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UCCtruths

Every denomination needs one of these...

Guess who is not coming to dinner

Thursday, September 25, 2008

United Church of Christ President John Thomas has declined an invitation to join other religious leaders meeting with the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. From UCC.org:
This evening, September 25, the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will meet with religious leaders at a dinner in New York. The event is co-sponsored by the Mennonite Central Committee, the American Friends Service Committee, the Quaker United Nations Office, the World Conference on Religions for Peace, and the World Council of Churches. While a member of Religions for Peace, the United Church of Christ is not active in its participation. We are, of course, a very active member communion of the World Council of Churches.

I was invited to the dinner but have declined. In previous public statements I have objected strongly to the rhetoric of President Ahmadinejad, rhetoric regarding the State of Israel and the historicity of the Holocaust that is deeply disturbing to all who believe in Israel's right to exist and who acknowledge the on-going pain that the Holocaust and its memory still evokes. While the organizers of this event certainly hope to raise their concern over this rhetoric with President Ahmadinejad, I am not convinced this will be effective. To the contrary, I fear the occasion can and will be used by President Ahmadinejad to claim legitimacy and support for himself by an association with respected United States religious leaders. I respect the sponsoring organizations' intent for dialogue, but fear that the more likely outcome is sowing confusion and disappointment among our own members and, in particular, the American Jewish community.
This is a surprising but welcome gesture by Thomas who has been widely criticized by the Jewish community in the past for statements and actions he has made regarding Israel.

The UCC's Justice and Peace Action Network also made statements in the past that appeared to support Iran's false claims that it would not enrich uranium while the U.S. was pushing for greater measures of accountability. From a 2005 UCC Justice and Peace Action Network alert:
The government of Iran has already submitted to the International Atomic Energy gency protocol and has opened up its facilities to international inspectors. In addition, Iran signed an agreement with Britain, France and Germany that it would stop developing uranium enrichment facilities.
Thomas should be praised for his decision to not attend the dinner this evening. While this is a clear sign that he does take the opinions of the Jewish community seriously, there is much more work that needs be done.
posted by UCCtruths, Thursday, September 25, 2008 | link | 2 comments |

When UCC ministers roar

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The great thing about this political season is that it brings out the worst in some clergy - especially within the United Church of Christ. Here are a couple of classic comments from UCC clergy this week...

"I am deeply concerned about single-issue, anti-abortion voters. I consider them immoral."
-Rev. Willis E. Elliott as posted at the Washington Post "On Faith"
For me, my concern isn't about the abortion debate, it's about clergy essentially telling people how to vote. Stupid comments like this are no better than Catholic Bishops telling their parishoners about the morality of their voting decisions.

This one is pretty good too...
"I am trying to understand why America thinks it's okay for a woman to go to four or five colleges before she got her bachelor's degree to compete with a black man who went to Harvard and graduated at the top of his class"
-Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith, Advent United Church of Christ in Columbus, Ohio, preaching at Howard University
The elitism in this is actually pretty funny. By her standard, Abraham Lincoln would not have been qualified to run for President. And what's the message in this to the women who struggle to go to college and have to bounce around to different schools to complete their degrees? According to this Yale grad, only Ivy Leaguers should run for public office I guess.

But she didn't stop there... regarding Obama not referencing MLK during his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention:

"On the day he accepted the presidential nomination, he could have at least said Martin Luther King's name"
I guess this is the "sacred conversation on race" I've been missing.
posted by UCCtruths, Wednesday, September 24, 2008 | link | 2 comments |

Guest Post: The Limits of (International) Law

Monday, September 22, 2008

By Dexter Van Zile

Note: This is a much briefer entry than what I have posted previously. I offer the following arguments to spark debate. As time allows, I will provide more detail and narrative to the argument I make below. I am confident that many readers of UCCtruths will understand the underlying truth of the arguments I offer below and in some instances will be able to fill in the blanks on their own.

1. Mainline Protestant peace activists and church leaders who are willing to subject Christian Scriptures to pretty intense hermeneutics invoke international law as if it were inerrant, without assessing whether or not the rulings they invoke are just or fair. When it comes to international law, mainline peace activists and church leaders are fundamentalists.

2. Mainline Protestants know that appeals to law are not by themselves decisive for Christians. Slavery was legal in the Old South where the law deprived Africans of their status as human beings. German law allowed for Jews to be stripped of their citizenship and of their possessions and shipped off to death camps.

3. Mainline Protestant peace activists and leaders who regard nation states with great suspicion have portrayed the system of international law -- created by nation states -- as sacrosanct, inerrant, and a reliable judge of Israeli behavior.

4. It is not. For the past few decades, international law has been used to give Arab terrorists and tyrants the pretext and territory they have used to attack Israeli citizens.

5. In previous historical eras, national laws have been used to deprive people of their God-given rights. (See #2.) In the current historical era, international law has been used to deprive the Jewish state and the Jews who live in it of their right to self-defense.

6. Jews, like all other peoples, have a God-given right to defend themselves as individuals and as a group. This right cannot be taken away from them by the injust, discriminatory and biased application of the principles of international law.

7. Mainline peace activists and church leaders have assisted in the sustained effort to deprive Israel of its rights in the community of nations in a number of ways including the reckless invocation of unjust rulings and legal opinions against the Jewish state.

8. Mainline peace activists and church leaders should abandon the prosecutorial demeanor and attitude they have exhibited toward Israel and the licentious attitude they have exhbited toward Arab leaders in the Middle East.
posted by Dexter Van Zile, Monday, September 22, 2008 | link | 0 comments |

Making adoption a priority

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A friend just turned me on to an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal last month regarding new initiatives to promote adoptions of children at risk including orphans. As many of the regulars to the site know, I was adopted as an infant through the United Church of Christ affiliated Crossroad Ft. Wayne Childrens Home and I'm a strong advocate for adoption programs. While Crossroad is no longer handling adoptions, there is clearly an opportunity for our denomination to find new ways of serving the most vulnerable people in our society.

The WSJ article politicizes the issue more than I care for, but there are some important issues that are raised. I'm not a fan of 'Focus on the Family' and I don't have any respect for James Dobson's effort to politicize religion, but they are 100% right about the role faith commuities should play with regards to adoption. From the WSJ:
The theme was "You Are God's Plan for the Orphan," which represents something of a shift, says Kelly Rosati, who oversees Focus on the Family's adoption and orphan-care division and is the mother of four adopted children. "The traditional way of viewing adoption was something you considered if you were facing infertility." You could call it God's Plan B for the Couple. But now, according to Ms. Rosati, "the commitment to adoption is part of a holistic sanctity-of-human-life ethic."

This fall, Focus on the Family (whose leader, James Dobson, has been slowly warming to Sen. McCain) will be launching a different sort of adoption campaign. In cooperation with the state of Colorado, where the Christian organization is based, it will be shining its media spotlight on the 127,000 children in the U.S. who are considered unadoptable -- kids, typically over the age of 8, who are languishing in foster care. Many are racial minorities.
Did you know that there were 127,000 kids in our country that are "unadoptable"? What is your church doing about this? What is our denomionation doing about this? Do we care about 'the least of these' only when it's politically convenient or are we really committed?
posted by UCCtruths, Sunday, September 21, 2008 | link | 1 comments |

It's official: We're nuts

Friday, September 19, 2008

This could explain a great deal about our denomination. From the Wall Street Journal:
The Gallup Organization, under contract to Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion, asked American adults a series of questions to gauge credulity. Do dreams foretell the future? Did ancient advanced civilizations such as Atlantis exist? Can places be haunted? Is it possible to communicate with the dead? Will creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster someday be discovered by science?

The answers were added up to create an index of belief in occult and the paranormal. While 31% of people who never worship expressed strong belief in these things, only 8% of people who attend a house of worship more than once a week did.

Even among Christians, there were disparities. While 36% of those belonging to the United Church of Christ, Sen. Barack Obama's former denomination, expressed strong beliefs in the paranormal, only 14% of those belonging to the Assemblies of God, Sarah Palin's former denomination, did. In fact, the more traditional and evangelical the respondent, the less likely he was to believe in, for instance, the possibility of communicating with people who are dead.
This would explain John Dorhauer's crazy conspiracy theory, our denomination's support for the anti-Semitic organization Sabeel and our denomination's support for convicted terrorists. Simply put, a third of us will believe just about anything.
posted by UCCtruths, Friday, September 19, 2008 | link | 1 comments |

Guest Post: A Warning, Not a Primer

By Dexter Van Zile

In 1974, New Seabury Press published Faith and Fratricide: The Theological Roots of Anti-Semitism, by Rosemary Radford Ruether. In this book, Ruether offered a thoroughgoing critique of the New Testament and of the writings of the early church fathers that offered a distorted and inaccurate view of Judaism and Jews to demonstrate the superiority of the Christian church. Ruether noted a troubling aspect of Christian writings: the most powerful expressions of Christ’s divinity and redeeming power were often accompanied by ugly denunciations of Jews. Christianity’s assertions of Christ’s divinity, status as the messiah, and expectations of redemption were so deeply interwoven with enmity toward the Jews that Ruether asked:

Is it possible to purge Christianity of anti-Judaism without at the same time pulling up Christian faith? Is it possible to say “Jesus is Messiah” without, implicitly or explicitly, saying at the same time “and the Jews be damned”?
The interweaving of anti-Jewish polemic with assertions of Jesus’ redemptive power was, according to Ruether, an effort to counter two threats to the early Christian faith: Jewish rejection of Jesus as the messiah and the fact that the world had remained much as it was, rife with conflict and misery even after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The presence of suffering in the world after Christ’s resurrection contradicted a central tenet of Christianity – that Christ had conquered sin and death. Christian writers countered these threats by spiritualizing the redemption Christ brought to the world, claiming this spirituality for the church, and by projecting human failings onto the Jewish people. According to Ruether, the narrative offered by Christian writers and commentators portrays Judaism and its adherents as apostate from God, guilty of violating all the rules that had been handed down to them in their Torah, and then stubborn in their insistence on following these rules once they had been superseded by Jesus Christ, whom they murdered. Jews were portrayed as a carnal people while Christianity and its adherents are portrayed as “spiritual.” Jews were portrayed as unable to understand their own scriptures; Christians are portrayed as having the true understanding of how Jews should interpret their scriptures and ultimately how they should behave. According to Ruether, Jewish scriptures which “contain a record of Jewish self-criticism” were transformed by Christian writers “into a remorseless denunciation of the Jews, while the Church, in turn is presented as totally perfect and loses the prophetic tradition of self-criticism.”

