Lutheran Bishops to Tour War-Torn Holy Land

January 5, 2009

Author: Manya A. Brachear

Source: The Chicago Tribune

Seeking to amplify mainline Protestant influence on Middle East affairs during the Obama administration, more than half of the nation's Lutheran bishops will launch an unprecedented tour of the war-torn Holy Land on Tuesday.

The pilgrimage, planned for more than two years, comes amid calls for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas after a week of airstrikes and a ground assault in the Gaza Strip this past weekend. Lutheran leaders said they hope their trip shows their commitment to brokering a peaceful resolution in the hallowed land.

"We who are global religious leaders right now have to continue to win the day from extremists," said Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, leader of the 4.7 million-member, Chicago-based Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or ELCA, the nation's largest Lutheran denomination and fourth largest Protestant church. "We will try to do that by meeting with Jewish and Muslim, Israeli and Palestinian leaders to hear and to listen and to commit to being partners in the struggle for a lasting peace, which we continue to believe is a two-state solution."

Hanson, who also leads the Lutheran World Federation, pointed out that the bishops' pilgrimage comes at a pivotal moment in American and global politics. The bishops will return just days before President-elect Barack Obama officially enters the White House to shape American foreign policy regarding the current conflict.

Hanson said Obama's transition team has already consulted religious leaders for advice on the Middle East. Closed-door meetings have focused on the "hard work of how do we find consensus coming out of a very polarized period in U.S. political and religious life," Hanson said.