Presiding bishop joins global Christian leaders calling for Gaza cease-fire in Holy Week letter

By Aleja Hertzler-McCain
Posted Mar 27, 2024

Palestinians inspect the site of an Israeli strike, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, March 27, 2024. Photo: Bassam Masoud/REUTERS

[Religion News Service] More than 140 global Christian leaders, including a Guatemalan Catholic cardinal and the presiding bishops of The Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, called for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza and for an end to foreign military support for Israel in a March 26 letter to U.S. President Joe Biden and other politicians.

“We, as global Christian leaders, stand with our brothers and sisters in Christ in Palestine and around the world and say the killing must stop, and the violence must be brought to an end,” they wrote. “The horrific actions Hamas committed on October 7th in no way justify the massive deaths of tens of thousands of civilians in Gaza at the hands of the Israeli military.”

In separate text specifically addressed to Biden, the signatories wrote, “We implore you to have the moral courage to end U.S. complicity in the ongoing violence and, instead, do everything in your power to prevent the potential genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.”

The letter comes just one day after the United States abstained from a U.N. vote calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza during the month of Ramadan. The resolution passed with 14 votes in favor.

The organization Churches for Middle East Peace, which organized the effort, said it plans to send the letter to other world leaders.

In the letter, the leaders highlighted the high death toll in Gaza, the onset of famine and Israel’s genocide trial at the International Court of Justice. “As the ongoing devastation, bombing, and ground invasion in Gaza continue into their sixth month, Palestinians, including our Palestinian Christian siblings, cry out to the world, asking, ‘Where are you?’“ the letter said.

“We repent of the ways we have not stood alongside our Palestinian siblings in faithful witness in the midst of their grief, agony, and sorrow,” the leaders wrote, highlighting the Christian tenets of “faithfulness to God, love of neighbor, and mercy toward those who are suffering and in need.”

More than 32,000 people have been killed and nearly 75,000 injured in Gaza, according to health officials there, since Israel began a military operation in Gaza after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, which left an estimated 1,200 dead and more than 200 taken captive. Israel estimates 97 hostages still remain alive in Gaza, after 112 were freed.

Last week, United Nations human rights chief Volker Turk said Israel was responsible for a looming famine in Gaza, and Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, predicted that soon more than 200 people a day could die from starvation.

In January, the International Court of Justice found that it was “plausible” that Israel’s acts had violated the Genocide Convention and ordered that Israel ensure the access of humanitarian aid into Gaza. Earlier this month, 12 prominent Israeli human rights groups said their country was not complying with that order.

In their letter, the Christian leaders said they had consistently called for the release of Israeli hostages and they had been “clear in our condemnation” of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, calling it an “atrocious crime.”

They also called for the release of Palestinian political prisoners held without due process, “immediate and adequate humanitarian assistance” for Gaza and a negotiated settlement that addresses the root consequences of the conflict, including “security and self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians.”

Signatories of the letter came from the United States, Canada, Latin America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.

They represented a broad range of Christian groups, including Catholic bishops, Catholic sisters, Quakers, Mennonites, evangelicals, Antiochian Orthodox Christians and leaders from the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Church of England, The Episcopal Church, the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, Lott Carey Foreign Baptist Mission Convention, United Reformed Church, Church of Scotland, African Presbyterian Bafolisi Church, Church of the Brethren, Community of Christ, Christian Reformed Church of North America and Armenian Church of America (Eastern).

Throughout the letter, the leaders make reference to Holy Week, where Christians commemorate Jesus Christ’s execution and resurrection. “We know that Jesus himself was among those who suffered, and he comforted the brokenhearted,” the leaders wrote.

“We hold onto the hope that peace is possible even in the midst of this darkest hour,” they concluded.