Gregory Baum, a Catholic theologian who wrote the introduction to Ruether’s book, put it concisely when he wrote:

The Church made the Jewish people a symbol of unredeemed humanity; it painted a picture of the Jews as a blind, stubborn, carnal and perverse people, an image that was fundamental in Hitler’s choice of the Jews as the scapegoat.
Baum’s introduction was remarkable in that he had previously argued “the anti-Jewish trends in Christianity were peripheral and accidental, and that it would consequently be fairly easy to purify the preaching of the church from anti-Jewish bias.” After reading Ruether’s work, however, Baum admitted that anti-Jewish trends were not a recent development in Christianity and that “they were, almost from the beginning, linked to the Church’s proclamation of the Jesus as the Christ.” Baum proclaimed that “If the Church wants to clear itself of the anti-Jewish trends built into its teaching, a few marginal correctives will not do. It must examine the very center of its proclamation and reinterpret the meaning of the gospel for our times.”

Ruether’s book prefigured another magisterial and influential text written two decades later – Constantine’s Sword by James Carroll who popularized an insight that had been circulating in academic and theological circles for years: Christian teachings regarding the Jewish people were a necessary and contributing factor to the destruction of the Jewish people in Europe during the 1940s and that Christians needed to come up with new ways to interpret their scripture. To be sure, Ruether was not the first commentator to raise these issues, but she was one of the most fearless and thoroughgoing. In response to the issues raised by Ruether and other theologians, several liberal Protestant denominations in the United States issued statements of contrition regarding Christian teachings about the Jewish people, and promised to fight against anti-Semitism in the future. In their own ways, they recapitulated what the Roman Catholic Church had stated to the world in its document Nostra Aetate issued in 1965 – in light of the Holocaust, Christians were obligated to find new ways to affirm their faith without demonizing Jews.

In light of the work of Ruether and others, liberal Catholics and Protestants began to reinterpret and in some instances, reject the New Testament’s anti-Judaism. For example, in 2004, Westminster John Knox Press published Preaching the Gospels Without Blaming the Jews: A Lectionary Commentary written by Ronald J. Allen and Clark M. Williamson. In this book, Allen and Williamson (who invoke Ruether in their introduction) state explicitly that Gospel polemic against Jews and their leaders should be analyzed, and when necessary, rejected. For instance, the authors assert that Matthew’s Gospel inserted the presence of Pharisees and scribes into the narrative of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan river “so that John can engage in name-calling: ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?’” The authors tell us that “after the Holocaust, preachers should speak against Matthew’s polemic.”

The great irony is that in the years since the publication of Ruether’s book, Christian peace activists have deployed many of the same polemical devices against modern Israel that Ruether documented in Faith and Fratricide. Progressive Christianity’s most powerful calls for peace and liberation are accompanied by ugly polemics that portray Israel and its supporters as worthy of contempt and justify Israel’s banishment from the community of nations. Many peace activists portray themselves as inheriting and embodying the ultimate truths of the Christian religion, while Israel and its supporters are portrayed as embodying all of the worst characteristics of human nature, organized religion, the international system and ultimately as if they are enemies of God, obstructing God’s plan for a peaceful world (in a manner eerily similar to what some Christian Zionists say about those who oppose Israel.)

Adam Gregerman, Ph.D., documented the problem in an article (“Old Wine in New Bottles: Liberation Theology and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict”) published in the Summber-Fall 2004 edition Journal of Ecumenical Studies. Using Faith and Fratricide as a map of Christian anti-Jewish polemic, Gregerman details how modern Christian writers – including Ruether herself – had “perpetuated Christian stereotypes and images of Jews, even as many churches are rejecting anti-Jewish teachings.” He reported how Christian commentators “use the Jews’ sacred texts against them and thereby turn political disagreements into religious indictments.” Gregerman is particularly forceful when he describes how “the most malevolent enemies of Jesus and God and even of ancient Israel are deployed as symbols of Jews by liberation theologians, with no attention to the long history of Christian anti-Judaism, which used precisely these symbols and this type of polemic.

Anglican Priest Naim Ateek founder of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, headquartered in Jerusalem features prominently in Gregerman’s piece. Using liberation theology as its framework, Sabeel calls for a one-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict in the form of “One state for two nations and three religions.” In addition to its support for a one-state solution, Sabeel is well known for its use of anti-Judaic polemic from the New Testament to portray the modern state of Israel as a cosmological affront to Christian sensibilities. For example, in 2005 Sabeel issued a liturgy titled “The Contemporary Stations of the Cross” that equates Israel’s founding with Jesus’ death sentence and the construction of a security barrier with His death on the cross. With these comparisons, Sabeel transforms two actions taken to achieve Jewish safety in the face of unrelenting violence into two reminders of Christ’s judicial and ritual murder – at the hands of the Jews, of course. This document, published after Gregerman’s article appeared in print, underscores his assertion that critiques motivated by liberation theology
… lead to a demonization of the Jews. These writings do not illuminate the key issues in the conflict and offer little by way of guidance for those on all sides who seek a just solution. As such, liberation theology impedes rather than fosters any serious attempt at understanding or ending the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Gregerman’s article raises an important question for Christian peace activists – similar to the one Ruether asked in 1974: Is it possible for Christian peace activists and mainline churches to assert “peace is possible” without implicitly, or explicitly, saying in one way or another “and Israel be damned”? The willingness of mainline peace activists and church leaders (particularly in the UCC and the Episcopal Church) to tolerate the use of Sabeel’s angry polemic is troublesome, but the problems do not stop there.

Another problem is the manner in which these activists and leaders have adopted the group’s unrealistic prescription for ending the conflict – “End the occupation and the violence will end.” This mantra, put forth by Dick Toll, former chair of the Friends of Sabeel North America in 2005, roots the continued existence of the Arab-Israeli conflict in Israeli policies and takes no account of the enmity toward Jews and Israel expressed by religious political leaders throughout the Middle East. And like the predictions of the world’s imminent redemption put forth by Jesus’ early followers, Sabeel’s “end-the-occupation-and-the-violence-will-end” narrative has proven to be a disappointment. Israel has been attacked from every bit of territory from which it has withdrawn since the Oslo Accords.

This is a point I’ve made before – numerous times – but one that bears repeating. Between 2000 and 2004, Israel was attacked by suicide bombers from the West Bank, with many of the attacks originating from towns from which Israel withdrew its soldiers in the 1990s. In 2006, Israel was attacked by Hamas from the Gaza Strip -- from which it withdrew in 2005. Also in 2006, Israel was attacked from Lebanon, from which it withdrew in 2000, by Hezbollah.

If the safety of your family was at stake, would you still be willing to bet its well-being on the “end-the-occupation-and-the-violence-will-end” narrative after your country was attacked from territory from which it withdrew?

I wouldn’t.

Neither would most of the people in mainline churches; those who would place this bet have no right to expect Israelis to do so after the events of the past few years.

On this score, mainline peace activists and the leaders of our churches have done a very poor job of conveying the hopelessness felt after the Second Intifada by well-meaning, peace-loving Israeli Jews, who if by some reversal of fate were Christians living in the U.S. (yes, I know it’s a bizarre scenario – but stay with me) would likely find themselves at home in our churches by virtue of their temperament and politics.

After the collapse of the Camp David Process, peace-loving Israelis were devastated and many of them laid the blame squarely on the Arab inability to accept Israel’s right to exist. Hirsh Goodman had this to say at the height of the Second Intifada in 2002: “I supported Oslo. I supported talking with Arafat. The greatest disappointment was to discover that despite everything I've believed, everything I've promulgated, that [expletive] never gave up terror.” (We never saw that quote in any background documents prepared by the activists and church staffers now did we?)

Goodman was not the only peace activist to take a different attitude after the Second Intifada. This is how a liberal pro-peace Israeli Jew (who will be left nameless) responded to the “Tear Down the Wall” resolution passed by the United Church of Christ in 2005: “When I hear churches in the U.S. tell us to tear down the wall, it makes me want to build another one right behind it.”

Despite all this, mainline church leaders and peace activists clung to their discredited narrative by denying the concessions weren’t any good (Barak’s “generous offer” was no such thing), or asserting that Sharon’s withdrawal was meaningless (“Gaza is still an open air prison!”) or that the Security Barrier caused and did not prevent Palestinian violence (“Tear Down the Wall!”).

Any suggestion that the peace and justice activists are motivated by a desire to analyze and confront the underlying causes of the Arab-Israeli conflict misses the point. These activists are telling a story, not making peace. They are creating a mythology about the conflict that couples a relentless bill of particulars against Israel with a licentious hagiography that portrays Israel’s adversaries as innocent of all wrong. The goal of this myth is to allow adherents of the “end-the-occupation-and-the-violence-will-end narrative” to remain devoted to their ersatz parousia, and to blame its delay on Israel.

