“My parents are from Ramallah.” Betty spoke these words softly as we stood in the narthex after worship. No one else was able to hear the revelation that Betty was 100% Palestinian. She was not ready to be open with others about her identity. I couldn’t believe it — I had a closeted Palestinian in my congregation!
Betty quietly came out to me because my sermon that morning included reflections of my recent trip to Israel/Palestine. Betty wanted me to know that I was talking about her. I had seen the town where her family was from; I had walked its ancient streets. Betty had been there when she was a child, before the Six Day War, and she had very fond memories of its beauty. Her father was educated at the Quaker Friends School in Ramallah. Her parents told her, “If anyone asks, tell them we are Syrian.” They were not Syrian, but they were Christian.
I couldn’t wrap my mind around what I was hearing — I had a parishioner who was afraid to reveal her real identity. She was closeted not because she was gay (she isn’t); she was closeted because of the open hostility directed against Palestinians. Even in the church, people who are Palestinian are dehumanized, yet Betty’s family had been Christians forever! Since the earliest days of Christianity, her family had been followers of Christ in the land of Christ.
Betty kept her identity secret until that moment when she could no longer keep silent: “My parents are from Ramallah.” A few months later, she began to share her truth with members of the congregation.
Betty is Palestinian. Christian. Presbyterian.
Laurie A. McNeill is a member of Hudson River Presbytery and she serves as a Teaching Elder in Highland and Marlboro, New York.