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December 27, 2009

Palestinian Kairos Document -- "The Tail Wagging the Dog"

As reported previously, a group of Palestinian Christians recently issued a document calling on churches in the United States to support the ongoing effort to isolate Israel from the community of nations by assisting in the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign. Some church leaders in the U.S. have endorsed the so-called "Kairos Document." One of CAMERA's correspondents in the Middle East -- a particularly close observer of the Palestinian Christian community -- warns Christians in the U.S. not to be hoodwinked by the statement, which sullys "the reputation of local Christianity."

Here is the full text of what our correspondent (who has requested anonymity) had to say:

On December 11, 2009 began the distribution of the so-called Palestinian Kairos Document, entitled "A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering." This document has falsely been promoted in several countries as a statement by "leaders of the region's Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican and Baptist traditions." This is a deliberate misrepresentation, albeit one that has hoodwinked many unsuspecting Christian readers worldwide.

The only current church leader to sign the document was Munib Younan, bishop of a minuscule Protestant church. That other church leaders did not sign it, not even the current Latin Patriarch or the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, who are themselves Palestinian Arabs, speaks for itself. This initiative was cooked up without the participation of almost all local church leaders.

The following were the signatories to the document:

· Patriarch Michel Sabbah
· Bishop Dr. Munib Younan
· Archbischop Theodosios Atallah Hanna
· Pastor Dr. Jamal Khader
· Pastor Dr. Rafiq Khoury
· Pastor Dr. Mitri Raheb
· Pastor Dr. Naim Ateek
· Pastor Dr. Yohana Katanacho
· Fr. Fadi Diab
· Dr. Jiries Khoury
· Mrs. Sider Daibes
· Mrs. Nora Kort
· Mrs. Lucy Thaljieh
· Mr. Nidal Abu Zulof
· Mr. Yusef Daher
· Mr. Rifat Kassis - Coordinator of the Initiative

This is an unimpressive list of marginal figures, mostly parish pastors and lay people. Michel Sabbah is no longer Latin Patriarch; he retired in March 2008 and his successor did not sign the document. He speaks merely for himself. Attallah Hanna does not represent the Greek Patriarchate. On the contrary, he is well known for his opposition to the current Greek Patriarch. In 2007, his salary was suspended for several months after he called for withdrawal of recognition of the Patriarch.

So the only "Christian leader" to have signed it is Munib Younan, the head of the grandly styled "Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land." Unlike the Orthodox and Catholic churches that have existed in the Holy Land for nearly two millennia, this church was created only in 1959 as an outgrowth of the work of German Lutherans in the nineteenth century. It has a few hundred members, out of around four hundred thousand Christians in Jordan and the Holy Land. So Younan speaks for almost nobody in terms of the Christianity in the region. He would be a figure of little importance were it not that his church is massively funded by Lutheran churches elsewhere, which naturally need to promote him as a deserving recipient of so much money.

Currently, Younan's sponsors are seeking to have him elected President of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). That is, nearly seventy million Lutherans worldwide should be led by a bishop whose entire church is smaller than the average Lutheran parish elsewhere. Maybe the eager distribution of the Kairos Document is also aimed to boost that election campaign.

By contrast, there are over seventeen million Lutherans in Africa. In 2008 numbers there grew by 158,047, more than a hundred times the whole size of Younan's church, according to the LWF's own website . But the idea of a black President of the LWF has not found a welcome among Lutheran leaders elsewhere. They rate Palestinian political ambitions above the church's mission in Africa.

Younan and the local representative of the World Council of Churches, Yusef Daher, are to be seen as the chief initiators of this document. They are entitled to express their own opinions, of course, such as their ludicrous pretense, dressed up in flowery theological rhetoric, that Israel is solely responsible for the problems of the region. But to suggest that their way of doings things is representative of the Christian leadership of the region is to sully the reputation of local Christianity.

Rather, this was an attempt of a little tail to wag the dog. Ten days after the document was received with fanfares in Protestant churches around the world, the real heads of the churches in Jerusalem reacted with a brief statement asserting that they had "heard the cry of their children" and asking others to listen as well. It can be seen as a damage-control exercise, which makes a general call for "peace, justice and reconciliation," but abstains from the extreme language of the earlier document.

Posted by dvz at December 27, 2009 09:15 PM


Read the whole report.

Kairos Palestine, endorsed by:

His Beatitude Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox
His Beatitude Patriarch Fouad Twal, Latin Church
His Beatitude Patriarch Torkom Manougian, Armenian Orthodox
Very Revd Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Custody of the Holy Land
H.E. Archbishop Dr Anba Abraham, Coptic
H.E. Archbishop Mar Swerios Malki Murad, Syrian Orthodox
H.E. Archbishop Paul Nabil Sayah, Maronite
H.E. Archbishop Abba Mathaious, Ethiopian
H.E. Archbishop Joseph-Jules Zerey, Greek Catholic
Bishop Gregor Peter Malki, Syrian Catholic
Bishop Munib A. Younan, Lutheran
Bishop Suheil Dawani, Anglican
Bishop Raphael Minassian, Armenian Catholic

CAMERA's Response:


Thanks for your response.

