African Methodist Episcopal Church Leaders Call for Halt to All US Funding of Israel - Word&Way

African Methodist Episcopal Church Leaders Call for Halt to All US Funding of Israel

(RNS) — The African Methodist Episcopal Church’s top officials have called for the U.S. government to halt all its funding of Israel, citing the deaths of tens of thousands of Palestinians in the Hamas-Israel war.

“The Council of Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church calls on the United States Government to immediately withdraw all funding and other support from Israel,” reads a statement issued on Wednesday (Feb. 14), the 264th anniversary of the birth of the historically Black denomination’s founder, Richard Allen.

Rubble litters a street between smoldering buildings hit by an Israeli airstrike in Jabaliya, Gaza Strip, on Oct. 11, 2023. (Hatem Moussa/Associated Press)

“Since October 7, 2023, in retaliation for the brutal murder of 1,139 Israeli citizens by Hamas, Israel has murdered over 28,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children. The United States is supporting this mass genocide. This must not be allowed to continue.”

The statement was signed by Bishop Adam J. Richardson, senior bishop of the denomination; Bishop Stafford J.N. Wicker, president of the bishops’ council; Bishop E. Anne Henning Byfield, chair of social action, and Bishop Francine A. Brookins, co-chair of social action.

Bishop Harry L. Seawright, the leader of the AME’s Alabama district, said in a Thursday interview with Religion News Service that he and other bishops also supported the statement, which he said reflects the denomination’s stances on social action.

“We have always tried to take a social stand against injustice, unfair treatment of all people,” he said.

Seawright said he was not aware of any other Black denominations that had adopted the same stance. Bishop Vashti McKenzie, a retired AME bishop and the president of the National Council of Churches,  an organization of Protestant, Orthodox, evangelical, and historic African American churches, told Religion News Service that she believed the AME Church was the first national denomination to take this step.

In January, Progressive National Baptist Convention President David Peoples declared his denomination’s stance in favor of a cease-fire at a news conference at the Lorraine Motel, the Memphis, Tennessee, site where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.

But on Thursday, he told RNS he is not taking the stance the AME Church has. “I’m not going that far,” he said, though he said he agrees with those who think U.S. military funding to Israel should be tied to verified humanitarian conditions and an exit strategy.

The AME’s statement comes in a week of continuing calls for cease-fire and humanitarian aid for the victims of the war that began on Oct. 7 with a Hamas attack that killed an estimated 1,200 people in Israel, according to authorities there; 28,000 Palestinians have since been killed in retaliation, health officials in Gaza estimate

In a Monday (Feb. 12) letter to House Speaker Mike Johnson, a diverse group of faith leaders requested that any legislation providing U.S. funding for Israel include humanitarian aid for Palestinians. The signers include leaders of the NCC, National Association of Evangelicals, the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Sojourners, the National African American Clergy Network, and Masjid Muhammad in Washington.

“Ending the extraordinary suffering and death of Palestinian civilians is essential to Israel’s long-term security and to peace and stability in the region,” wrote the signatories, who added that they recognize Israel’s right to defend itself and they seek the release of hostages held by Hamas.

“On behalf of many faith groups, we stand united in our call to Congress to act immediately to make sure critical supplies and medicine are provided, allowed into Gaza, and delivered to those in need,” the statement said.

As the AME bishops issued their statement, Peace Pilgrimage marchers, including Christians, Jews and Muslims, joined with the organization Faith for Black Lives on a trek from Philadelphia to Washington to urge an end to the war. On the same day, which was Ash Wednesday, dozens of Christian protesters protested outside the White House, where a Catholic Mass was said as part of an ecumenical witness in support of a cease-fire.

In November, more than 900 Black Christian leaders took out a full-page ad in The New York Times, calling for a cease-fire and the release of Israeli hostages in Gaza.

Shortly after the Oct. 7 start of the war, other historically Black denominations issued statements.

Church of God in Christ Presiding Bishop J. Drew Sheard said in an Oct. 9 statement, “my heart goes out to the State of Israel. We are deeply concerned for the well-being of its people. We believe in the power of love and peace and offer our prayers for peace, security, and prosperity.”

The Board of Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church expressed lament over the violence affecting Jewish, Muslim, and Christian people in the region.

“Persons of moral clarity can fiercely condemn acts of terrorism by Hamas while also speaking out against the collective punishment of the people of Gaza and the life-threatening conditions imposed upon the Palestinian population,” the AME Zion bishops said in an Oct. 17 statement. “Israeli and Palestinian lives are of equal value, and each of their lives matter.”