The roots of the Lausanne Initiative for Reconciliation in Israel-Palestine (LIRIP) go back to the Third Lausanne Congress, Cape Town, 2010. The second day was devoted, through a range of plenary speakers and seminars, to one of the six major congress themes “Reconciliation: Building the peace of Christ in our divided and broken world.” The Cape Town Commitment has lengthy paragraphs on this issue (Part IIB), including the following aspiration:
“We long to see the worldwide church of Christ, those who have been reconciled to God, living out our reconciliation with one another and committed to the task and struggle of biblical peace-making in the name of Christ…We long for the day when the church will be the world’s most visibly shining model of ethnic reconciliation and its most active advocate for conflict resolution.”
LIRIP is one attempt to respond to that plea. We are all aware that the conflict between the state of Israel and the Palestinian people is one of the most bitter and difficult in the world. But within that context lies the unique challenge of the relationship between Messianic Jews (particularly those who are resident citizens in Israel) and Palestinian Christians (including those living in the West Bank and Palestinian Israeli citizens). Here are sisters and brothers who all claim to be disciples of Jesus the Messiah, and yet their relationship is fraught with radically divergent perceptions of history, understandings of the Bible, theological interpretations of their land, and political allegiances.
LIRIP was born out of the friendship of its two co-chairs, Richard Harvey and Munther Isaac, and their shared longing to encourage their communities to live out the truth and the demands of the gospel in the spirit of Romans 14:1 – 15:7, to “accept one another as God in Christ has accepted you,” and to “make every effort to do what leads to peace.” An initial small conference of a few invited participants from each community was held in complete confidentiality in January 2013. A steering committee was formed and the LIRIP project was accepted by the Lausanne Board of Directors in June 2013, with Grace Mathews and Chris Wright as facilitators. Two larger gatherings have been held in Cyprus in 2015 and 2016, co-chaired by Harvey and Isaac, and co-moderated by Chris Wright and Trevor Morrow (who has long experience of reconciliation efforts between Roman Catholics and Protestants in Ireland). The latter brought together 30 participants from both communities and produced The Larnaca Statement.
The meetings were intense, with honest sharing and straight talking on both sides. Passion and emotions were stirred, and disagreements were sharp at times. But the intention was not that we could all agree, but that we could all listen and learn and love. Each day was bathed in prayer and study of the Bible together, illuminated by personal testimony, and warmed by friendship-building conversation over meals and drinks together. The fact that the Larnaca Statement was composed in response to each day’s rigorous engagement, and then unanimously agreed by all the participants, without requiring anyone to compromise on deeply held convictions, felt like a miracle of God’s grace.
It is important to understand that we were not trying to come up with some compromise or agreed statement on Israel – Palestine, nor to favor one side or the other, nor to solve the complex theological and political controversies that abound. Our aim was simply to lay some biblical and ethical ground rules for how people who profess to be disciples of Yeshua / Jesus should conduct their disagreements. That is what the Larnaca Statement calls for, and what its signatories committed themselves to. While there have been several comments of appreciation and affirmation, sadly, but not surprisingly for those already familiar with this controversy, the LIRIP project itself has also been severely criticized by some commentators, while several of its participants, both Palestinian and Messianic, have been subjected to very hostile personal attack (which is nothing new for them). This varied response shows the importance of the ongoing conversation and how much the Larnaca Statement is needed.