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An Epiphany epiphany

‘A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast’ explores commonalities among those struggling for justice around the world

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Noushin Darya Framke

LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Lee Catoe and Simon Doong, co-hosts of “A Matter of Faith: A Presby Podcast,” had an epiphany for the episode they dropped on Epiphany: Why not invite a justice activist who could discuss the struggle for justice among a variety of God’s children? Listen to their most recent podcast here.

Doong and Catoe turned to Noushin Darya Framke, a longtime member of the Israel/Palestine Mission Network, who recently, along with the Rev. Katherine Cunningham, edited for the World Communion of Reformed Churches “Focus: Palestine,” a digital resource that can be viewed here.

“It’s an excellent day to have a conversation about Palestine,” Framke told the co-hosts. Eastern Orthodox Christians living in the Holy Land celebrate Epiphany by remembering Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. “Palestinian Christians gather, and many go to the river to celebrate this special day,” Framke said. “The Magi were Zoroastrian priests from Iran. This is the perfect day for the conversation from my perspective.”

Framke is the daughter of an Armenian mother and a father who counts Iranian secular Muslims as family. Her grandmother survived the Armenian genocide. Her father was a writer and political prisoner during the tenure of the Shah of Iran. By spending years in a British boarding school, Framke said she sees the world through four lenses: Iranian, Armenian, American and British.

“I am a product of Presbyterian mission,” Framke said, having also attended a Presbyterian mission school in Iran. In the United Kingdom, “I had Scottish teachers who left a lasting impression on me.” A Presbyterian Peacemaking Program study tour in 2006 helped cement her call to advocacy.

“Politics runs in my blood,” Framke said, having served terms on what is now the Racial Equity Advocacy Committee and the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment. Framke recently joined the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Group of Presbyterian Women.

The Israel/Palestine Mission Network came into being out of a 2004 General Assembly mandate, Framke said. “We have developed several really good study guides,” she said, which can be found here.

“We speak to the Church, not for the Church,” Framke said. “Like other advocacy groups, we are on the bleeding edge, out front and pushing the envelope on justice policies, working to bring the Church forward.”

“If you aren’t making waves,” Framke told Catoe and Doong, “you aren’t doing your job.”

With concurrence from four other presbyteries, Grace Presbytery overtured the 224th General Assembly in 2020, an issue scheduled to be taken up by the 225th General Assembly this summer, to determine whether Israel’s “laws, policies and practices constitute apartheid against the Palestinian people.” That’s an issue with which commissioners to General Assembly have been grappling at least since 2010. “Things are changing,” Framke said, “and IPMN will keep pressing Presbyterians to do the right thing on this front.”

“You have been pulling the Church forward on this for a long time,” said Catoe, who edits Unbound: An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice, noting the mission network’s support of Black Lives Matter dates back to 2016. “What is your intersectional approach?”

When Prof. Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” more than three decades ago, she was referring, Framke said, to the “many intersections Black women live at. Intersectionality is at the crossroads of more than one oppression.”

“If you look at pictures from Standing Rock, you see many Palestinian flags at that event,” Framke said of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests dating back to 2016. It’s also easy, Framke explained, to connect the Palestinian struggle with the struggle at the U.S.-Mexico border, “where we’re building a wall as Israel has built a wall. All walls must fall and will fall, like the Berlin Wall.”

During protests on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri following the 2014 killing of Michael Brown and a grand jury’s decision not to indict the involved officer, Framke saw tweets from Gaza instructing Ferguson protesters how to avoid the effects of tear gas.

The media and other institutions are no longer the gatekeepers they once were, Framke said, and Congress now has a new generation of lawmakers “who are trying to tell Americans facts they have not heard before about Israel-Palestine … Their numbers are small, but they are growing.” Framke said more information on the Institute for Middle East Understanding’s concern for diminishing rights for Palestinians living in Israel-Palestine can be found here.

“The rise in authoritarianism is a familiar thing now,” Framke said, including Hungary, Brazil and “what human rights activists in Hong Kong have had to deal with.” What’s new in Israel-Palestine is “the extremes that Israel is willing to go to,” including its October 2021 decision to label six human rights groups as terror organizations. That law “criminalizes their work, enabling Israel to seize assets, arrest staff and punish public expressions of support.” The Foundation for Middle East Peace has more information here.

A number of U.S. news organizations have labeled Black Lives Matter as a terrorist organization, Catoe noted. “I hope people listening can connect these dots,” he said. “That’s what this podcast was created for. I hope you are having an epiphany with me right now,” Catoe told listeners, “how we are all connected as humans.”

“I hope everyone will seek to educate themselves more,” said Doong, who’s with the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, “to stand with our Palestinian siblings as they fight for justice.”

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