Once again, Jews are defamed when the millennial hopes of Christians are disappointed. One way or another, Christians always seem to come back to their obsession with Jewish people – this time through the modern state of Israel. The only question is how this obsession will manifest itself – through a process of sacralization or demonization. Much of what passes for Christian debate over the Arab-Israeli conflict is an exchange of polemics between those who sacralize the modern state of Israel and those who demonize it. One characteristic the opposing parties share is a belief that the modern state of Israel will play a central role in their respective salvation schemes.

The similarity between these two schemes became obvious to me while arguing with a peace activist at the UCC General Synod in 2005. During the discussion, I pointed out that mainline resolutions always seem to be making demands of Israel while making very few demands of the Palestinians. In response, the activist said “I want Israel to usher in a new era!”

To be fair, the activist was speaking in historical and not eschatological terms, but the millennial overtone was unmistakable. Israel was expected to bring about a new reality in the Middle East through self-reform, sacrifice and risk-taking. Any expectations the activist had of Israel’s adversaries were unstated. This was not an unusual, isolated slip-of-the-tongue by an individual activist but emblematic central aspect of the Christian peacemaking agenda in regards to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In his address to the Sabeel conference at Old South Church in Boston in October 2007 Archbishop Desmond Tutu challenged Jews to struggle with their conscience over Israeli policies and to “be on the side of the God who revealed a soft spot in his heart for the widow, the orphan and the alien.” He cautioned Jews to not fight against the God, their God who hears the cry of the oppressed, who sees their anguish and who will always come down to deliver them.” He targeted this cri de coeur exclusively at Jews leaving any expectations he may have had of the Palestinian unspoken. Yes, Archbishop Tutu does condemn “acts of terrorism by whoever they are committed,” but when it comes to naming the perpetrators of misdeeds, he names only the Jewish people and their institutions.

It should be noted, however, that Tutu has recently called on the United Nations to “show the same concern for protecting Israelis from Palestinian attacks as it does for Palestinian suffering under Israeli occupation” and even demanded that Hamas “bring an end to the launching of rockets against civilians in Israel.” These proclamations are undercut however by his suggestion, based on tenuous proof, that Israel perpetrated a war crime by killing civilians in a rocket attack on Bet Hanoun in 2006 and by his assertion that the Palestinians are paying the price for Western guilt over the Holocaust. The 19 Gazans who were killed and the additional 50 who were injured as a result of the rocket attack on Bet Hanoun Nov. 8, 2006 were not paying the price for the Holocaust, but were victims of Palestinians rocket teams who use dense urban neighborhoods as their hiding places.

Were these deaths a tragedy? Absolutely. Does Israel share responsibility for their death? Yes, and most Israelis will say so. But the fundamental reality is this: Terrorists who attack civilians while hiding behind civilians guarantee civilian casualties. The math is pretty simple: No rockets into Israel, no rockets into Gaza. What Israelis regard as a tragedy that brings shame on the Jewish state – the death of innocent civilians – is the chosen and preferred strategy of groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. Desmond Tutu knows this. We all know this. And yet mainline peace activists pretend otherwise. The fact that Archbishop Tutu’s lopsided criticism marks an improvement in how he speaks about the Arab-Israeli conflict shows just how bad things are.

Lopsided demands and criticism of Israel are, along with the ugly, demonizing polemic detailed by Gregerman, another salient aspect of Sabeel's reckless application of liberation theology to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Sabeel’s recklessness is evident in the licentious manner with which it uses the Exodus narrative as a framework for the Arab-Israeli conflict. Apparently, Sabeel’s version of ancient Israel’s story of liberation ends with Exodus. It does not include the rest of the Pentateuch which details how God starts holding ancient Israelites accountable – even during their time in the wilderness. Dennis T. Olson highlights this issue in his commentary on Numbers published by Westminster John Knox Press in 1996. He writes:
Before Sinai, Israel was like a newly adopted child who did not yet know the
rules of the household. God, the divine Parent, bent over backwards to satisfy
the legitimate needs of an Israel immediately out of Egypt. But by the time we
reach Numbers, the people of Israel know their responsibilities in the law and
the commandments. Israel must take responsibility and is answerable for its
relationship to God. (Page 63)
In plain language this means that at some point, the Palestinians need to start accepting responsibility for the problems they have created, quit attacking Israel from territory from which it has withdrawn and get on with building their future. If one were to include Numbers in the liberationist canon (which apparently Sabeel does not) Arafat’s failure to take the deals offered to him at Camp David and Taba in 2000/2001 could be compared to the loss of nerve exhibited by the ancient Israelites when the Promised Land was presented to them chapter 13. Arafat spied out the future, was overcome with fear at the responsibility that would come with statehood and turned the offer down, thereby consigning his people to another 40 years of wandering in the wilderness without a state.

Of course, at a certain point comparisons like this can become ludicrous, but not any more ludicrous than using a Christian theology of liberation as a template for a national movement controlled by Arab political and religious leaders who have used liberation as a synonym for the destruction of Israel for the past 60 years. The fact is, Sabeel’s liberation theology has little if any impact on Palestinian society. Yes, Rev. Dr. Ateek has condemned suicide bombing – in English to Christians in the U.S. and Europe – and yes, there are times when Sabeel does offer muted criticism of Palestinian and Arab leaders, but no where does this criticism even approach the ferocity with which it demonizes Israel. In Sabeel’s quarterly newsletter Cornerstone (published in English), Israel is routinely condemned while Palestinian mistakes are almost ignored altogether.

If mainline peace activists and church leaders such were truly intent on promoting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, they would call both sides to account for the choices they have made. That is not what they have done. Instead, they have followed Sabeel’s example of blaming portraying Israel as powerful enough to bring a unilateral end to the conflict and by portraying the Palestinians as innocent sufferers.

Just as early Christians used a caricature of Jews and Judaism to cope with the continued existence of suffering, sin and death after Christ’s resurrection, modern-day Christian peace activists use a caricature of modern Israel to cope with their failure of the story they have told to describe, explain and predict events in Middle East. Despite all their efforts, despite all their promises of peace, the world remains much as it has been for a long time – dangerous, unpredictable, frightening and a death-dealing challenge to our faith. Instead of acknowledging that their made-to-order parousia did not arrive and searching for a more secure foundation for their faith, adherents of this failed narrative have interwoven anti-Jewish polemic into their Gospel of Peace, falling back into the trap Ruether warned Christians about in 1974.

Mainline peace activists need to remember that Faith and Fratricide was written as a warning, not a primer.

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posted by Dexter Van Zile, Friday, September 19, 2008 | link | 11 comments |

Out of the Mouths of Two Witnesses: Guest Post By Dexter Van Zile

Friday, September 12, 2008

Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good.
3 John : 1:11

For people who bill themselves as committed to non-violence and reconciliation, the so-called peace and justice activists who inhabit the progressive wing of Protestantism in the U.S. ("mainline churches") sure have targeted Israel with a lot of demonizing rhetoric in the past few years. They have also tolerated, and in some instances, defended the use of explicitly anti-Jewish themes from their allies in both the Middle East and the U.S., raising the question of whether these activists are as committed to "peacemaking" as they say they are.

For example, proponents of divestment in the United Methodist Church, defended Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, an Anglican priest in Jerusalem with a history of using deicide imagery from the New Testament in reference to Israel, arguing that "If Israel is concerned about statements that point out its actions against Palestinians, it should stop those actions rather than trying to silence those who tell the world about them." In other words, these UMC "peacemakers" assert that as soon as Israel stops mistreating the Palestinians, Rev. Ateek and the group he founded, Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, will back off from his portrayal of Israel as a crucifying nation. The idea that depicting the Jewish state as re-enacting the crime of Christ's murder (and thus affirming its status as enemy of God), does not make for "peace" is lost on activists who seem more interested in generating contempt for Israel and it supporters than they are in promoting peace and reconciliation.

The implicit message offered by mainline peace and justice activists is that Israel – which has been subject to attack by its neighbors virtually every year of its existence – is not entitled to the sympathy or support from right-minded people in the U.S. and that maybe the world would be better off if the Jewish nation were banished from the community of nations and ultimately dismantled. This message (which is offered explicitly by the Mennonite Central Committee) is expressed in the mainline peacemaking narrative that portrays Jewish sovereignty – not the violence and rhetoric used to undermine it – as the ultimate source of suffering in the Holy Land.

The fact that the leaders and legislative bodies of these churches have, to varying degrees, embraced this anti-Zionist narrative and keep Israel's sins – real and imagined – in their minds with greater force and vividness than two successive genocides in Sudan, China's terrible record of human rights, and the mistreatment of women in Muslim regimes throughout the Middle East, speaks volumes about the influence these activists enjoy within their churches.

The anti-Zionist narrative embraced by mainline churches became readily apparent in 2004 when the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) approved a divestment resolution that called on the denomination’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) to "initiate a process of phased selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel." In addition to singling Israel out as a target for divestment, the resolution also charged that the occupation had "proven to be at the root of evil acts committed against innocent people on both sides of the conflict."

This resolution, passed with the support of the PC(USA)’s Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, which vets "peacemaking" overtures passed by the General Assembly, sparked outrage from Rabbis for Human Rights, a group that promotes Palestinian rights and statehood to condemn the PC(USA) in a July 2004 letter which stated "Your simplistic moral declaration is inaccurate and inadequate to explain the situation in all its tragic moral complexity."

RHR also accused the PC(USA) of ignoring "the homicidal ideologies that have so sadly taken hold among [Israel’s] Palestinian neighbors," and said the resolution averted "its eyes from the attempts to destroy our country that transcend the Occupation and precede it by decades."

