegation also included Pittsburgh Bishop Donald J. McCoid, Chair of the Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Dallas Bishop William Oden, past president of the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church.

They were among 26 Protestant, Orthodox and Roman Catholic church leaders who signed the strongly worded appeal to Secretary of State Powell to use "considerable diplomatic pressure and possibly economic pressure" to require Israel to cease its use of F-16 fighter jets and other heavy weapons against civilians and to halt its "unrelenting settlement activity."

They urged the United States to "place a hold on any pending delivery of attack helicopters or fighter jets to Israel and to reconsider the promise made by the Clinton Administration that the United States will increase military aid to Israel for each of the next eight years."

The letter to Secretary of State Powell appeals to the Palestinians "to abandon violence as a means to end the occupation" and, while acknowledging "Israel’s quest for security," condemns "the disproportionate violent and destructive means it is using."

The Rev. McCullough said group members expressed their deep concern for both Palestinians and Israelis victimized by the violence. In their letter, the church leaders share their particular worry for "our Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters. Facing daily threats from violence and economic deprivation and lacking hope for peace and a viable Palestinian state, many feel the pressure to emigrate….

"For their sake, and for the sake of all, we seek a restoration of hope for a negotiated sharing of the Holy Land and the city of Jerusalem, holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims," they said. "We tremble to consider the destructive consequences that would follow the premature moving, as called for by Congress, of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem."

The Rev. McCullough said that Secretary of State Powell "received our delegation very warmly and was very gracious. He took the time to listen to the concerns we brought and engaged us in the discussion." The Secretary of State urged church people to shout their concern for Middle East peace "from the tops of our steeples," he said.

Compelled by the "sobering current reality," church leaders already are taking "a higher profile in advocacy of U.S. policies conducive to peace," affirmed the 26 church leaders who signed the letter to the Secretary of State.

Through groups like Churches for Middle East Peace and Church World Service’s Middle East Forum, "we are going beyond issuing statements and addressing letters to government leaders," said David Weaver, Director of CWS’s Mission Relationships and Witness Unit.

Their expanded efforts include meetings with high level officials, solidarity visits to the region (including last December’s U.S. religious leaders delegation visit, to which today’s meeting with the Secretary of State was a follow up), constituency education and other more proactive ways of mobilizing the U.S. grassroots and engaging with Palestinians and Israelis who are seeking peaceful solutions, Mr. Weaver said.

Church leaders who signed the letter to the Secretary of State included the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, and top officials of many of the NCC’s 36 Protestant and Orthodox member communions. Church World Service is the NCC’s global service and witness ministry.


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