Palestinian Lutheran bishop grieves over strife in his land
Bishop Munib Younan says church schools are taking a beating.
Non-violent resistance is Christ’s way, says The Rev. Munib Younan. The Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and Palestine told Metro Lutheran in a February 12 interview, “We Christians in Palestine are trying to stop a spiral of violence,” adding, “The world must help us to get a peaceful solution.”
Said Younan, “Our aim is to end the occupation of Palestine. This is not accomplished through violence. You have to raise your voice. This is what I advocate.”
Younan said the challenge for Lutherans and other Christians in Palestine today is to answer the question, “How can we continue to be a living witness in such a difficult situation?”
The difficulty for Palestinian Arabs, Christian and Muslim alike, is the reality of 70% unemployment. About half the population lives on the equivalent of $2 a day.
Younan worries about the church’s school program. “How can we get support to run our schools, which promote peace education?” he wondered aloud. He explained that families with children in the church schools cannot pay tuition, and yet the church needs to find a way to pay the teachers’ salaries.
“We get 50% of the cost of running the schools from partner churches,” Younan said, “but 40% used to come from local sources. That portion has dried up in the current conflict. We need help with that 40%. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is providing some help, and so are Lutherans in Germany, Sweden, Finland and Norway.”
Lutherans have had a presence in Palestine since 1841. Today there are six Lutheran congregations there. The church operates five schools, in which 6% of the students are Lutheran, 40% Muslim, and the rest other Christian backgrounds.
The worry at present is that the Lutheran presence may disappear from the land of Jesus. “If the situation continues, people will emigrate. We have many who are planning to leave now, many going to the United States,” Younan explained.
Palestinian Christians are part of Palestinian culture, the bishop said. “We have been in the land for 2,000 years. We have no problems with Muslims based on religion. There are some social problems we need to work on, but we have good relations with Muslims.”
Younan said that, when the terrorists attacked three U.S. buildings on September 11, 99% of Palestinians opposed what happened. “Unfortunately,” he admitted, “the media carried news about a few who celebrated the terror. But I wonder if American television showed you the candlelight march in front of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. When those Palestinians marched, they were saying, ‘Your pain is our pain.’”
What do Christians in Palestine want from the Israelis? “We are calling for a just peace. We want a two-state solution. We seek people living justly and equitably. The illegal settlements need to be dismantled. The right of refugees to return is necessary. These things will assure justice.”
Bishop Younan made clear that, for his faith community, theology defines an appropriate response to the current conflict. “For us, preaching the Gospel is not only a theory,” he said. “Carrying the cross is not a luxury. It is reality.”
Younan said his thinking, and his response to violence in Palestine, are shaped by two theological understandings. The first is grace in the midst of retribution (he rejects a spirit of revenge).
The second is the Lutheran theology of the cross. “This doctrine makes us servants,” he said, “not masters. We are salt in the society, catalysts in justice, initiators of dialog, bridge-builders between Palestine and Israel, ministers of reconciliation, apostles of love.”
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At the conclusion of his Twin Cities visit, a group of Bishop Younan’s American friends, spearheaded by peace and justice advocate Charles P. Lutz, decided to declare the Palestinian bishop an “honorary Minnesotan.” The tongue-in-cheek proclamation drawn up by the ad hoc group reads:
BE IT KNOWN TO ALL PERSONS
BY THESE PRESENTS:
The Rev. Dr. Munib A. Younan, Lutheran bishop of Jerusalem, is henceforth to be received as an honorary Minnesotan, with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto. Though still without vote, he has voice — lots and lots of voice. He is entitled to speak on behalf of many (if not all) of Minnesota’s 1.2 million Lutherans, who do have vote (if 18 and older), and regularly use it, in elections for members of the U.S. Congress (and other offices). Bishop Younan is empowered to speak to any leaders who serve Minnesotans, in both church and state. In such speaking he is authorized to mix faith and politics to his heart’s content, without fear of taxation or censure. He is invited to return to Minnesota at any time. His gracious invitation for Minnesotans, including its politicians, to visit him in Jeru-salem is warmly welcomed.
Issued without authorization by a group of presumptuous Minnesota Lutherans, this 12th day of February 2002.