By Jeff Wright / Mondoweiss
Gathered Saturday for their biennial General Assembly in Louisville, Kentucky, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the U.S. and Canada decided by an overwhelming voice vote to adopt a resolution naming Israeli apartheid.
There was only one delegate who spoke in opposition.
The resolution, Compelled to Witness: Answering the Cry of Our Palestinian Siblings—citing reports from B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and a 2022 Pastoral Letter written by leaders of the denomination—affirms “that many of the laws, policies and practices of the State of Israel meet the definition of apartheid as defined in international law.”
Attended by over 3,000 persons, the assembly also asserted that “the continued oppression of the Palestinian people is a matter of theological urgency and represents a sin in violation of the message of the Biblical prophets and the Gospel.”
Daniel Mitchell, a youth from the primary submitting congregation, introduced the resolution by describing his recent pilgrimage to Palestine/Israel. Referencing an Israeli military raid on the Dheisheh refugee camp this past January, he said, “As I slept in a hotel in Bethlehem only a few miles away, Israeli forces fired live ammunition at teenagers, hitting and killing 15-year-old Adam Ayyad. Devastatingly, Adam’s story is not unique. In the first 200 days of 2023, nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed, including 29 children.”
“We can discuss apartheid in the legal sense,” Mitchell said, “but most importantly we must understand the real and human impacts of an apartheid system.”
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Marci Mazza-Fredley, a Disciples Peace Fellowship intern, spoke from the assembly floor to say, “It would be hypocritical for us as Christians to praise the Son of the Living God—a man who was born to bring peace on Earth—and ignore the living realities that those in the Kingdom of God are facing. It is time we call this what it is: apartheid.”
“It is not to be described simply as a conflict or a disagreement,” Mazza-Fredly said, “because to name this devastation as a conflict completely disregards the imbalanced power dynamics that have come into play, and the role that the rest of the world has had on the occupier’s growing power.”
In an email to Mondoweiss, Rifat Kassis, General Director of Kairos Palestine (the widest Christian Palestinian movement), wrote, “We appreciate the Disciples for their remarkable role in defending justice and for continuing the historic work of standing in solidarity with our Palestinian people, actively challenging oppression, and striving for justice and equality in Palestine/Israel. Together, we have the power to contribute to the transformative power of love, fostering a hopeful future where all people can live in harmony.”
“Through this assembly statement,” Kassis wrote, “the Disciples affirm the imperative to dismantle the Israeli settler-colonial project and apartheid. We pray and hope other churches will follow this path.”
The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana. It has congregations throughout the U.S. and in Canada and sponsors fifteen undergraduate schools and seven theological institutions. With a long history of commitment to racial, economic, and social justice, lay and clergy have participated in movements for civil rights and anti-racism.
The Disciples’ resolution is a response to the many urgent appeals that Palestinian Christians have made to the church to recognize their suffering under Israeli settler colonial apartheid and to help them regain their freedom.
In their 2022 Dossier on Israeli Apartheid, they write, “Apartheid is not only a crime described in international law. It contradicts core principles of Biblical faith.” They plead, “The situation in Palestine/Israel is rapidly worsening. Now is the time for the global Church—and each of its constituent bodies—to recognize Israel as an apartheid state and to actively and nonviolently resist its apartheid laws, policies and practices.”
Unable to travel to the States, Dr. Bernard Sabella, Executive Secretary of the Department of Service for Palestinian Refugees of the Middle East Council of Churches, sent the Assembly this message, “Compelled to Witness is a timely resolution that encourages your church to undertake advocacy with your governments and to insist that, without peace and justice, the current situation will only lead to further violence as it infringes on the basic rights of Palestinians to a dignified life.”
The denomination sent its first missionary to Palestine in 1851. Through relationships with more than a dozen partners in Palestine/Israel, the church works closely with Palestinians and Jewish Israelis who are working for a just and lasting peace. Partners include the Palestinian YWCA and YMCA, the Friends Meeting in Ramallah, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, Kairos Palestine and B’Tselem.
Peter Makari, Area Minister for the church’s Board of Global Ministries’ Middle East and Europe office, encouraged adoption of the resolution, saying, “The prophet Micah says that God requires us to seek justice. This resolution represents a rights-based approach for the people in the land called Holy. It names injustices for what they are, affirms international law, rejects theologies and ideologies that privilege or exclude, and asserts the right to use economic measures to seek justice.”
The resolution also: condemns speech and acts of antisemitism; insists that all people have the right to self-determination; affirms the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes or to be compensated for the loss of their property; and insists on the U.S. constitutional right to freedom of speech and assembly to protest the laws, policies and practices of the State of Israel and to support the rights of Palestinians.
The Disciples resolution naming Israeli apartheid follows those of the United Church of Christ in 2021 and the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 2022. A growing number of dioceses and regional conferences of other denominations are considering similar actions in their gatherings this summer.
Jeff Wright is an ordained minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).