In 2005, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ (UCC), passed a divestment resolution that targeted Israel and a "Tear Down the Wall Resolution," which called on Israel to take down the security barrier, without asking the Palestinians to stop the terror attacks that prompted its construction. The resolution, which was also passed by the Disciples of Christ, described Palestinian suffering in exquisite detail, but made little mention of the suffering experienced by the Israelis, or of the Palestinian violence that caused this suffering.

In addition to this, in 2003 the UCC’s publishing house, Pilgrim Press, published Whose Land? Whose Promise? This book, filled as it is with factual errors and hostile anti-Jewish interpretations of scripture would make any self-respecting church official truly concerned about Christian-Jewish relations blanch. One outrageous example on page of 176, Rev. Dr. Gary Burge interprets John 15:6 (a passage in which Jesus states "If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned") as meaning:

The people of Israel cannot claim to be planted as vines in the land; they
cannot be rooted in the vineyard unless they are first grafted into Jesus.
Branches that attempt living in the land, the vineyard, which refuse to be
attached to Jesus will be cast out and burned. (Emphasis added.)

If you do not think that this is outrageous, just ask yourself what the response would be if Pilgrim Press published a book about gay rights that invoked Leviticus 20:13 (which calls for the execution of homosexuals) as providing insight about what rights should be accorded to gays and lesbians living in the U.S. The book would spark outrage and it would be branded as a text of terror. But Rev. Dr. Burge’s book was well-received in both the evangelical and mainline community – a crossover success. Apparently, Pilgrim Press is going to publish a second edition – the book sells. It just goes to show that indeed, there is money to be made and status to be achieved by trafficking in ugly anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist polemic.

The Episcopal Church, which historically has been the most prestigious mainline church in the U.S., has not passed the ugly anti-Israel resolutions passed by the UCC and the PC(USA). Nevertheless, anti-Zionism runs deep in this denomination. It has provided financial and logistical support to Sabeel, the previously mentioned group that traffics in anti-Jewish polemic and portrays the Arab-Israeli conflict as solely a consequence of Israeli policies. In 2007 the Episcopal Peace Fellowship gave Sabeel’s founder, Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, a "peacemaking award."

Sadly, the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori seems to have adapted Sabeel’s rhetorical techniques to suit her own purposes. The Episcopal Church News Service coverage of her walk through Jerusalem on Good Friday in 2008 included the following passage:

"I was struck at the way we carried on through the normal activities of the
city, crossing busy streets, walking past garbage waiting for pick up, past
people who alternately stared at us, greeted us warmly, or ignored us," said
Jefferts Schori. "This morning we were spat on by a young Jewish
man. How similar must have been Jesus' journeys the last week of his
life."
(Emphasis added. One version of the article that originally
included this passage is available here, but it
no longer includes any reference to the young Jewish man spitting on the Bishop,
but believe me, it was there.)

Yes, it was wrong, disgusting and abhorrent for the young Jewish man to spit on an Episcopal Bishop, but for Bishop Jefferts Schori, a privileged Protestant from the U.S. with an entourage that includes her own press officer, to compare herself to Jesus Christ on his way to the Cross is emblematic of just how self-absorbed and self-congratulatory mainline Protestants can get when they go to the Holy Land. Those with eyes to see will regard Bishop Schori’s star turn in the Holy Land for what it is – a sad example of moral obtuseness that responsible Christians should not follow.

To be clear, the Episcopal Church has acknowledged the presence of anti-Semitism in the Middle East. In a single-spaced, 16-page booklet issued by the church’s committee on Socially Responsible Investment, there is one bland sentence about the issue. "The SRI Committee also notes examples of hostility and anti-Semitism of certain Arab states in the region against the state of Israel."

With the detached and dispassionate tone the SRI committee uses to describe antisemitism in the Middle East, it sounds like a public health problem that can be fixed with a few vaccine shipments, some wide-spectrum antibiotics and maybe some mosquito netting. Compare this language with an article Rev. Canon Brian Grieves, director of the Episcopal Church’s "Peace and Justice" Ministries, wrote in 2005 about the impact of the security barrier on Palestinians. In the article, he quotes Episcopalian Michele Spike as follows:

"The Wall invades Palestinian fields, dividing grazing lands – including the
valley of the shepherds at Bethlehem – and, at times, encircling Palestinian
cities." (Emphasis added.)

The Israeli-built security barrier ("Wall") invades, divides and encircles. Antisemitism, on the other hand, is treated as a found object with no life of its own – an artifact "noted" by the SRI committee. With language like this, Arabs who embrace and espouse anti-Semitism are denied agency or any responsibility , but the security barrier’s impact is described in much more expressive terms that make it clear what the author thinks the Israelis are really about – stealing land and placing the Palestinians under siege. Read the rest of the article and you will find no first-hand description of terror attacks against Israelis, just a bland report that "The Israeli government maintains the barrier is built to provide security to Israel." (This under a subheading "Security Issues.")

To be sure, the difference in tone can be explained in part by the different purposes of the two documents – one a journalistic screed by Rev. Canon Brian Grieves, and the other a more business-like document detailing a committee’s deliberations. Nevertheless, the scant public speech in the Episcopalian Church about Arab violence and enmity to Jews and their state is governed by the tone of the SRI document – restrained and scholarly. But when it comes time to talk about Israeli policies regarding the Palestinians, Episcopalian condemnations are filled with active verbs and theological allusions that point out how badly Israeli policies contradict idealized visions of the Holy Land.

The same allusions and even more powerful verbs could be used to highlight hostility and violence toward Jews in the Middle East, but for the most part, these active verbs and Biblical allusions just are not present in the public speech of any mainline church regarding Arab and Muslim hostility toward Jews in the Middle East. (Why? Probably for the same reason that the Barmen Declaration – a ringing a denunciation of Nazi ideology affirmed by Christians in Germany in 1934 – made no reference whatsoever to one of Nazism’s most salient and lethal characteristics – its antisemitism.)

The United Methodist Church did not pass a divestment resolution targeting Israel at its 2008 General Conference, but it did pass two other resolutions (one condemning Israel as a violator of international law and another calling for a study of the denomination’s investments in among other places, the Middle East) which, taken together, set the stage for more divestment resolutions at the next General Conference in 2012.

And prior to passing these resolutions, the UMC published a mission study by one of its staffers, Rev. Stephen Goldstein that portrayed the Israelis as too damaged to be trusted with self-determination, and a children’s story that portrays Israeli security checkpoints as the cause, not the result, of Palestinian violence. (Predictably, the children’s story describes Israeli suffering in diffuse and abstract terms and Palestinian suffering in concrete and experiential terms.)

The Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA) has problems of its own to address. At its 2005 Churchwide Assembly in Florida, the denomination played a video on the hotel’s cable system that used ominous images of Israeli checkpoints to raise funds for Augustus Victoria Hospital run by the Lutheran World Federation. (Apparently, Israeli villainy sells!) At this assembly the denomination affirmed a "Peace Not Walls" campaign that placed the onus for ending the Arab-Israeli conflict on Israel.

In August, 2007 ELCA’s Churchwide Assembly passed a resolution that called on Lutherans to explore the feasibility of "refusing to buy products produced in Israeli settlements." In other words, two months after Hamas and Fatah gunmen battled it in the streets of Gaza, throwing one another off rooftops, ELCA’s Churchwide Assembly suggested that maybe it is a good idea to boycott settlers in the West Bank.

Then there was the ELCA organized event in Germany, where Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarseh, testified against the security barrier built to stop terror attacks from the West Bank. Of course Batarseh, is going to condemn the security barrier. Batarseh, an American citizen, was a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and was elected mayor of Bethlehem with the support of Hamas. (Fortunately, the denomination’s magazine The Lutheran, was honest enough to cover the concerns raised over the one-sided nature of the conference.)


Weak Affirmations

Invariably, the leaders, spokespeople and activists from these churches will loudly assert that they have not embraced an "anti-Zionist" narrative, and that in fact, they have explicitly and repeatedly affirmed Israel’s right to exist.

Not so fast.

Yes, these declarations have been made, but they are very rarely accompanied by any explanation as to why such an affirmation is necessary. Israel’s right to exist is not a settled issue in the Arab world where the refusal to accept Jewish sovereignty is rooted in part, in Muslim theology – a fact mainline churches are loath to acknowledge.

Moreover, mainline affirmations of Israel’s right to exist are undercut by the alliances these churches maintain with groups like the U.S. Committee to End the Occupation and Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, an organization whose leader, Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek has explicitly denied the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state.

All this, coupled with the willingness of these churches to publish materials that root the continued existence of the conflict in Jewish identity and psychology (The Methodist Mission Manual) and portray Israel’s creation as a violation of the boundaries set for the Jewish people by the New Testament (Whose Land? Whose Promise?), renders these affirmations meaningless because they do not have any effect on how the churches "talk" about the Arab-Israeli conflict. People who truly affirm Israel’s right to exist would talk honestly about the threats it faces. Mainline churches do not.

The upshot is this: The center of gravity of the mainline church’s prophetic voice is decidedly anti-Zionist. Yes, there are times when mainline leaders respond forcefully, for example, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says something outrageous, but when it comes to addressing the day-in and day-out violence between Israelis and Palestinians, Israel is condemned and the Palestinians are excused.



The Timing

The amazing thing about mainline anti-Zionism is that became more pronounced in the aftermath of the Second Intifada, when Israel most needed – and was most entitled to – support from liberal progressive churches in the U.S. The Second Intifada was a violent campaign of suicide terror attacks that erupted after the collapse of the Camp David negotiations held during 2000 where Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians a state of their own that included all of Gaza and most of the West Bank. Israel made an offer, the Palestinian Authority refused and did not make a counter-offer. During the winter of 2000/01, the PA turned down the Clinton Parameters which would have given the Palestinians a state of their own on even better terms than that Barak offered during the summer of 2000.

