Prophetic leader of Palestinian Lutherans preaches peace and justice with power
Our Shared Witness: A Voice for Justice and Reconciliation. Munib A. Younan. Fred Strickert, editor. Minneapolis: Lutheran University Press, 2012. 235 pages, $20, perfectbound. www.lutheranupress.org.
From Jerusalem, a powerful and prophetic voice today reaches around the planet. It is the voice of Munib Younan, who serves as bishop for Lutheran Palestinians. Thankfully, that voice will reach more hearers via Our Shared Witness, a collection of Younan writings and speeches.
Born in 1948 in Jerusalem’s Old City, where his parents sought refuge during the Arab-Israeli war, Munib was baptized in an Orthodox tradition. Educated at Lutheran schools, he reports being “attracted as a youth to [Lutherans’] evangelical theology.” After studying diaconal ministry and theology in Finland, Younan was ordained in 1976 and served Palestinian pastorates in Jerusalem, Beit Jala, and Ramallah.
Since 1988 Younan has served as bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. In 2010 he was elected president of the Lutheran World Federation (succeeding the Rev. Mark Hanson, former pastor and bishop in the Twin Cities and now ELCA presiding bishop). Links to Midwest Lutherans for Bishop Younan include graduate study at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (1988), an honorary doctorate at Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa (2001), and a series of speeches — arranged by this reviewer — in the Twin Cities (2002).
Global Lutheranism and the Palestinian context
The book offers 27 Younan reflections, assembled and edited by Dr. Fred Strickert, former religion professor at Wartburg College now serving the English-language congregation at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Jerusalem. Four main themes emerge in Our Shared Witness.
First, Lutheran work in the Holy Land (from its inception by Germans 170 years ago) is marked by diaconal ministry: education, social work, and health care made available to all, not just to church members. Younan notes that Palestinian Lutheran schools enroll Muslims and Christians in almost equal numbers, and that the vast majority of those served by the Lutherans’ Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem are Muslim.
“We are called to help people,” Younan writes, “no matter what their nationality, ethnicity, social class, political persuasion, or religion. We are called to be faithful and responsible citizens as we work together to build a modern civil society. This is our duty and role as Palestinian Christians.”
Lutheran work in the Holy Land is marked by diaconal ministry: education, social work, and health care made available to all, not just to church members.
Second, Holy Land Lutherans are aware of their demographic status: Arab minority in a land heavily populated by Israeli Jews, religious minority outnumbered by Muslims and Jews, denominational minority where Orthodox and Catholic Christians predominate. This status “has led Palestinian Lutherans to a particular contextual theology that reads the Bible from a bottom-up point of view, as Good News for the downtrodden and the politically oppressed, which witnesses in hope for peace with justice.”
Third, inter-religious encounter is essential. Younan is a founding member of the Council for Religious Institutions in the Holy Land, which gathers Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders. He quotes the German theologian Hans Kung: “No peace among nations without peace among religions. And no peace among religions without dialogue.”
Younan urges his hearers to focus on what faith groups have in common, not on their differences: “We must stop demonizing one another in the name of God and instead try to see God in the other. We will then learn and grow from one another about what will give life, love, salaam/peace to this earth. But lest it sound like I am focusing on the extremism of the ‘other,’ I remind myself and other Christians to clean our own kitchens before we criticize someone else’s. We have our own extremists, such as Christian Zionists.”
Fourth, Christians must work for peace in the Holy Land. Their minority position gives them a bridge-building role that is distinctive and non-threatening. Younan notes that Palestinian Lutherans wish to work with all of good conscience among Jewish, Muslim, and Christian peoples who will “seek the common values that allow for justice, peace, forgiveness, and the acceptance of the other.”
Younan further says: “If peace negotiations are to succeed in the Middle East, religion must be brought to the table. If religion is left out of the picture, the whole religious field is easily left in the hands of extremists. [Then] religion becomes more a part of the problem. I believe that religion can contribute significantly… [and] be part of the solution.”
Our Shared Witness demonstrates that global Lutheranism has a visionary prophet in Bishop Munib Younan.
Charles P. Lutz has spent the past two decades advocating within Minnesota faith communities for a just peace in the Holy Land. A former editor of Metro Lutheran, he lives in Minneapolis.
Tags: Augusta Victoria Hospital, Beit Jala, Charles P. Lutz, Council for Religious Institutions in the Holy Land, Dr. Fred Strickert, ELCA, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, Fred Strickert, Hans Kung, Holy Land, inter-religious, Jerusalem, Lutheran Palestinians, Lutheran University Press, Lutheran World Federation, Mark Hanson, Middle East, Munib A. Younan, Our Shared Witness, Palestine, prophet, Ramallah, Rev. Mark Hanson, Rev. Munib A. Younan, Wartburg College