Bishop: Middle East Delegation a 'Model' for Interfaith Work

A delegation of 15 Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders meeting onsite during their Dec. 16-23 visit to Jordan, Israel and the West Bank. (Photo: National Interreligious Leadership Initiative)

An interfaith delegation's recent visit to the Middle East could provide "a model and encouragement" for other Christians, Muslims and Jews to work together to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians, a bishop from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) said in an interview.

The Rev. Margaret G. Payne was one of 15 Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders participating in a Dec. 16-23 trip that visited parts of Jordan, Israel and the West Bank.

The visit, organized by the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative (NILI), included times of discussion and prayer together with Israeli and Palestinian citizens, Jordanian leaders , and U.S. Ambassador to Israel James B. Cunningham all of whom are active in the peace process, Payne said.

 "We met with some of the members of their parliament - they, too, mentioned that witnessing such a mixed delegation was unusual. To them, this was a sign of hope that there can be joint efforts toward peace," the bishop noted

Points of advocacy for the delegation included building on the Arab Peace Initiative for comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace, a plan that includes establishing peace agreements between Israel and Syria and Israel and Lebanon.

The group also called for active, fair and firm U.S. leadership in 2010 to restart negotiations for a two-state solution, involving an end to occupation and security for Israel and Palestine.

NILI leaders who organized the trip said they will seek high level meetings with the Obama Administration to offer their support for U.S. leadership for peace.

Payne said that more collective work between faiths could be very influential towards government.

"[The visit] was a real witness to the joint work together of Christians, Muslims and Jews," Payne said. "Every place we went to visit, we went as representatives of the three Abrahamic faiths."

Other churches represented during the trip included the Roman Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox Church, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), National Baptist Convention, the Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church. Other Jewish leaders represented included the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation and Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association. Other Muslim leaders were with the Islamic Center of Southern Maryland, Georgetown University and the Council of Mosques, USA.

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