God's Reign & People's Rule: Starting Ceremony

The session began with a musical offering from soprano Valentina Moustafa, accompanied on piano by ICB music director Matt Middleton. Among the approximately 50 people in attendance were His Grace the Rev. Dr. Munib Younan, and Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb.

Opening remarks and prayer were made by the conference coordinator, Ms. Janet Lahr Lewis, and included the “Four Elements Medicine Wheel Prayer” by Ralph Metzner, which corresponded to the beautiful wall-hangings that graced the stage where the speakers and panelists were to sit.

The opening message from Rev. Dr. Raheb welcomed the conference delegates, who joined us from 12 countries, 4 continents, and several religious backgrounds. Unfortunately, the delegates from India were unable to come to Bethlehem because of visa difficulties, and were present with us only in spirit. Also, the delegates from Latin America were unable to attend because of financial constraints.

Rev. Dr. Raheb explained that the conference theme of “God’s Reign and People’s Rule” was chosen two years ago, as the most critical topic for the future of the Middle East. The ways that religious communities, political entities and civil society (or the absence thereof) interact and cooperate will shape how Palestine (in the context of the new constitution, and the continued struggle for power between Fatah and Hamas) and the Middle East at large will develop over the next stretch of time.

Bishop Younan then spoke on God’s will, and the danger of the fatalistic belief that “everything is from God”, which he said is “killing the Arab world”. This belief, he said, strips power from humans and ignores human free will – the capacity to do good or do evil. Another problem is the reversal of the traditional belief that God uses people to accomplish His will; lately, it seems that people are using God to accomplish their will, or as a justification for behaviour which is, in reality, self-serving or unfaithful. It is our vocation as a church to work against extremism and instead work for justice, and for humanity.

Regarding the issue of land, the Bishop said that “God is not a real estate agent”, making deals and giving certain parcels of land to certain people. As Christians, our numbers here in the Holy Land may be small, but mission is not measured in numbers, but in faith and steadfastness.