Baptists Part of Delegation to Middle East

Jewish leaders lead the delegation in a Prayer Walk through several holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Two Baptists were among 16 Jewish and Christian leaders returning Friday from a week-long "mission of peace" to Israel and Palestine.

John Roberts, a past president of the Alliance of Baptists, was among a delegation of eight Christian denominations and national organizations and six national Jewish organizations and religious movements spending five days together in a land considered holy by three "Abrahamic" faiths.


Shanta Premawardhana, a former senior pastor of Chicago's Ellis Avenue Church (formerly Cornell Baptist Church) and Alliance of Baptists vice president named associate general secretary for interfaith relations of the National Council of Churches in October 2003, led the group.


"Many of us have been there before and have seen the realities on the ground and met people who are suffering as well as the religious and political dignitaries," Premawardhana said prior to the Sept. 18-23 trip. "The difference this time is that we are hoping to see and hear with the eyes and ears of the other, those same realities and voices. We are hopeful that the trip will help transform us and our dialogue table."


Returning on Friday, the delegation released a statement pledging support for a "two-state solution" for a negotiated peace settlement between Israel and Palestine.


"As representatives of mainline Christian Churches and the American Jewish community, we have demonstrated that Christians and Jews can work together to seek peace even when there is disagreement on specific policies and solutions," the group said. 


"As a result of these days, we will now be even more effective advocates for a secure, viable and independent Palestinian state alongside an equally secure State of Israel, affirming the historic links that both the Jewish People and the Palestinian People have to the land."


Upon their return, the leaders pledged to:


--"Deepen our engagement with each other and expand the number of Jews and Christians committed to interfaith dialogue on the local level as advocates for peace.


--"Mobilize each of our communities of faith across the United States in a concerted effort to bring reconciliation and peace to Israelis and Palestinians alike."


--"Together, we seek to mobilize elected officials and our American fellow citizens on behalf of a negotiated peace settlement. 


--"Effectively support those Palestinians and Israelis who are courageously working for reconciliation  and a two-state solution with concrete actions that will help sustain their work."


"A trip that started from many different places has brought us closer together in hope and faith," the leaders continued.


"While there were many difficult moments, our trust in each other deepened.  We sustain hope and faith in each other as agents of peace. We affirm hope and faith in our two religious communities as partners and advocates for a two-state solution. We also have a renewed hope and faith in the future of this holy land and these two peoples. 


"On this day, we together affirm our partnership with God in bringing about justice, compassion and peace." 


Roberts, retired pastor of Woodbrook Baptist Church in Baltimore, said it "was an honor to represent the Alliance and a delight to see how effectively Shanta led the group in his capacity as an NCCUSA staffer."


Both Roberts and Premawardhana worked on the Alliance's 1995 Baptist Statement on Jewish-Christian Relations, which was officially presented at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.


Bob Allen is managing editor of

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