From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Episcopalians: Churches sponsoring advocacy days on US policies in Africa and the Middle East

Date Fri, 24 Jan 2003 18:34:07 -0500

January 24, 2003


Episcopalians: Churches sponsoring advocacy days on US policies 
in Africa and the Middle East

by James Solheim

(ENS) Church-related advocates working for just US policies in 
Africa and the Middle East are sponsoring an ecumenical 
gathering in Washington, DC, February 23-26, to pressure 
Congress and the Bush administration to develop more just and 
peaceful policies in those critical regions of the world.

On Sunday night, before the official program begins, 
participants can view the US premiere of a video, "Judgement 
Day," that compares the current Israeli/Palestinian conflict 
with the previous struggle for liberation and democracy in South 
Africa. According to the Cinema Guild, its USA distributor, the 
video "makes a universal statement about war and the effects of 
war on young people on both sides of the conflicts," through the 
experiences of two young South Africans who discuss how they 
were brutalized in the South African conflict and who explain 
their current search for healing. 

After tracing the 1967 occupation by Israel of the Palestinian 
territories and examining the viewpoint of the Israeli settler 
communities, the video examines the consequences and 
perspectives of concerned Israeli citizens and Palestinians 
affected by the current situation of "closure" and "collective 
punishment." According to the distributor, the video 
"interweaves these two stories, providing reference points in 
South Africa's history of apartheid that resonate with the 
Israeli/Palestinian conflict today."

Enormous challenges and crises

The program will run on parallel tracks with a wide range of 
speakers, issue briefings, and advocacy training workshops. "At 
a time when Africa faces enormous challenges and crises, many 
rooted in decisions made by powerful outside forces and 
institutions, U.S. priorities toward the continent are glaringly 
inadequate," said the Rev. Leon Spencer, director of the 
Washington Office on Africa. The Africa track will focus on 
issues such as HIV/AIDS, debt, African conflicts--and related 
issues such as landmines and child soldiers, and economic 

"The Middle East remains an area of concern for the U.S. 
Christian community as the ongoing tragedy of the 
Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the situation with Iraq 
continue to spiral out of control," according to the Rev. Mark 
Brown of the Lutheran Office on Government Affairs. 
Presentations will focus on U.S. policies and the role of the 
religious community in shaping that policy for the common good.

"There will be opportunities to speak with your senators and 
representatives in Congress or their key foreign policy staff on 
Africa and the Middle East," according to Tom Hart, director of 
the Episcopal Church's Washington Office for Governmental 
Relations. "There will also be common times for fellowship and 
networking, a keynote address and reception, and a special 
ecumenical service of worship for participants and the public."

Convinced that the advocacy approaches share similarities across 
several regions, several of the key church-related agencies 
joined to plan the event--including the Washington Office on 
Africa, the Africa Faith and Justice Network, the Stand with 
Africa Campaign, Churches for Middle East Peace, Church World 
Service, and Peaceful Ends through Peaceful Means, an ecumenical 
coalition of churches working for peace in Palestine and Israel. 

The meetings will use two prominent local churches, National 
City Christian Church and Luther Place Memorial Church, as well 
as the United Methodist Building near the Capitol which is used 
by many churches for their government relations offices.

A wide range of issues

The morning plenaries on February 24 will feature a speech by 
Rogate Mshana of the World Council of Churches on justice issues 
facing Africa and one on a vision for Middle East peace by the 
Rev. Mitri Raheb, pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church and 
director of the International Centre in Bethlehem. The afternoon 
will be dedicated to a series of policy workshops.

The Africa track workshops will deal with funding and access to 
treatment for AIDS; debt, "an unfinished agenda"; the continuing 
civil conflict in the Sudan; and economic justice--African 
development versus the US trade agenda.

The Middle East workshops will deal with interfaith relations; 
an update on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process; the facts 
and politics of the Israeli settlements; religious and social 
dimensions of Jerusalem; evangelical Christians and the 
Christian Right; an update on Iraq; and peacemaking programs in 
congregations and communities. The day will end with a worship 
service for peace. The Rev. John McCullough, executive director 
of Church World Service, will preach and music will be provided 
by the Saint Camillus Multicultural Choir and the National City 
Gospel Choir.

Messages for Congress

Tuesday's plenary will feature an address by Rep. Maxine Waters 
of California on alternative visions for US policy in Africa, 
joined by Imani Countess of the American Friends Service 
Committee. In the afternoon, both Africa and Middle East tracks 
will discuss the status of issues before Congress and the Bush 
administration and preparing participants for advocacy visits on 
the Hill. 

On Wednesday participants will fan out across Capitol Hill to 
bring the churches' message on justice and peace to both the 
House and Senate. Participants will make use of these 
congressional contacts after they return home, activating and 
resourcing their church advocacy networks to pressure 
policymakers on these key Middle East and Africa issues. To 
support those efforts, the African track is offering advocacy 
training workshops, grassroots organizing, and one on "engaging 
the media."

For information on the program, housing and registration check 
the Web site at or contact Anna 
Rhee at the Churches for Middle East Peace office,


--James Solheim is director of Episcopal News Service.

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