In January 2001, Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan warned Yasir Arafat – who had turned down Barak’s offer at Camp David in 2000 – to embrace the Clinton Parameters, but was unsuccessful. "I hope you remember, sir, what I told you. If we lose this opportunity, it is not going to be a tragedy. This is going to be a crime." (The New Yorker, March 24, 2003).

Despite all this, these churches, under the influence of their various cadres of peace and justice activists, passed resolutions and issued publications that held Israel exclusively responsible for the violence of the Second Intifada. The end result was that attacks on Israeli civilians – which should have prompted horror among right-minded people in the U.S. – were understood in this churches to be regrettable but understandable acts of desperation by the Palestinians who wanted peace against the Israelis, who didn’t. In fact, the violence was perpetrated and tolerated by religious and political figures in Palestinian society unable to lead their societies without using Jew-hatred as a unifying cause.


Who is the Model?

To be sure, the polite and genteel anti-Zionism expressed by mainline churches looks almost benign when compared to the explicit anti-Semitism displayed at the UN Conference on Racism and Xenophobia that took place in Durban, South Africa in late August and early September of 2001. At this conference, Arab and Muslim extremists from the Middle East and their allies from the radical left in Europe and the U.S. were able to convince the gathered assembly to affirm an amalgam of ritualistic charges of genocide, racism and ethnic cleansing targeted at Israel. The ritualistic nature of these charges is demonstrated by a few facts: The population of Palestinians has quadrupled in the past 60 years, Israeli Arabs serve in the Knesset and make up nearly one-fifth of the country's population while Arab countries in the Middle East are effectively Judenrein.

These charges were only part of the craziness at Durban, where Jews were singularly denied the right to participate in the proceedings at the conference because they could not be "objective." Security officials told representatives of Jewish groups that their safety could not be guaranteed. Protesters carried signs stating that if Hitler had finished the job there were would be no state of Israel and no Palestinian suffering. During the conference a Jewish doctor was beat up by people wearing checkered keffiyehs – the symbol of the Palestinian cause – who said Jews were the cause of all the problems in the Middle East. Local Jewish leaders attributed the attack to the atmosphere at the UN Conference.

Ya think?

If you’re looking for mainline condemnations of what happened at Durban, good luck. One thing you will find, however, is a quote from Rev. Dr. Robert W. Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches chiding the Bush Administration’s decision to withdraw from the conference, asserting that it prejudged "the conference’s ultimate declaration… The US government made its point, but at an unfortunately heavy cost… In walking out the United States forfeited a critically important opportunity to address with courage the legacy, tenacity and toll of racism."

To be sure, the anti-Zionism expressed by mainline churches in the U.S. is not as virulent as what was on display at Durban, but this is cold comfort. By embracing a more polite form of the anti-Zionism modeled for them by their peace and justice activists, mainline churches that have explicitly condemned anti-Semitism became allies with groups that use anti-Zionism, not as a cover, but a vehicle for their anti-Semitism. One example of this phenomenon was a June 2007 Washington, D.C., rally organized by the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation. This rally, sponsored in part by the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church featured protesters carrying signs that read "F*&K Israel" with the "s" in Israel drawn to look like a Nazi swastika – a clear and undeniable expression of anti-Semitism. Other protesters carried signs that read "From the River to the Sea Palestine Will Be Free" – a clear and undeniable call for Israel's destruction.

The sad reality is this – these extremists at these are not modeling their behavior on the example set for them by mainline churches. It is the other way around. We are following the lead of the extremists.

That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.


The Second Witness

By aligning themselves with the extremist rhetoric of groups like the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation, and failing to denounce it afterwards, mainline churches became the second witness needed to initiate a public stoning under Biblical law:

On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses, he that is to die shall
be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one
witness. The hand of the witnesses shall first be against him to put him to
death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge the evil
from the midst of you. (Deuteronomy 17:6-7) [The King James Version, which
apparently is much closer to the original Hebrew in this passage, has a much
more evocative opening to this passage: "At the mouth of two witnesses…"]

Deuteronomy, written as an attempt to constrain collective violence in a region and era when it was routinely practiced, understands that most of the people in a crowd lack the nerve to throw stones at fellow human beings, a point underscored by Jesus’ defense of the prostitute in the Gospel of John. The "first stone," French literary critic Rene Girard writes is "not purely rhetorical [because] it is the most difficult to throw."

Why is it the most difficult to throw? Because it is the only one without a
model. (I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, page 56).

By requiring a second witness to enact an execution, Deuteronomy attempts to deprive angry crowds of the model they need to initiate a stoning, just as Christ did when he issued the challenge "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to thrown a stone at her." (John 8:7) Mainline peace activists have facilitated a process that Deuteronomy tries to hinder and which Jesus tried to disrupt – demonization. And in so doing, they have served as an intermediary between explicitly anti-Semitic anti-Israel activists in the hard left and well-intentioned mainline Protestants who would be horrified by the enmity on display at the June 2007 protest. And in the process, these churches became indifferent to the hostility toward Israel expressed by extremists in the U.S. and the Middle East. And why shouldn’t they become inured?

Mainline peace and justice activists, many of whom had been to the Middle East, are not bothered by it, but regard their willingness to rub shoulders with people carrying "F*&K Israel" signs as a sign of their commitment to the cause – of peace. In the world view of these activists, hostility toward Jews, which had previously been taboo in mainline churches, has become an unremarkable and understandable, (albeit regrettable) aspect of the movement, excused by the notion that Israeli policies cause antisemitism. In other words, associating with groups and people that traffic in explicitly anti-Semitic calls for Israel’s destruction became part of the cost of "peacemaking" and anyway, the story goes, people will abandon their anti-Semitism as soon as Israel makes peace with its enemies.

And so the contagion spreads.

Labels:

posted by Dexter Van Zile, Friday, September 12, 2008 | link | 6 comments |

Wright Accused of Adultery

Thursday, September 11, 2008

By Pastor Ted Weis, Congregational Church, Little River, KS

Years ago I was part of a large church in a major metropolis where the senior pastor was accused of adultery. It was a gut wrenching experience. For weeks, the leading newspaper had a hey-dey with the story. The congregation was devastated as hundreds left. And worst of all, the charges were found to be true.

So when news broke that controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright-- one of the UCC's best known preachers, emeritus pastor of the UCC's largest church, and the former minister of Barack Obama-- is being accused of adultery, the reaction here is one of sadness.

According to the New York Post:
Elizabeth Payne, 37, said she had a steamy sexual affair with the controversial, racially divisive man of the cloth while she was an executive assistant at a church headed by a popular Wright protégé.

When word of the unholy alliance got out, Payne's husband dumped her, and she was canned from the plum job at Friendship-West Baptist Church, she told The Post.

"I was involved with Rev. Wright, and that's why I lost my job and why my husband divorced me," Payne said.

She refused to reveal when the adulterous affair started or how she met Wright.

But fellow churchgoers at Friendship-West "found out about the affair in the spring," Payne said.

At the time, she was secretary to the Rev. Frederick Haynes III, a longtime Wright disciple.

In April, Payne organized a series of Texas public appearances by Wright, 67. Weeks before, Obama had disavowed his preacher of 20 years after Wright's anti-government rants came to light.

"Liz was by Rev. Wright's side day and night during those days," a church source said.

"It's all true," said Payne, adding that she has filed a wrongful-dismissal claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to get her job back.
The charges are being taken seriously. Wright this week was speaking at a revival in New Jersey, but the host pastor canceled any further appearances:
More than 300 people had packed the church when Elmwood Presbyterian senior pastor Robert N. Burkins Sr. made the stunning announcement about 7:40 p.m.

"There has been an allegation of impropriety that has surfaced," Burkins explained from the pulpit as all eyes focused on him.

The accusation involves "inappropriate relations with a female in Texas," Burkins said. "These charges are serious and present a profound dilemma. These are unsubstantiated charges that require us to be sensitive. We ask that you all refrain from judgment."
This site has posted other stories on some pretty bad ministers within our denomination and this one is significant. In this case, the "stink test" boils down to whether the incident likely happened and if it demonstrates a fundamental breach of trust that is placed with clergy. Thus far, the layers behind the accusation-- an accusing woman, a divorce, a lost job, secondary eyewitnesses, and a trail of e-mail messages-- don't look good for Wright.

Wright should do himself a favor-- get out of the public eye, surround himself with peers who will hold him accountable, and do the hard work of repentance.
posted by Living the Biblios, Thursday, September 11, 2008 | link | 2 comments |

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite's hatred and bigotry

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, the (thankfully) former President of the Chicago Theological Seminary, is promoting a religious litmus test for Presidential candidates and revealing her deep bigotry towards people who don't share the same faith as she does. Her latest post on the Washington Post's "On Faith" blog should put her comfortably in the company of other bigots like David Duke and Louis Farrakhan. Maybe that's overstating it a bit... Duke and Farakhan have an audience (however small) that takes them seriously while nearly no one knows who Thistlethwaite is or cares what she thinks.

She starts off this week's post with...
"Wives be subject to your husbands, as unto the Lord." So says the Christian scriptures in Ephesians, 5:22. What I would like to know, first of all, is who is going to have the final authority as Vice-President if Sarah Palin is elected, Palin or her husband? In fact, I think the first order of business with Palin is to ask her to give the same kind of speech that was demanded of John F. Kennedy re his Catholicism. Kennedy said he would obey the Constitution over the Pope. Will Palin obey the Constitution over her husband?

