Demonstrators call out bishops for inaction on Holy Land resolutions; bishops later change course on one

By Logan Crews
Posted Jun 24, 2024

Demonstrators line up outside the ballroom where the House of Bishops was to convene its afternoon session June 24 at the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville. Photo: Janet Kawamoto/Episcopal News Service

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include coverage of a deputies’ committee, which had met earlier in the day. Coverage that may have been lost in the volume of news. 

[Episcopal News Service – Louisville, Kentucky] Some 15 Episcopalians – lay and ordained – mostly representing the group Palestinian Anglicans and Clergy Allies and the Episcopal Peace Fellowship’s Palestine Israel Network began gathering outside the House of Bishop’s 30 minutes before the start of the June 24 afternoon legislative session.

They held signs quoting pleas of Palestinian Christians and calling for peace in Israel-Palestine. As a bishop walked by, one person called out, “Bishop, the light is on you.”

“We are deeply discouraged that, given the news from Gaza since October, the Episcopal bishops were so dismissive of the resolutions on Palestine yesterday,” Priscilla Read, a demonstrator and an exhibitor for the progressive Episcopal network, The Consultation, told Episcopal News Service. “There was no serious debate on issues that need serious debate.”

A day earlier, bishops voted no on four Holy Land resolutions and passed three. Two of the three resolutions passed with amendments. The Deputies’ Social Justice & International Justice Committee considered those amendments the morning of June 24 and further amended the resolutions. Deputies then referred the resolutions to the full House of Deputies.

Committee members’ discussion, however, focused primarily on four of the seven resolutions related to the long-standing conflict in the Holy Land and the more recent war between Israel and Hamas – resolutions that the bishops struck down.

It landed like a “gut punch,” said the deputies’ committee chair Janet Day-Strehlow from the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe.

Before the meeting ended, committee members urged each other to talk to their bishops.

Later that day, before bishops considered the June 24 legislation calendar, they brought back Resolution D006, one of the four they voted against on the previous day, for reconsideration. Southeast Florida Bishop Peter Eaton and New York Bishop Suffragan Allen Shin proposed the House reconsider the resolution, which condemns the political and theological ideology of Christian Zionism, saying it was voted down “rather fast.”

The bishops also introduced two amendments to D006: the first eliminated language about the “discriminatory nature” of the Israeli government’s policies and practices; and all of section 5, which asked the church’s Washington, D.C.-based Office of Government Relations to “challenge the granting of tax-exempt status to religious organizations engaged in Christian Zionist advocacy and activity that contribute to the oppression of Palestinians.” The latter, Eaton said, fell outside Office of Government Relations purview.

It was a conversation Shin had with Hosam Naoum, the Anglican archbishop in Jerusalem,  about the bishops’ June 23 vote – in which Naoum, he said, expressed disappointment in the bishops’ initial vote – that made him want to revisit.

Resolutions can only be reconsidered on the next legislative day and then require a two-thirds vote to pass, according to House Parliamentarian and Northwestern Pennsylvania Bishop Sean Rowe. Bishops passed D006 as amended.

It’s unclear what if any impact demonstrators, deputies and others upset by the bishops’ actions the previous day had on their decision to reconsider one of the four resolutions. As the legislative session ended, bishops exiting the hall were reluctant to answer questions from ENS.

The demonstration and the house’s action followed a lunchtime conversation with Naoum, sponsored by the Good Friday Offering and the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. Around 70 people gathered to hear from the archbishop on how the Diocese of Jerusalem continues to provide pastoral care amid turmoil, and how other Episcopalians can offer support.

One question posed via a moderator to the archbishop was about divisions within the church concerning the war in Gaza and other related matters. In answer to the question, Naoum turned to the topic of General Convention resolutions.

The previous day, while discussing Resolution D004 which calls on convention to acknowledge Palestinians as Indigenous people of the lands, “lying between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River,” Atlanta Bishop Robert Wright asked if anyone had asked Naoum for guidance. Eaton responded, saying Naoum is not going to tell the bishops how to vote, so without his input, the house ought not to pass anything that might make his ministry in Jerusalem more difficult. D004 was voted down by bishops.

Naoum told the crowd he declined to tell either house how to vote because The Episcopal Church must decide for itself how it should act. He reiterated multiple times the need to reach across differences, sharing and learning from the stories of others.

“My plea to you wherever you stand on this issue, I want you to be reminded about one thing,” Naoum said. “Even if we stand on one side or the other, remember that those who are on the other side, they have also a narrative and a story we need to listen to. That is very important. Otherwise, we cannot be a church. We cannot be Episcopalians.”

One thing the archbishop made clear was that he wants a two-state solution, as would be affirmed by Resolution D013, passed by the bishops on June 23 and amended further by the deputies’ committee that morning.

One sign carried by demonstrators carried words from Lulu Aranki Nasir. Her daughter, Layan Nasir, is a 23-year-old Palestinian Anglican currently held in administrative detention without charge by Israel.  She was arrested at gunpoint in her home in the occupied West Bank city of Birzeit in early April. She continues to be held without charge in administrative detention by the Israelis.

The bishops passed Resolution D075, which calls for Layan Nasir’s immediate release.

During the demonstration, there was confusion as to whether General Convention permitted protests inside the convention center and whether demonstrators faced having their credentials revoked.

The Rev. Rebekah Hays Estera, a deacon in the Diocese of California, said what she and other Episcopalians were doing by holding signs was not something that should be prohibited by General Convention.

“Someone has a sign that says ‘be a voice for the voiceless,’ which is literally what President [Julia Ayala] Harris said at yesterday’s Eucharist,” Hays Estera said. “Being told that that’s discouraged, and we’re relegated to this one corner, that we’re going to have our badges revoked if we do more, it’s disappointing in the church.”

In addition to Resolution D075, one more Israel-Palestine-related resolution was up for discussion on June 24 in the House of Bishops. Resolution D056 calls Israel’s action against the Palestinian people a “genocide.” Bishops are somewhat divided on whether to label the atrocities of the current conflict a genocide.

The House voted to postpone the resolution until later in the convention.

–Logan Crews, a former Episcopal Church Ecojustice Fellow, is a seminarian at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale who serves on the student leadership team of the World Student Christian Federation-United States.