Anglicans and Lutherans approve amended joint statement for peace and justice in Israel-Palestine

Rabba Gila Caine, left, addresses the head table during a speech to General Synod June 30. From left to right are the Rev. Paul Gehrs, assistant to the bishop, justice and ecumenical and interfaith relations for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC); ELCIC National Bishop Susan Johnson; Bishop Michael Pryse of ELCIC’s eastern synod; Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada; Bishop Shane Parker of the diocese of Ottawa; and Andrea Mann, the Anglican Church of Canada’s director of global relations. Photo: Jim Tubman
Published July 2, 2023

Calgary, Alta.

The Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) have approved a modified version of a resolution calling for peace and justice in Israel and Palestine, drafted jointly by leaders from both churches. The version of the motion approved July 2 by General Synod included two amendments made in response to criticism from a Jewish rabba who spoke to General Synod on it two days earlier.

The leaders of the two churches have been working together on the statement as part of an ongoing effort to stand in solidarity with Palestinians experiencing the consequences of what they say is a rise in Jewish nationalist sentiment and human rights abuses on the part of the Israeli government.

Rabba Gila Caine, who grew up in Israel and now serves at Tempel Beth Ora in Edmonton, spoke at a joint meeting of General Synod and ELCIC’s Special Convention June 30. She said that while she and many in the Jewish community shared the churches’ desire for a Middle East where all could practice their faiths in peace, security and mutual respect, the statement as currently proposed contained language Jewish people were guaranteed to find offensive.

At issue was Section 4 of the original statement, which asked that the church “study and reflect upon the parallels between the dispossession of Palestinians from their homes and lands and the experience of broken treaties and the occupation of unceded territories of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.”

“I would like to remind us that the whole world is not Canada and cannot be read through the Canadian experience,” she said.

Caine said the Jewish identity is inextricably tied to Israel no matter where in the world Jewish people live—and the connection infuses their prayers, religious beliefs and ceremonies. To compare the state of Israel, which is their ancient homeland, with a colonizing power, she said “attempts to undermine our core identity as Jews and to shatter our connection to all that is sacred and life-giving.”

Unlike the Europeans who settled in Canada, Jewish people had a cultural tradition surrounding the land millennia before the modern state of Israel was established.

Canon Scott Sharman, animator for ecumenical and interfaith relations for the Anglican Church of Canada, told the Journal that the Anglican leaders responsible for drafting the resolution had conducted “considerable” consultation with several Jewish groups prior to Caine’s speech. While she was the first to directly address a gathering of the church, he said, leaders had been in numerous video conferencing calls and received several letters with members of Canada’s Jewish community in the months leading up to Synod.

In response to Caine’s concerns members of General Synod amended the resolution, striking the point Caine had criticized from the text.

Debating the modified version, some Anglicans thought Caine’s statement had revealed a deficiency in the consultations with Jewish organizations in the drafting process which could best be remedied by postponing the statement for continued work. Others believed the urgency of confronting the violence and mistreatment facing Palestinians in occupied territories was too great to delay the statement any further.

Bishop Bruce Myers of the diocese of Quebec stood to endorse the former option.

“I’m standing to oppose this motion but not because I do not stand in solidarity with Palestinian Christian and especially Anglican Christian sisters, brothers and siblings,” he said.

While the church had received praise from members of the Jewish community for listening deeply to the Jewish perspective during work on its Prayer for Reconciliation with the Jewish People, Myers said, Caine’s words had revealed the same standard had not been met on the new statement.

“In 2013 this very body made a commitment to strengthen relationships with Canadian Jews, and so I’d encourage us to hit pause on this process and take the time necessary to get it as right as we possibly can. And in the meantime, there’s nothing stopping our churches from continuing to act in tangible ways in support of our Palestinian Christian partners,” he said.

Archdeacon Jonathan Hoskin of the diocese of Brandon added concerns that the statement before it was ready might risk losing the trust and goodwill of its recipients.

“Respectfully, I see, if we pass the motion, we potentially have no voice with the government in Israel, that they will not listen to us anymore,” he said. “But on the other hand, I see if we defeat the motion then we haven’t given our support to our Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters. To me that’s an impasse.”