Palin, the presumptive Republican vice-presidential candidate, belongs to an Assemblies of God, the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world. Members of the Assemblies of God believe that the Bible in its entirety is verbally inspired by God, is the revelation of God to humanity and is "the infallible, authoritative rule of faith and conduct." That means, in a literal reading of scripture, that the authority in the Palin family rests with her husband.

The "evangelical base" who are reported to be so "energized" by Palin's nomination as vice-president need to ante up here. Do they believe in the literal word of scripture or not? And if they believe in the literal word of scripture, then they need to demand that the we vet not only Sarah Palin, but more importantly, her husband, Todd Palin. Todd, by the way, works for British Petroleum.
For starters, I don't have a problem at all with a public examination of a political candidate's faith since I believe that faith is a reflection of their belief system. Since similar belief systems can span multiple religions, this doesn't mean that a candidate has to have to have the same faith as I do to be acceptable. This is a significant distinction and it's the difference between bigotry and thoughtful discernment.

Thistlethwaite's post, however, reflects the type of bigotry that should be rejected by people of all faiths.

Some people have rightfully questioned Palin's level of experience but she does have a track record of leadership (however small). It is completely fair to examine what role her faith plays in the decisions she makes as a leader and it is completely fair to wonder if, in her time as a Mayor or as a Governor, there ever been a question or a concern about her husband's role in her decision making? I searched the internet thoroughly this morning and amid the rumors circulating out there, I couldn't find a single example of her husband exercising any authority over his wife in their personal or public lives. None. Since Thistlethwaite doesn't cite any examples, I'm assuming she doesn't know of any examples either... and this is where she crosses the line into bigotry.

Without reason or reference, Thistlethwaite is applying her biased interpretation of Palin's faith and using it as a litmus test that the public should use to evaluate her qualifications. By her own admission, Thistlethwaite has aligned herself with the same anti-Catholic bigots of the 60's who, without merit, unfairly questioned Kennedy's allegiance to the constitution.

I encourage you to read Thistlethwaite's whole post. It is clear reflection of an angry person who has been swallowed up by her own hatred and bigotry.
posted by UCCtruths, Thursday, September 11, 2008 | link | 4 comments |

Disingenuously Right

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

You have to love this... From USA Today:
A group of ministers filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service to stop a conservative organization from encouraging pastors to endorse or oppose political candidates.
The group of 55 religious leaders from Ohio, Indiana, Iowa and other states said Monday the actions by the Alliance Defense Fund jeopardize the constitutional separation of church and state.

"The rightful place of religious leaders and communities of faith in American life is not in electoral politics," said the Rev. Eric Williams, a minister with the liberal United Church of Christ.
Williams is right but he is completely disingenuous.

Williams didn't voice this level of concern when our denomination hosted presidential candidate Barak Obama last year at our General Synod. While a complaint was filed with the IRS and the UCC was cleared, the Obama campaign leveraged the speech for political purposes and the UCC knew the event would be used for political purposes

That said, he's still right and according to a USA Today poll he's not alone: "Fifty percent of conservatives think churches and other places of worship should stay out of social and political matters." 
posted by UCCtruths, Wednesday, September 10, 2008 | link | 0 comments |

Hawaii Convention Center trying to keep UCC General Synod

The Hawaii Convention Center is doing it's best to keep the UCC General Synod after the executive committee of the UCC's Executive Council decided to rescind the selection of the site. From The Pacific Business News:
Hawaii Convention Center officials and Waikiki hotel executives are trying salvage a 2011 religious convention in Honolulu that was canceled due to high airfares.

On Sept. 3, the United Church of Christ said on its Web page that dramatic increases in the cost of air travel forced it to consider alternative sites for its June 2011 general synod.

The group had signed an agreement with the convention center in 2006 to bring 3,000 members and book 24,000 room nights.

Joe Davis, general manager for SMG Hawaii, which manages the Hawaii Convention Center, told PBN Wednesday that the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa, Ala Moana Hotel and the Hawaii Prince Hotel have discussed offering incentive packages to the church group.
I think they have their work cut out for them.
posted by UCCtruths, Wednesday, September 10, 2008 | link | 0 comments |

Loyola University changes policy on political speakers, UCC cited as example

Loyola University seems to be taking the high road when speakers running for office plan on speaking at the university. From the Loyola University's The Phoenix:
According to the new rules first proposed in April, on-campus groups may only invite "clearly partisan" speakers affiliated with an active political campaign to Loyola if they extend an equivalent invitation to all other "legally-qualified political candidates."

"The issue is fair access," said Phillip Hale, vice president of public affairs, at a recent meeting with representatives from politically-oriented student groups. Loyola's IRS status as a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, which carries with it specific
regulations, necessitated the tightened policy.

Federal law prohibits Loyola and all other nonprofits from "participating or intervening, directly or indirectly, in any political campaign," the policy says, and Hale said that the IRS often repeals violators' nonprofit status as punishment.

"[If] we're not tax exempt, we close our doors," Hale said.

Increasingly intense scrutiny of nonprofits by the IRS - not conservative pundit Ann Coulter's controversial appearance at Loyola in 2006 - motivated Loyola to adopt the policy, according to Hale.

In fact, the United Church of Christ, also a nonprofit organization, found itself at the center of an IRS crackdown when church member Sen. Barack Obama spoke at their national meeting after announcing his candidacy. If Loyola were to fail to provide equal access to all active candidates, it could face a similar investigation.
The caveat to all of this, of course, is that the IRS isn't enforcing this rule since they didn't find a "fair access" problem with Barak Obama being invited to the United Church of Christ's General Synod last year. The United Church of Christ disingenuously claimed that Obama was invited before he was a declared candidate... although most pundits predicted since 2004 that he would run.
posted by UCCtruths, Wednesday, September 10, 2008 | link | 0 comments |

No Permanent Lessons: Guest Entry by Dexter Van Zile

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Introduction: As most visitors to UCCtruths.com know, I have spent most of the past four years detailing how mainline Protestant churches in the U.S. have broadcast an unfair and dishonest narrative about the Arab-Israeli conflict. I started this work in 2005 when he joined the David Project in 2005 and continued while working for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America -- (www.camera.org).

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting essays on UCCtruths to members of mainline churches with some background about how peacemaking and human rights activism in the progressive church community was used as a vehicle for anti-Zionism in American society. James Hutchins has agreed to let me post these essays here given that the United Church of Christ played a significant role in this phenomenon and will feature prominently in these essays. While I am relying on insight gained while working for CAMERA, my opinions are my own. I ask readers of UCCtruths.com forbearance for the length of this post. Hopefully, in the future, it will be possible to “hide” most of the text to a jump, but for now, it will display in its entirety on the front page.

Below is the introductory essay.


No Permanent Lessons

On a Sunday morning sometime in the mid-1990s, my fiancé (who is now my wife) and I sat through a children’s service at Allin Congregational Church in Dedham, Massachusetts, where I was baptized and confirmed into the Christian faith. The children’s service is an annual rite at Allin Church in which the congregation’s youth conduct all, (or at least most), of the worship service on a Sunday morning sometime between Easter and the end of the school year. The way I remember it, the older kids greet people as they come in the door and hand them their bulletins. The Children’s Choir gives the adult choir the day off and the students in the Sunday school read the scripture, give the sermon, and generally run the show.

At one point during the children’s service, the director of the Sunday school, a well-meaning woman known for reading the bible and taking her faith seriously, offered a brief message to the congregation, the content of which I have long since forgotten, with the exception of one brief passage – words to the effect that “Sometimes we rebel against God, like when the Jews killed Jesus.”

I winced. I was no expert on Christian theology, scripture or Christian-Jewish relations, but I thought that referring to Jews as Christ killers was taboo, or at least considered bad form in most quarters, especially in liberal or progressive churches like ours. And yet here I was listening to a brief homily from the nice lady in charge of the Sunday school offering a medieval reference to Jews killing Jesus. To be sure, this woman was no antisemite, she just didn’t know what she was doing.

Just to make sure that I actually heard what I thought I heard, I looked to my fiancé and asked “Did you hear that?” She looked at me gravely and nodded yes. Later I spoke to the pastor, told him that I was bothered by the Sunday school director’s remarks about the Jews.

“You heard that too? I’m glad someone else heard it. My wife and I were bothered by it too.” The pastor went onto explain that the point of the Gospels was not to show how the Jews opposed Christ teachings. The point was to show how entrenched religious leaders, the establishment, protect their own interest and thwart the purposes of God. The takeaway message was that Christians should read the Gospels as a story about human – not Jewish – sin. It was a reassuring message, but in the years since, I’ve learned not everybody has gotten the memo and that some people who have read the memo have forgotten the message.

About a decade later, about nearly three years after I started my work in the Israel advocacy community, I sat in the pew at Allston-Brighton Congregational Church – the church I joined after I moved from the suburbs of Boston into the city. At the start of the service when the pastor asked for petitions to be included in prayers for the people, I raised my hand and asked the pastor to include a petition for forgiveness for the church’s sins against the Jewish people. To her credit, the pastor had put an acknowledgement of Holocaust Remembrance Day at the top of the order of service.

A few minutes after the pastor gathered all the petitions she read from the lectionary passage from the book of John, chapter 20 verses 19-31 which describe the Savior’s closed-door appearance to the disciples during which Thomas insists on seeing the Christ’s wounds.

As she read the first verse of the passage the tone of her voice revealed a certain uneasiness, as if she were making an on-the-spot emendation to the text while at the lectern, prompting me to reach for my RSV pocket bible which includes the New Testament and the Psalms and read the passage for myself.

The first verse of the passage read as follows: “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”

Ah, this was the source of uneasiness! What an unhappy coincidence! Here we were on Holocaust Remembrance Day reading from our holy scriptures only to stumble across a nasty bit of polemic against Jesus’ Jewish adversaries.