If you read the entry closely, you'll see that our correspondent has already addressed the "endorsement" you mention. In the post above, our correspondent wrote "Ten days after the document was received with fanfares in Protestant churches around the world, the real heads of the churches in Jerusalem reacted with a brief statement asserting that they had "heard the cry of their children" and asking others to listen as well. It can be seen as a damage-control exercise, which makes a general call for "peace, justice and reconciliation," but abstains from the extreme language of the earlier document."

Again, thanks for your comment.



Posted by: Leila Fakhoury (Palestinian Christian) at December 28, 2009 02:34 AM

I'm disappointed to read your mischaracterization of Bishop Mounib Younan's leadership among Palestinian Christians. Although their numbers are not large, his role as a respected leader of the churches in the West Bank and Jordan is well recognized by the Palestinians. Your accusation insinuating that there is something unethical about nominating him to preside over the Lutheran World Federation is an insult. And your comments regarding the lack of Afrian leadership in the LWF are not based on facts. The LWF has had African leaders. Ishmael Noko, from Zimbabwe, has served as General Secretary of the LWF for two terms, from 1994-to the present.

Israel is not solely responsible for all of the failed attempts at a peace agreement, but it is certainly responsible for the occupation, which punishes an entire ethnic group for the actions of a handful of terrorists. Israel alone is responsible for the permit system that imprisons Palestinians in their towns and villages, for the checkpoints that prevent travel between Palestian towns, for ongoing settlement construction on land that most of the world sees as a future Palestinian state, and for the demolition of Palestinian homes because the owners were unable to get permits to build. An entire people cannot be held responsible for the actions of terrorists. I would certainly not want to be held responsible for the actions of Timothy McVeigh or other Americans who have bombed and killed innocent people.

Posted by: Janice Miller at May 6, 2010 12:43 AM


You are reading too much into the above post. No one is suggesting that it is unethical for the LWF to choose Bishop Younan as its next president.

It is important to note however, that like other Palestinian Christian leaders, his main field of influence is not in the Middle East where he serves as a pastor, but in the West, particularly the United States, where his denunciations of Israel find a ready audience in the mainline peace communities that are obsessed with the alleged sins of the Jewish state.

Lutheran evangelicalism in Palestinian society is for all intents and purposes, non-existant. (As is mainline evangelicalism in the U.S., by the way.)

What we have is the leaders of one shrinking Christian community in the Middle East speaking to another shrinking community in the United States about the sins of the Jewish state, and by extension, the sins of the Jews who support this state. Who but a monstrous people could support a country as depicted by its mainline critics?

Israel has become for both groups, a unifying scapegoat that serves as the centerpiece for a "peacemaking" drama that distracts both the leaders and members of these two communities from an unpleasant reality that they lack the nerve to confront: Their churches are dying and they have so far failed to come up with a response to this decline. Maybe these churhes will revive, but so far, they have lacked the nerve to say out loud what the numbers demonstrate: "I know your works; you have the name of being alive, and you are dead."

Bishop Younan's influence over Palestinian society is negligible. His allies and followers in the U.S. cannot kid themselves about this. They should not delude themselves into thinking that he is a great prophet of peace offering powerful admonitions and corrections to his countrymen -- a Palestinian equivalent of Jonathan Edwards haranging his countrymen for their sins. He is largely ignored in Palestinian society.

To be sure, Bishop Younan has been responsible in affirming the Israeli right to security, but again, his real value to the Lutheran community is not his evangelization in the Middle East, but of his attacks on Israel. He has helped affirm the false, self-serving notions that Palestinian suffering is the great wound on humanity that has no paralell in recent history and that advocating on their behalf is the sine qua non of human rights activism in the world today.

The fact is, Palestinian suffering pales in comparison to the suffering of people in other conflicts that have largely gone unnoticed by mainline churches, ELCA included. But the focus remains on Israel because the flights to Israel are direct and relatively cheap, the airports close to scene of the conflict, the environs relatively safe, the food pretty good, the accomodations comfortable, and the reporters plentiful and cooperative. Like other mainline churches, ELCA has devoted most of its peacemaking efforts to an area where its witness trips can double as tourism.

By way of comparsion trips, to Sudan, Rwanda or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the death counts are much higher, the suffering much more palpable are more expensive, dangerous and comfortable.

Bishop Younan helps legitimize this "peacemaking" tourism as a religious act when in reality, there is very little to suggest that it qualifies as faithful, sacrificial witness.

In any event, Bishop Younan has taken his name off the list of signatories of the Kairos Document apparently so he can maintain good relations with Jewish leaders in Israel. (Consult Malcom Lowe's artice on the Kairos document at New English Review for more on this).

Moreover, the Kairos document itself has been declared anti-Semitic and supersessionist by the Central Council of American Rabbis.


Posted by: Dexter Van Zile at May 6, 2010 09:31 AM

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