- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

As a Lutheran, I was deeply offended by Mark D. Tooley’s article “Lutherans and Palestinians” (Culture, Thursday) which smears the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and its bishops for holding their annual bishops conference in Jerusalem last month in company with some of the Canadian Lutheran bishops.

Mr. Tooley’s disrespectful and dismissive attitude toward Lutheran ministries among the Palestinians is not borne out by the facts. As ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson explains in his Jan. 23 open letter to U.S. Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders, “Part of the core of our Lutheran theology of the cross calls us… to an authentic witness of human suffering, acts of costly discipleship, and sincere ways to care for our neighbors. The ELCA has a long-standing relationship with our Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters. … This fidelity between Lutherans in the land dates back over a century, where churches, medical structures, community centers, and schools that serve both Christians and Muslims signify the deep rootedness of relationships.”

Lutheran ministries in Palestine supported by the 4.7-million-member ELCA denomination include numerous schools operated by local Palestinian Lutheran churches but open to all, Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem (the most prominent medical center in the Palestinian territories for the treatment of cancer, diabetes and other special-care diseases), the International Center in Bethlehem (with a wide array of educational, health and social services) and Abraham’s House in Beit Jala (a hope and reconciliation dialogue center for Jews, Muslims and Christians).

The January visit of American and Canadian Lutheran bishops to Jerusalem and the West Bank was no naive “photo-op” exercise by “globe-trotting bishops” intent on “decrying Israel’s supposed misdeeds” without examining “troubling Palestinian pathologies.”

It is both right and fitting that North American Lutheran bishops visit with Lutheran Palestinians from time to time, tour their schools and health centers and stand in compassionate solidarity with the suffering inhabitants of the land of Jesus’ life and ministry.

Mr. Tooley asks, “From the perspective of Lutheran bishops, what does all this envisioned peace and justice look like in the Middle East?” Sadly, his hardened heart doesn’t seem to have a clue.

PAUL H. VERDUIN

Silver Spring

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