As she read from the rest of the passage, I opened the pew bible – another RSV – just to make sure and it included the same phrase – “fear of the Jews” which my pastor had emended, midstream, to read “for fear of the religious authorities.” I offered a silent prayer of thanks that my pastor knew what she was doing. This was one of the benefits of the UCC’s commitment to an educated clergy.

Still, reading such a jarring text on Holocaust Remembrance Day was a sad reminder that no matter how much Christians may want to avoid the issue, contempt for Jesus’ Jewish adversaries – and for those Jews who refused to accept Christ’s divinity – was written into the Christianity’s sacred texts, which spoke of the Jews as sons of the devil responsible for Christ's murder and an embodiment of all of humanity's worst traits.

Yes, Jesus was a Jew. And yes, Paul’s letters and the Gospels were written by Jews who still felt some connection to Judaism and to the Jewish people. But because belief in Christ’s divinity was regarded as a heresy to Jewish leaders, Christ’s followers were sometimes thrown violently out of the synagogues to which they had belonged, prompting the creation of a new religion whose future was among gentile communities that had no connection to Judaism or the Jewish people.

The resulting change in the “reading community” proved crucial because the most powerful scriptural expressions of Christianity’s offer of peace and salvation were oftentimes coupled with expressions of disdain toward the Jews who did not accept Christ’s divinity, resurrection or status as the Christ. As Christianity went from being an obscure Jewish sect into a different religion in its own right, harsh intra-Jewish polemic targeted at familiar and intimate adversaries evolved into harsh anti-Jewish polemic used to demonize an alien other. In the centuries to come, contempt for flesh-and-blood Jews, rooted in intra-Jewish polemic recorded in the New Testament, became part of the package of Christianity’s offer of salvation – a demonic two-for-one offer.

The history of Christian anti-Judaism – contempt for the Jewish religion – and its transformation into anti-Semitism – contempt for the Jewish people – is a long and torturous one, told more expertly in a number of texts, including Faith and Fratricide by Rosemary Radford Ruether and Constantine’s Sword by James Carroll which also details how Christianity became the dominant religion in the Roman Empire and then a dominant force in the nation states of Europe after Rome’s collapse. Christianity’s contempt for Jews, coupled with its newfound power, had disastrous results for the Jewish people – and for the church that preached this contempt alongside its message of salvation. This contempt culminated in the nearly complete destruction of Europe's Jews.

In the decades after the Holocaust, theologians and commentators of various stripes went about the task of ensuring that such an event was never repeated. Historians documented how church teachings about the Jewish people helped lay the groundwork for the destruction of Europe's Jews. They studied how the words that came out of Christian mouths and from the ends of Christian pens made life unsafe for Jews in Medieval Europe, deprived Jews in Western Europe of their natural rights after the Enlightenment, and helped render them targets for mass murder in Nazi-controlled Europe. They began to understand that their churches had served as storehouses of invective toward the Jewish people.

With a great sense of urgency, Christians went about the task of unpacking this armory of its weaponry. Christian theologians reinterpreted their scripture. They wrote statements affirming God's love for the Jewish people, and formulated liturgies asking forgiveness for Christian complicity in the Holocaust. They uttered phrases like “Never Again” and “We remember.” They assisted in providing proper memorials to the victims of the Holocaust. One of the most potent expressions of this work was Nostra Aetate, a document published in 1965 by the Roman Catholic Church which suppressed the deicide charge – or the notion that Jews were collectively responsible for the death of Christ. Such work was an absolute necessity not only to protect the Jews, but to protect the Christian church and its ability to profess the Gospel to the world.

If this were a fairy tale, the story would end with, “And they lived happily ever after.” But this is no a fairy tale. It is the real world, where there are no permanent lessons.


Enter Jewish Sovereignty

Concurrent with the effort to rework Christian theology regarding the Jewish people, the modern state of Israel – founded after intense diplomatic wrangling at the United Nations 1948 – demonstrated a capacity to defend its territory and sovereignty against numerous attacks by the Arab nations in the Middle East that refused to accept its existence from the outset.

Despite these periodic attacks against it (which can be fairly characterized as comprising a continuous war of aggression against the Jewish state), the modern state of Israel did what it was supposed to: provide Jews a sovereign homeland where they could rely on themselves – not the good graces of others – for their own safety, freedom and well-being. As dangerous as life can be for Jews in the Middle East, Israel is still a much safer place for Jews than Christian Europe was during the 1940s. More Jews (approx. 33,000) were killed in the course of a few days in a ravine outside of Kiev in 1941, than in all of Israel’s wars since 1948. (About 24,000 Israelis have been killed by violent acts since Israel’s founding.

The relative safety of Jews in the Middle East is not due to the peaceful intentions on the part of Israel’s neighbors. Political and religious leaders in the Middle East speak about Israel in the same manner as the Nazi regime in Germany spoke about Jews before and during the Holocaust. Israel is regarded by extremists in the Middle East as a cancerous entity which must be destroyed, just as the Jews of Europe were portrayed as a blight on Europe.

To be sure, Egypt and Jordan did sign treaties with Israel in exchange for territory, but hostility toward Israel has been a permanent feature of the political and religious landscape of the Middle East. When governments fail to exhibit the hostility toward Israel as required by the people they govern, groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Hezbollah take up the cudgel against Israel. Hostility toward Israel has become a relay baton passed back and forth between governments and mass movements in Arab societies since 1948.

The Arab peoples are the most numerous victims of this hostility. Indeed, more than an estimated 50,000 Arabs have died as a result of the 1948 War, the Suez War in 1956, the Six Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973. And these estimates do not include the other 5,000 Palestinians killed during the Second Intifada or those Arabs killed during the 2006 hostilities in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

Despite the willingness of Arab leaders to squander the lives of their citizens time and again in an effort to destroy it, Israel survived through a combination of diplomacy, deterrence and use of military force. Israel fields and equips an army of young men and women who are willing and able to kill those who attack Israelis. Israel buys missiles, planes and helicopters and uses them to attack terrorists, sometimes killing innocent civilians nearby.

Israel built (and continues to build) a security barrier on disputed territory in the West Bank in a successful effort to reduce suicide attacks. And apparently, Israel even maintains a stockpile of nuclear weapons as a deterrence against complete destruction. And while Israel has tried to minimize the harm done its neighbors, Israeli soldiers have committed war crimes, Israeli politicians made diplomatic and strategic blunders. They have discriminated against Israeli Arabs living in their midst. In other words, by becoming responsible for their own safety, Israeli Jews became just like any other sovereign people on the face of the planet. They made mistakes, caused other people to suffer, and got blood on their hands. This is the regrettable and inevitable consequence of sovereignty.

A nation can be innocent or sovereign, it cannot be both. Just as Great Britain, France, Spain, America, Holland, and every other Western democracy falls short of perfect conduct – especially in times of peril – so has sovereign Israel. Israelis, like all other self-governing peoples, have chosen sovereignty and in so doing have run into what Reinhold Niebuhr called the forces of “pitiless perfectionism” which motivates what passes for progressive thought in the West. Israel is held to a utopian standard of conduct, while its adversaries are held to no standard at all.


Blinding Utopianism

Early on in its history, Israel enjoyed support from progressives for two primary reasons. First Jews had been victims of fascist violence and hostility, and secondly, during much if Israel’s early history, it was a socialist nation. But as the years progressed Israel became more of a capitalist society and was forced to defend itself and in so doing lose its innocence and glamour. This happened during a historical era when notions of sovereignty, national interest and military force came under intense scrutiny, particularly in the progressive communities of the United States and Europe. While this scrutiny was necessary and brought to light the dangers of unbridled nationalism and inequities of the international system, it was accompanied by a utopianism that undermined the ability of many well-meaning people to think clearly about the legitimate use of power in a dangerous world.

As this scrutiny became more intense and overheated, particularly in the aftermath of the Vietnam war, authority of any type (unless it was wielded by third-world leaders from the left side of the political spectrum) was regarded as something akin to fascism and the use of military force (unless of course it was wielded by liberationist movements) was assumed to be an act of oppression. To be sure, the right tolerated its own dictators and murderers as well, but the progressives were supposed to be better than that.

In the progressive world view, first world countries were regarded as illegitimate wielders of power on the international stage and oppressed peoples were given a license to use any means necessary to achieve their liberation. Reality was, in the main, much more complex, particularly in the case of Israel's use of force against its adversaries, but utopianism is the enemy of understanding. As Niebuhr wrote in 1940 “Utopianism creates confusion in politics by measuring all significant historical distinctions against purely ideal perspectives and blinding the eye to differences which may be matters of life and death in a specific instance.”

Sadly, the issues of life and death in the Middle East have not received responsible treatment from well-meaning (mostly white) progressives in the U.S. intent on doing everything in their power to disassociate themselves from the legacy of racism, genocide, and colonialism that they acknowledged in the 1960s and 70s. In the progressive imagination, Israel’s history was that of a population of white Europeans (who admittedly suffered grave injustices) being thrust into the Middle East where they inflicted injustices on a dark skinned population of indigenous Arabs. Condemning Israel became an obvious way for privileged liberals in the mainline churches to demonstrate their righteous moral character – at someone else’s expense.

With this combination of guilt and utopianism at work in the progressive psyche, it became nearly impossible for well-meaning intellectuals in mainline churches to assess Israeli behavior in a responsible and rational manner. When the modern state of Israel contradicted the image of the defenseless, but morally superior Jew, progressive Christians in the U.S. responded with a rancor that contradicted simultaneous efforts to reform Christian habits of mind and patterns of speech toward the Jewish people. Anti-Jewish invective returned to the public square through the back door of utopianism and liberal guilt.


