Bishop Wenner defends her signing of letter to Congress regarding Israel

Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, president of the UMC’s Council of Bishops, has released a statement defending her decision to join more than a dozen other Christian leaders in sending a letter to Congress, urging an investigation of possible violations by Israel of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Export Control Act.

Some Jewish groups, including the American Jewish Committee and Union for Reform Judaism, were upset enough about the letter to cancel a scheduled meeting of the Christian-Jewish Roundtable, formed to promote interfaith dialogue about the Middle East. And some United Methodists, in comments posted to online articles about the letter, have questioned Bishop Wenner’s decision to be a signatory.

The letter—signed by leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, among others—notes that the two acts prohibit U.S. assistance to countries that engage in a consistent pattern of human rights violations.

The letter notes that both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have suffered, and that both bear responsibility for the conflict. But the letter also says:

“In addition to specific rights violations, we see a troubling and consistent pattern of disregard by the government of Israel for U.S. policies that support a just and lasting peace. Specifically, repeated demands by the U.S. government that Israel halt all settlement activity have been ignored.”

The letter argues further that unconditional U.S. military assistance to Israel has contributed to sustaining the conflict and resulted in human rights violations against Palestinians involving “the misuse of U.S.-supplied weapons.”

Among the groups upset about the letter is the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

“The participation of these leaders in yet another one-sided anti-Israel campaign cannot be viewed apart from the vicious anti-Zionism that has gone virtually unchecked in several of these denominations,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the council.

Some of the United Methodists who commented critically questioned whether Bishop Wenner had overstepped in signing the letter, given that the 2012 General Conference defeated petitions calling on the UMC to divest from firms accused of contributing to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

Bishop Wenner, who leads three annual conferences in Germany along with presiding over the Council of Bishops, responded by email to the Reporter’s request that she address criticisms by United Methodists. Here’s what she said:

The president of the Council of Bishops is the spokesperson for the Council and has the task to speak on public issues of urgent concern, in consultation with the executive secretary or executive committee as may be possible. Such statements shall be made when consonant with the position of the General Conference. The General Conference clearly stated that the UMC works for peace in the Middle East and urges all parties in Israel and Palestine to respect the human rights of all people. General Conference speaks clearly in encouraging United Methodists to engage with their governments so that peaceful solutions in the Israel-Palestine conflict might be achieved.

The General Conference 2012 adopted, for example, on May 2, 2012, the resolution “Opposition to Israeli Settlements in Palestinian Land.” It says:

“… Be it further resolved, that we urge the U.S. government to end all military aid to the region, and second to redistribute the large amount of aid now given to Israel and Egypt; to support economic development efforts of nongovernmental organizations throughout the region, including religious institutions, human rights groups, labor unions, and professional groups within Palestinian communities.

The United Methodist Church requests that all governments, especially that of the United States, work in cooperation with the United Nations, to urge the State of Israel to:

1.   cease the confiscation of Palestinian lands and water for any reason;
2.   cease the building of new, or expansion of existing, settlements and/or bypass roads in the occupied territories including East Jerusalem;
3.   lift the closures and curfews on all Palestinian towns by completely withdrawing Israeli military forces to the Green Line (the 1948 ceasefire line between Israel and the West Bank);
4.   dismantle that segment of the Wall of Separation constructed since May 2002 that is not being built on the Green Line but on Palestinian land that is separating Palestinians from their land and farmers from their fields.

We also urge the Palestinian Authority and all Palestinian religious leaders to continue to publicly condemn violence against Israeli civilians and to use nonviolent acts of disobedience to resist the occupation and the illegal settlements. …”

This resolution goes further than the letter which I signed. The letter asks the congress to urge the U.S. government to implement accountability structures for the huge amount of the military aid which Israel receives from the United States. It does not say that Israel does not have the right to defend itself. We stand clearly on the side of Israel and we are committed to human rights for all God’s people. We are ready to continue the dialogue with Jewish faith groups. And we will also continue to express publicly our desire for peaceful solutions for the conflict in the Middle East. In doing this we have to ask the politicians to act according to their responsibility and control those who are in power if people are threatened and peaceful solutions are undermined.

editor’s note: We’ve become aware that a group with a deep interest in the Israel/Palestine subject has encouraged members and friends to post comments here, supporting Bishop Wenner. That’s fine, but many of the comments make the same points,  often with language that’s similar. We’ve decided, in consultation with one of the leaders of the group, to post a representative sampling of those comments – not all of them. So if yours doesn’t appear, that’s the reason. Thanks for your patience and understanding.


