WCC News spoke to Rev. Douglas Leonard, coordinator of the Ecumenical United Nations Office and World Council of Churches (WCC) representative to the United Nations in New York, after attending a summit in Washington D.C. that brought together some 45 representatives of churches and faith-based organizations committed to developing an advocacy plan that responds to the current political situation in the Holy Land.
Q: What happened in Washington?
Churches for Middle East Peace, a coalition of 27 national church communions and organizations, is celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2019. On 23-25 June, the coalition promoted an event, “Persistent Hope”, which was co-sponsored by the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States.
Panel sessions provided in-depth analysis of the current political situation in the Middle East, focusing on topics such as constructive Christian engagement in advocacy for a just peace, and creative collaborations and partnerships between human rights and faith-based organizations. Round table dialogues focused on areas of advocacy that need considered rethinking in light of the current political situation: theological, legal and economic advocacy.
Participants also visited senators and congressional representatives on Capitol Hill.
Q: In your speech at the summit you put a lot of emphasis on hope. Can you share with us the core of your insight on this topic?
Throughout the history of the church, our hope has never been tied to immediate political circumstances. Our hope remains constant. Our hope and our faith is in the triune God who made heaven and earth, in Christ who redeems and liberates and in the Holy Spirit who animates, guides and empowers. Israelis and Palestinians must be given the same rights and dignity. As long as the current system of occupation and the denial of basic rights continues, Christians of conscience everywhere are called to learn about this situation and to stand in solidarity with both the Palestinian people and the people of Israel. Standing for one must not entail standing against another.
Q: How do you see the role of the WCC in the topics raised by the event?
The participants affirmed that just peace in the region can only be based on equality and human rights for all.
The member churches of the WCC care about the situation in the Holy Land. We care about the suffering of all people. As Christians, we care about all of creation and we want equal rights for all people. Every human being, no matter what their religion, race or any other characteristic, is a creation of God and is made in God's image. We also care because Jesus taught us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. And we must not allow fear and a term like ‘terrorism’ to be applied to a whole people.
Q: How is the Ecumenical United Nations Office involved in issues of peacebuilding in the Middle East?
For many years, the Ecumenical United Nations Office has been conducting advocacy internationally in relation to the UN system on this issue. On behalf of the WCC, I am a member of the Israel-Palestine Working Group at the UN, and I monitor the statements of Israel, the Palestinian representatives and the Security Council in relation to this issue, in order to inform my colleagues in Geneva about relevant developments in the UN system in New York.
Prior to my current role, I lived in the Middle East and oversaw tours to the Holy Land. We organized dialogues for members to meet with both Israeli and Palestinian people. I also supported Churches for Middle East Peace in my prior work as director of Global Mission for the Reformed Church in America.