COLUMBUS, OH - In a press conference devoted mostly to his views on the current conflict in the Middle East, the newly elected moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Rev. Fahed Abu-Akel, called for the creation of a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank.
Abu-Akel, a Palestinian Arab Christian who emigrated to the United States in 1966, said his election sends a message to Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories that "there is hope for you," and renews hope that "you will have a Palestinian state, but only through non-violence."
Abu-Akel, who defeated two pastors from California, garnering 57 percent of the vote, said his election to head the 2.5-million member denomination "could only happen in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and in America, which loved me and educated me. Thank God for America."
He said he will plead with the U.S. government and President George W. Bush to "work through peaceful means" to resolve international conflicts. "We are the most powerful nation under the sun...and we must win politically, economically and socially - not militarily."
Calling himself "a man committed to non-violence," Abu-Akel said he would have Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "speak to Palestinian people to stop suicide bombings and commit the Palestinian people to non-violence."
Although he was inundated with questions about the Middle East, Abu-Akel also addressed conditions within the PC(USA), which has conflicts of its own. He said he wants to be known as a moderator who stands for hospitality and mission.
As founder and executive director of a program that ministers to more than 5,500 international students in the Atlanta area, Abu-Akel is well acquainted with such ministry. "The ministry of hospitality is a gift from God," he said. "The early Christians were first known as 'the hospitable people.'"
Extending hospitality to immigrant groups is the key to church growth for the PC(USA), Abu-Akel said. "As we move toward the future, the racial-ethnic population will grow by leaps and bounds. Racial-ethnic ministry should be our number-one priority."
The new moderator also endorsed the Mission Initiative, a proposed $40 million fund-raising campaign to support international mission and new racial-ethnic church development in this country.
"We should be asking Anglo congregations to start nesting racial-ethnic fellowships," he said.
He added: "There are 500,000 international students in this country and there's a Presbyterian church near every one of their campuses - our gift of hospitality to them is an excellent road to peacemaking, and they can teach us. They're a window for us to the rest of the world."
Abu-Akel said his message to a badly-divided PC(USA) is clear: "The Presbyterian Church is our church, Jesus is our Savior, and we have to stay together."
Engagement in mission together is the key to renewed mutual respect and comity in the church, he said, "and we'll see then how God will lead us together in unity."