Prayers4Peace: A Brief History of the Work of the American Baptist Churches in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (oPt)
By Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley, General Secretary Emeritus, American Baptist Churches
American Baptist work in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (oPt) began with the appointment of Dr. Wes Brown in 1973 to serve as the director of the Center for the Study of Religions which was situated in Jerusalem. From 1978-1984, Dr. Brown served on the staff of the Ecumenical Institute for Theological Research in Tantur, led the Jerusalem Rainbow Group which was an interfaith group encompassing Jews, Muslims and Christians and provided leadership to the Ecumenical Theological Fraternity. Dr. Brown later became the American Baptist representative to Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).
During these years American Baptists became sensitized to the issues related to the occupation of the Palestinian Territory by the State of Israel and the ongoing conflict between the two. Two specific policy actions were taken by the denomination during this time:
- Policy Statement on Human Rights – 1976, which included “The right of citizenship in a nation, to participate in the political process, to form political parties, to have a voice in decisions made in the political arenas, to be secure from fear of deportation or expulsion, to emigrate and to have political asylum.”
- Resolution on the Middle East and Arab-Israeli Issues – 1980, which affirmed “the right of Israel to exist within secure and internationally recognized borders” and “the right of self-determination of the Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank (called Judea and Samaria by others) and the Gaza Strip.”
In 1984, American Baptists were founding members of Churches for Middle East Peace and have vigorously supported a two-state solution and decried the continuing encroachment on Palestinian territory as provocative and destructive of a two-state solution, while also condemning attacks upon Israelis. This coalition has been the primary vehicle for American Baptists’ work for peace with justice in the Middle East.
From 2002-2015, American Baptists co-led Peace Pilgrimages to Israel and Palestine with the Church of the Brethren to further educate our constituencies about the issues. These pilgrimages intentionally engaged with Israelis and Palestinians in an effort to understand the issues, to redress Evangelical Zionism, and to inform our prayers and our advocacy for peace.
In the same timeframe, American Baptists launched an effort in interfaith understanding between Baptist Christians and Muslims. Three North American dialogues were created and held with the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). American Baptists also cofounded Shoulder to Shoulder, an effort by Christians, Muslims and Jews to address Islamophobia in the US post-9/11. ABC was represented in the conference that led to the Marrakesh Declaration and subsequent interfaith efforts by the Peace Forum of Abu Dhabi. These efforts were rooted in ABC’s concern for peace in the Middle East.
In addition, American Baptists have been a supporting organization of the Bethlehem Bible College (BBC) and its efforts in education among the Palestinian people, and have participated in humanitarian relief efforts and the resettlement of refugees in the US through Church World Service.
Lord God, thank you for the historic and present day
engagement of ABC and their efforts toward
supporting and encouraging peace and justice
in the Middle East.
Go before them and CMEP in their continued efforts
as they work alongside other Christians, Jews, Muslims,
and people of all faith traditions to promote a
resolution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict
and an end to the occupation of the Palestinian people.
In Jesus’ name.
Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley is one of the longest serving General Secretaries (2002-2015) of American Baptist Churches USA (ABCUSA), having retired January 4, 2016, as the pastoral and administrative leader of the 1.3-million-member denomination. To learn more about the American Baptist Churches, USA, visit their website: https://www.abc-usa.org/.
Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).