Sam Hodges, Former Managing Editor, UMR

Sam Hodges

Sam Hodges was the managing editor of The United Methodist Reporter from 2011-2013. A formee reporter for the Dallas Morning News and the Charlotte Observer, Sam is a respected voice in United Methodist journalism.

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46 Comments on "Bishop Wenner defends her signing of letter to Congress regarding Israel"

The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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You said it better than I could have. I too saw the harassment of the settlers, the automatic weapons on every corner in Jerusalem, the checkpoints, the shuttered markets in Hebron—all of the injustice that we Americans are subsidizing. Thank you for your reasoned voice of integrity.


How can Christians remain silent as fellow Christian and Muslim Palestinians suffer terrible human rights violations under Israeli occupation? it is crucial that the US stops sending weapons into the conflict zone of the Middle East (which is done in violation of international law as well). The call for an end to the Israeli colonisation of Palestinian land and an end to the military occupation aims at ending human suffering on both sides. The occupation destroys Palestinians and Israelis spiritually.


I fully support Bishop Wenner's letter to Congress regarding an investigation of possible violations by Israel of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Export Control Act. Such an investigation is years past due. The United States's continued military support for Israel in the face of it's illegal West Bank settlement projects and the U.S. unwillingness to deal with this problem, has now made a two state solution impossible. Divestment from investment in Israel is probably the only way now to make Israel stop it's injustice to Palestinians.

Brave people in history, who dare to say the truth and who stand for what is right, are not tolerated by the system that they are exposing nor those who are so used to the system or those who benefit from the system. Throughout my life I have been impressed by Henry David Thoreau. He was jailed for standing for a moral cause; as a consequence he wrote Civil Disobedience to liberate people's minds from the dogma that limits their thinking. Bishop Wenner, thank you for your bravery and strength. Thank you for being a moral model for many of… Read more »
Thank you Bishop, for your courageous stand. For too long Israel has committed atrocities against the Palestinian people which go unreported and unknown, because the mainstream media in the US is biased in favor of Israel. Most people in this country have no idea what is really going on in Palestine. In countries where the media is more even-handed, public sentiment is overwhelmingly against Israel. I am heartened by the fact that religious leaders in this country are speaking out against how Israel uses our aid, money that could be put to much better use right here.
At last! Christians have found a voice for justice and peace in Bishop Wenner. I have been trying for the last eight years to educate myself and others with the facts re. Israel and its history of mistreating the Palestinians. The silence of Christian churches about the unjust policies and practices of Israel has been the most demoralizing part of my work. How could we claim to be followers of Jesus and not speak out on behalf of the thousands of Palestinians who have suffered so long not only the ongoing loss of their land but the deprivation of even… Read more »
Thank you, Bishop Wenner! Jesus loved all mankind. He did not love Jews more than gentiles. Bishop Wenner, along with the other signers of the letter to Congress, are only seeking a recognition of human rights for all. No side is blameless in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it involves humans in all their frailty on both sides. However, as US money is an important part of the conflict, we must insure that it is not being used to worsen human tragedy. Bishop Wenner et al. only asked that Congress follow their own rules to achieve that aim. That's all. I… Read more »

Thank you Bishop Wenner for being a leader for justice. Know it is especially hard when justice is a minority position.
So, thank you very much!


Thank you for showing such courage. Every nonviolent means of resistance needs to be employed to stop the Aparteid in Palestine. What a shame that doing the right thing requires such courage.

I commend Bishop Wenner for her courage in speaking out on Israel's long standing human rights violations against the Palestinian people and for her calling for our government to be held accountable for giving Israel massive amounts of military aid to pursue its agenda of colonizing the West Bank. Currently, over 500,000 Israelis live in permanent, yet illegal settlements in the West Bank on land given to the Palestinian people by the United Nations in 1947. These settlements are linked by an exclusive, Israeli-only road system. Israeli forces continually bulldoze Palestinian homes and olive orchards to make way for even… Read more »
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