I'm reproducing this article from ELCA NEWS SERVICE. This is fascinating- Christians should care deeply about walls, and it is good to know we are organizing to confess about them. Also, a good friend and Luther classmate is the author of the article and the blog.
November 21, 2006
ELCA Conference Explores Christian Responses to Walls, Barriers
WITTENBERG, Germany (ELCA) -- Fifty church and civic leaders
from Germany, Mexico, Palestinian territory in Israel and the
United States gathered Nov. 8-14 here and in Berlin for a
conference exploring Christian responses to walls. More than a
dozen presenters shared their perspectives on walls or barriers
in their contexts -- the Berlin Wall, the separation barrier
being erected in Palestinian territory and the proposed extension
of the barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.
"Mighty Fortresses and Mustard Seeds: Life in the Shadow of
a Wall" was sponsored by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America (ELCA) Network of International Learning Centers, ELCA
Global Mission, ELCA Vocation and Education and the Evangelical
Academy of Sachsen-Anhalt.
Conference participants discussed the church's role in
breaking down visible and invisible walls.
The Rev. Murray D. Finck, bishop of ELCA Pacifica Synod,
Yorba Linda, Calif., said participants should listen to "what the
voice of God and the Word of God say to us today about the
brokenness" caused by walls in the world. "If we don't look at
these problems theologically with those who are examining it from
economic and sociological perspectives, the voice of the church
is silent," said Finck.
The conference began in Berlin, where participants observed
the 17th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Participants heard from German civic and church leaders, who
described the German church and its role as a force for peaceful
resistance that mobilized hundreds of thousands in 1989 on the
road to Germany's unification. One German participant stated
that the church did a lot more than pray for the wall to fall:
"Prayer (was) important, but in Germany the wall came down due to
spectacular activity" on the part of the church.
A pastor in the former East Berlin, the Rev. Manfred
Fischer, declared that during the Cold War "local politics became
world politics all of a sudden," because his church lay directly
on the dividing line between East and West. The Church of the
Reconciliation was demolished by the East German government on
Jan. 28, 1985, "a day when we lost hope because we lost our
But less than five years later the wall fell and
congregation members gained new hope. They built a chapel using
rubble from the old church. "We can't forget what happened, but
we can't turn the clock back either," said Fischer.
The conference then moved to Wittenberg, the historic heart
of the Lutheran Reformation. Presenters compared the Berlin Wall
to the barrier in Palestinian territory and the barrier along the
U.S.-Mexico border, examining similarities and differences of
"life in the shadow of a wall" in each context.
The Rev. Said R. Ailabouni, director, Europe and Middle East
program, ELCA Global Mission, said: "How do we express ourselves
as Christians with regard to the wall in Palestine? We insist
that God calls us to be peacemakers. We are committed to peace,
Several Palestinian Christians examined the Israeli wall's
impact from economic, societal, urban planning and political
perspectives. They described how it cuts off Palestinians from
access to water, farmland, trade, health care and education.
"This wall puts us in a big prison," said Victor Batarseh, mayor
In the area surrounding Bethlehem, the barrier is a 30-foot
high wall. According to a May 2006 report of the U.N. Office for
the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 225 of the 437 miles
planned for the West Bank barrier have been constructed; 26 miles
are concrete wall and 199 miles are electric fence with ditches
and patrol roads.
Dr. Bernard Sabella, a Roman Catholic and a member of the
Palestinian Legislative Council, said that the wall has been
presented as a way to stop suicide bombings and reduce Israeli
incursions into Palestinian territory. He said, "You cannot
banish Palestinians within their own land in the name of
The Palestinian Christians called for justice, asking that
the international community uphold United Nations resolutions and
the International Court of Justice ruling in July 2004 against
the separation barrier. In 2005 the ELCA Churchwide Assembly
established the "Peace Not Walls" campaign to advocate for the
removal of the barrier.
The Rev. Munib A. Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran
Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, Jerusalem, stated in a letter
read to conference participants, "The wall that is surrounding us
in Palestine is growing every day into a tighter concrete noose
around our cities, towns, homes and churches." Younan wrote that
he is opposed to violence on all sides. "In the face of
oppression and violence, we are called to be prophets for
justice, instruments of peace, voices of hope, and hands of
healing and reconciliation."
Palestinian participants presented ways they are providing
alternatives to violence and hopelessness, witnessing to
Palestinian youth and reaching out to international partners with
a message of peace. Rana Khoury, deputy general director of the
International Center of Bethlehem (ICB), said ICB programs
address the wall's isolating effects on young Palestinians. "We
work with a lot of young people with art, music, multimedia.
These are very important tools to break the isolation that is
being imposed on (them), and at the same time (they) connect with
the rest of the world."
The conference focus then shifted toward the wall proposed
by the U.S. government in the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which
would extend a barrier along more than 700 miles of the nearly
2,000 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Rev. Kim Erno, ELCA program director of the Lutheran
Center in Mexico City, introduced a set of presentations that
included photography, film, cultural and historical analysis, and
personal testimony. Erno asked whether the $8 billion needed to
extend the barrier on the border would be better invested in the
lives of the poor, who suffer in their attempt to cross over to
the United States.
Mexican filmmakers Pablo Gleason Gonzalez and Armando
Villegas Contreras presented a documentary, "Borders: Walls and
Immigrants." The film showed the dangers associated with
crossing into the desert regions of the border, which has
resulted in the deaths of more than 4,000 immigrants in the past
five years, the economic pressures that drive Mexicans north, and
the arguments surrounding the border.
Dr. Olivia Ruiz, cultural anthropologist at El Colegio de la
Frontera Norte in Tijuana, Mexico, presented a history of U.S.
border policy, pointing out the push-pull factors that drive
immigration: the U.S. "economic addiction" to cheap Mexican labor
mixed with increasing poverty and desperation in Mexico.
The conference ended with members of each country's
delegation gathering to strategize and plan next steps for action
in their home country.
The Rev. Terry K. Boggs challenged the group to take on big
issues boldly. "What I'd like you to be about is imagining a new
future. We will not solve the world's problems, but dare we not
take this moment in time with the Spirit moving among us to do
the best we can?" said Boggs, director for congregation-based
community organizing, ELCA Church in Society.
The Palestinian delegation sought to build awareness through
sharing narratives and exchanging experiences, to promote
nonviolent resistance, to encourage church involvement
internationally, and to provide services for those who are
suffering because of the separation barrier.
The Mexican delegation denounced economic policies that
increase Mexico's dependence on the United States.
The Germans focused on raising awareness and engaging the
German church more fully.
The U.S. delegation focused on ways to better advocate for
comprehensive immigration reform and increase support for the
Peace Not Walls campaign.
More conference information and interviews with participants
are available at http://wallsconference.blogspot.com on the Web.
* Ben McDonald Coltvet is associate director for
interpretation and planning, ELCA Communication Services.
For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or firstname.lastname@example.org
ELCA News Blog: http://www.elca.org/news/blog
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