The purpose of the seminars is to struggle with and to address the serious theological problems which arise when the traditions of a religious community and its way of reading the scriptures assert that its members are somehow chosen, set apart, called or covenanted to be in a unique and specially privileged relationship with God to the exclusion of all others. These assertions have profoundly affected the self understanding, the relationships to those outside the religious community and the attitudes and values of many within the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions across the centuries. And, secular nation-states, like the USA, Israel, and others sometimes make similar claims of divine election.
It is one thing to affirm that every man, woman and child on earth is created in the image and likeness of God, is infinitely loved by God and therefore is of infinite value. It is quite another to claim that belonging to one or another of these religious or national communities gives one's life a value, a vocation and a unique relationship to God which somehow supercedes any of the others. Such a conviction easily leads to violence, abuse and oppression, as history all too clearly demonstrates.
To transform these long-standing issues and their consequences in each of our religious traditions is no small undertaking and will demand years of hard work. Indeed it will require something approaching a theological and ecclesiastical revolution. But we have no choice but to begin, since it is now clearly essential to preserving the life of the world and to ending the violence which threatens to destroy it. Justice and peace require the reconciliation of our religious communities in order to bring an end to the deep divisions which our misguided visions have helped to create. This program represents a modest beginning to transform preaching into a means of struggling with these very issues.
Our seminars will be designed to help preachers challenge and inspire believers to heed God's urgent call to justice and reconciliation in Palestine and Israel by raising a vision of God's love that embraces all people, especially those who are oppressed and persecuted, and exposing the theological error of using biblical passages to rationalize injustice to Jews or Palestinians, or their supporters.
The new program will involve the creation of seminars of five to ten pastors who will meet under the direction of selected resource leaders to study and discuss passages taken from the upcoming year's lectionary texts which refer to the profound theological concerns voiced directly by Palestinians and Jews.
Palestinians have called upon the churches of the world to "preserve the word of God as good news for all rather than to turn it into a weapon with which to slay the oppressed," and to renounce the theological cover-up for the injustice we suffer." (Kairos Palestine, 6.1)
For instance, some Christians and Jews erroneously interpret Genesis 12:3 as a literal land grant to contemporary Jews of all Palestine and texts in Deuteronomy, Joshua and Judges as an excuse to "cleanse" Palestine of non-Jews. To support contemporary Jewish claims to Palestinian land, other texts are used to claim a connection between the biblical kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and the current state of Israel, or a genealogical connection between modern day Jews and the ancient Israelites.
Jews have called upon the churches to renounce the real or apparent anti-Semitism in New Testament texts (e.g. Matthew 27:25) that are cited to blame all Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus (the charge of Deicide), texts that declare that God's covenant with the biblical Israelites and their Jewish spiritual heirs has been nullified or replaced by God's covenant with all who believe in Christ (supercessionism), as well as texts that denigrate or appear to denigrate all Jews. Both Jews and Palestinians engaged in peacemaking have urged their religious communities to interpret the Bible through the lens of contemporary international standards of justice and human rights.
The first of these seminars was held in Chicago, Illinois, from October 27-28, 2015, just before the annual fall meeting of the Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN).
The Back Story
It has been said that home is where the heart is. Home is remembered as the place where one flourished and is remembered with joy; when one has lost their home, that joy is mixed with an ever-present sadness and longing. In 1915, a ten-year-old Osanna Panian left home and escaped what is now known as The Armenian Genocide; she survived and walked over the mountains into Iran and life as a refugee. Was she just lucky that she survived what Winston Churchill later called the first holocaust of the twentieth century? Or was it Providence?
Osanna is the Latin version of the Greek word hosanna. It’s a popular girls’ name in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, but it is also a liturgical word with Hebrew and Aramaic roots meaning “Save me!” or “Help me!” When sung in the liturgy on Palm Sunday, this beseeching cry has the feel of a profound prayer for deliverance. Osanna Panian was given this liturgical name because she was born on Palm Sunday in 1905. Little did anyone know on that day of sung hosannas that this new life would indeed be saved from the horrors of a genocide in which 1.5 million Armenian Christians perished while under the control of the Muslim Ottoman Empire.
Osanna was saved by the joint efforts of the Muslim and Christian community over the border in Iran; they offered two gold coins to anyone who could “deliver a live Armenian from the massacres.” Osanna ended up where her family always feared, “over the mountains” in Muslim Iran. Ironically, she lived a fuller and richer life there than her surviving siblings who ended up in the Soviet Union in faraway Moscow. Osanna’s life spanned most of the twentieth century and she lived it decade after decade, as with all exiles, longing for home. She raised three children in the Christian community in Iran and six grandchildren. As with all refugees, she nurtured her family to have a special attachment to her lost homeland of Armenia.
In 1991, five years after Osanna died, the Soviet Union collapsed, and Armenia gained independence, becoming a sovereign country, with only a fraction of its historic lands. One of Osanna Panian’s grandchildren is Presbyterian elder, Noushin Darya Framke who established The Hosanna Preaching Seminars in her grandmother’s honor, “with the hope that all refugees might find their way home.” It is this same hope that sustains The Hosanna Preaching Seminars and the conversations around finding a way home for those in some version of exile today.
By its name The Hosanna Preaching Seminars program seeks to honor a very special woman who at a young age became a refugee, a person who was never able to return to her native home. In honoring her, we remember the vast numbers of God's children who have been driven from their homes and made refugees in our own time. In particular we think of Palestinian refugees, the largest number of refugees today, who long for home and hope for a day of return. May the fruits of this program contribute to the home-coming of all those who long to be welcomed home.
For archive of previous winners and sermons, please click here.
The Hosanna Logo includes the ancient Armenian Symbol of eternity.