Hoskin made a motion that the resolution be postponed until the next General Synod to buy time to phrase any changes carefully, but members voted it down.

In answering a question from another member of General Synod, Nicholls said the church had received a letter June 21 from a number of groups in the Canadian Jewish community, the main concern of which she said was addressed by removing the point comparing Israeli actions to colonialism in Canada.

A second concern they had expressed, she said, was the definition of antisemitism the church had used in the statement. This definition was the one agreed upon by the World Council of Churches and by other human rights organizations around the world, she added. The letter’s authors had asked the churches to use the definition put forward by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Nicholls said she was concerned that under that organization’s definition, any criticism at all of the government of Israel’s actions could be deemed antisemitic.

According to the IHRA’s website, “Manifestations [of antisemitism] might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

Nicholls acknowledged that church leaders had received a second letter from organizations in the Jewish community, but it had arrived too close to the start of General Synod for all of its feedback to be incorporated into the latest draft of the resolution. While concerns about insufficient consultation were indeed serious, she said, the church had also only recently re-established channels of communication, thanks in part to the work on the Prayer for Reconciliation with the Jewish people.

The Prayer for Reconciliation with the Jewish People was approved in its second reading at the same General Synod, to take the place of the former Prayer for the Conversion of the Jews in the Book of Common Prayer.

“Should we have consulted sooner? Probably. But I think both [National] Bishop Susan [Johnson, of ELCIC] and I have felt passionately and strongly about what we saw in Israel and Palestine and Gaza.”

Nicholls concluded with a request to the members of General Synod which she said was stretching the bounds of her role as chair of the decision-making body but was necessary because the urgency of the situation facing Palestinians.

“Yes, we could postpone this until CoGS, until next year, until General Synod 2025. I don’t know if I can say this from the chair, but I’m asking you not to do that, because a statement at this time would give us some strength in speaking with our government. It would be a sign to our Palestinian partners who are desperate [to know] that there is support for people who are the original Christians of the Holy Land.”

Normally, it is not the role of the chair of General Synod to direct members how they should vote. The section of the Handbook of General Synod describing the role of the chair says, “The chairperson shall preserve order and decorum and shall decide all questions of order, subject to an appeal to the General Synod, to be decided without debate, and when called upon to decide a point of order, shall state the rule applicable to the case without argument or comment.” But no one in the session raised any public objection to Nicholls’ request.

The second amendment, ratified at the July 2 Anglican session, adds a section proposed by the Lutherans, which asks the church “to study and reflect upon the longstanding history of antisemitism within Christianity and the ongoing legacy of antisemitism in our biblical interpretation and theology.”

Archbishop Greg Kerr-Wilson, metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of Rupert’s Land, presented the amendment to the gathering. He said it would help clarify that the church’s statement was directed at specific actions and a specific government, not to Jewish people as a whole.

“Although this is talking about the actions of the government of Israel, it’s easy for people to hear it as if it was about Judaism or Jews. And we want to be really clear, I think, that that’s not the case. It’s about the actions of the government of Israel,” he said. “Because we’re not simply criticizing or condemning what we’re trying to do is to say things have gone wrong here. This is not the way things ought to be. And the actions, when we do things wrong, we not only hurt others, but we injure ourselves as human beings made in the image of God.”

After the vote, Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada echoed Kerr-Wilson’s compassion for both Palestinians and Israelis.

“There is pain on all sides of this conflict, and this is a particular moment in time when we’re raising up the pain of one side but can never ignore the pain of the other side, and never talk about this without the reality that there is violence on both sides at the moment. There is a disproportionality in the violence that is part of why we need to speak now.”

ELCIC’s Special Convention approved the modified version of the resolution July 1.


  • Sean Frankling

    Sean Frankling’s experience includes newspaper reporting as well as writing for video and podcast media. He’s been chasing stories since his first co-op for Toronto’s Gleaner Community Press at age 19. He studied journalism at Carleton University and has written for the Toronto Star, WatchMojo and other outlets.

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