Storehouses of Invective

In short, mainline churches – following the model of the peace and justice activists in their ranks – began talking about the modern state of Israel in a way similar to the way Christians spoke about the Jewish people in Middle Ages. Just as Jews had been the embodiment of the worst traits of humanity, the modern state of Israel was portrayed as embodying all the worst traits of the nation state. As the Arab-Israeli conflict dragged on, churches began to portray the Arab-Israeli conflict not as a tragic and ongoing war between Israeli Jews and their Muslim and Arab adversaries in the Middle East, but as a Jewish assault on Christian sensibilities that could be brought to an end as soon as Israelis came to their senses and made the proper concessions to its adversaries. In some quarters, Israel was portrayed as a racist apartheid state intent on perpetrating genocide against Arabs.

As a result of this process, the progressive mainline churches have become a storehouse of anti-Jewish invective. This burgeoning storehouse of Christian invective includes tolerance for the application of anti-Jewish polemic from the New Testament to modern Israel, false historical narrative about the conflict, and descriptions of Jews as “disobedient,” “fallen,” hysterical, psychotic and paranoid and not to be trusted with a sovereign state of their own.

This storehouse contains one-sided demands and criticism targeted at the Jewish State.

It includes depictions of Jewish settlers as “killer vines” and references to Israel as a colonialist outpost of European Jews (minus any acknowledgement that Jews from the Arab countries in the Middle East comprise approximately one-half of Israel’s population).

This storehouse of invective includes implicit and explicit depictions of Jews as Nazis as having perpetrated a genocide, or intent on perpetrating a genocide against the Palestinians – despite the reality that the Palestinian Arab population has quadrupled in the past 60 years.

It includes false portrayals of Israel as an apartheid state and assertions that Jewish sovereignty - and not efforts to end it - as the cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

This storehouse contains a moral compass which when placed in the Middle East, invariably points critically at Israel.

It is filled with shopworn assertions that Israeli concessions and withdrawals will lead to peace in the Middle East – despite the fact that Israel has been attacked from every inch of territory from which it has withdrawn in the past two decades – from cities and towns in the West Bank, from Gaza and from southern Lebanon.

While this storehouse of invective is camouflaged under numerous protestations that mainline churches affirm Israel’s right to exist, the mainline churches almost always portray Israel as an obstacle, and never as a solution to a problem. (This is Paul Merkley’s description of the World Council of Churches stance toward Israel and the phrase applies to mainline churches as well.)

The most lethal weapon wielded against Israel is silence – silence about the Jew-hatred that permeates the state-controlled media in the Middle East. Peace activists and missionaries returning from the Holy Land, except in a few notable instances, have also failed to acknowledge that religious leaders and extremists in the Middle East talk about Israel the same way the Nazis spoke about the Jews of Europe - as a cancerous blot that needs to be excised for nations in the region to return to their rightful place in world history.

The upshot is this: There is not one propagandistic trope used to justify violence against Israeli civilians in the Middle East that has not made its way to the United States through mainline churches.The narrative is that the conflict is exclusively the fault of Israel, which is the singular source of suffering in the region. Violence and hostility against Israel has, in the mainline community, become unremarkable, understandable and justified. Mainliners who would have previously condemned anti-Jewish polemic from the mouths of their fellow Christians have tolerated and defended it from Sabeel, and said virtually nothing at all about it coming from the mouths of Muslims in the Middle East.

Just as Christian patterns of speech and habits of mind deprived the Jewish people of their safety and natural rights as individuals in Europe, these same patterns of speech and habits of mind have been used to deny Israel its natural rights as a sovereign state, most notably its right to self-defense.

There were people in these churches who knew what was transpiring – people who knew that the Arab-Israeli conflict was more complex than leaders and peace activists in the mainline churches were willing to acknowledge. Sadly, they remained silent about the ugly polemics and dishonest narratives about Israel that became operative in these churches. Experts within these denominations who could reasonably be expected to be on guard against just this sort of thing did nothing in the hopes that the problem would go away, or up until recently, worked in a sporadic ineffective manner.

As a result, efforts to counter the anti-Israel narrative became associated with a right-wing or conservative agenda in mainline churches, when offering a robust defense of Israel against its enemies should have been part-and-parcel of the progressive church community's historical commitment to pluralism, religious tolerance, equal rights and individual freedom.

The same forces which motivate hostility toward Jews in the Middle East deprive women of their rights and makes life intolerable for gays and lesbians in the region. The enmity toward Israel that manifests itself in Arab countries makes Christians unsafe in the region as well. Mainliners know these things, but for the most part, they do not say them out loud and condemn those who raise these issues as being guilty of “Islamophobia.” Instead of providing a model of how people can address these issues in a responsible manner they offer stratagems by which people can ignore the problem altogether.

A straight line cannot be drawn between anti-Zionism expressed by mainline churches and the Christian anti-Semitism of yore. It is not that these churches believe that the only good Jew is a dead Jew. A more accurate and precise assessment is that mainline churches cherish the image of unarmed Jews achieving their physical safety and well-being - not through self defense - but by morally perfect behavior. In the narrative offered by mainline churches, exemplary behavior on the part of the Jewish state is portrayed as capable of mollifying and transforming Israel's enemies into embracing new modes of conduct. To be fair, this is a dream that mainliners hold for all countries – but it is targeted at Israel with an unnerving ferocity. The anti-Zionism expressed by mainline churches is a consequence of dissappointed millenial hopes.

Just as the continued existence of the Jewish people presented a challenge to church doctrine regarding Christ's divinity and redemptive power, the modern state of Israel challenges two ideas cherished and embraced by mainline church leaders, theologians and peace activists: (1) That human safety and well-being can be achieved without the use of force, (pacifism) and (2) that armed conflict can be ended without military and political defeat of aggressors, but rather through reconciliation (peacemaking).

Jewish history disproves these theories. Unarmed, stateless and largely pacifist Jews were unsafe between the Second Temple and Israel's creation, suggesting that pacifism is not as workable a program as its progressive Christian supporters would like. The failure of Israeli peace offers, concessions and withdrawals to mollify hostility toward the Jewish state in the Middle East indicates that peacemaking activities routinely lifted up by mainline Protestants are not up to the task of bringing peace and security to the region. Israel's history indicates that in fact, military strength does, in at least some circumstances, promote well being.

But rather than reassess their beliefs in light of the realities of the Arab-Israeli conflict, mainline leaders, commentators and theologians continue to embrace a prescriptive narrative in which Jewish self-improvement, sacrifice and risk-taking lead to peace. (Similar expectations of self-improvement are not typically targeted at the Palestinians – or any of the Arab states and non-state actors in the region that continue to defame and assault Israel.)

Embracing this prescriptive narrative (which, to be clear, is embraced by many American and Israeli Jews) allows liberal Protestants to avert their eyes from the intractable problems in the Middle East which, if fully acknowledged, would challenge their deeply-held beliefs about pacifism, peacemaking, their ability to influence events, and the nature of the world they live in.

The most troubling aspect about the mainline “witness” regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict is the refusal of these denominations to acknowledge the evil that manifests itself in the form of Nazi-like hostility toward Jews and repeated attempts to annihilate the Jewish state over the past 60 years.

Are the Israelis perfect? No. Is Israel without sin? No.

But how perfect must Israel be in order for mainliners to acknowledge that it is being used as a scapegoat by its neighbors frustrated by their inability to adapt to modernity?

How perfect must Israel be for mainline churches to acknowledge that Israel cannot bring about a unilateral end to the Arab-Israeli conflict?

How perfect must Israel be for mainliners to acknowledge that the Jewish people are the target of hostility inspired by the teachings of not one, but two of the world’s religions, including their own?

How perfect must Israel be for mainliners to remember that Christian enmity toward the Jewish helped make the creation of a Jewish state necessary in the first place and to take this reality into account when speaking about the Arab-Israeli conflict?

How perfect must Israel be for mainliners to acknowledge that if they are going to be “peacemakers” they must talk about all the factors that contribute to the Arab-Israeli conflict?

How perfect must Israel be for mainline pastors realize that they have no right to wear yellow stars and proclaim “I am a Jew” on Holocaust Remembrance Day while their denominations and local churches support and ally themselves with organizations that demonize the Jewish state?

And lastly, how much longer must we wait for mainline officials to come to their senses and realize that the churches they lead have experienced 40 years of decline and some of these churches are dying? What will it take for leaders of these churches to realize that if they cannot reverse the decline of their own denominations they have little call to tell Israel – a sovereign nation that has been under siege for every year of its existence – how to conduct its business?

These are pretty harsh questions to be leveled by a mainline layman without any theological training, especially since that layman has worked for Jewish organizations since the beginning of 2005. Readers will have to decide for themselves which scandal bothers them more – the fact that a Christian working for a Jewish organization is raising these issues or that people on the payrolls of these churches did not.

For those scandalized by my status as untrained layman working for CAMERA, I can only say that I grew up in the UCC and in 2005, I started doing the work that mainline theologians and officials should have been doing all along, but did not: Insist that mainline commentary about the Arab-Israeli conflict be fair and free of anti-Jewish polemic and that Israel’s behavior be assessed fairly – in context – and not in a vacuum.

Would it have been better if the experts in Christian-Jewish relations who worked in denominational headquarters and in seminaries had raised these issues with greater force? Of course. But for the most part, they stayed quiet – and understandably so. They had families to provide for, careers to protect and status to achieve. The costs were (and remain) pretty high for ordained clergy who would offer even a muted defense of Israel. There are hopeful signs that this silence is coming to an end, but then again, there are no permanent lessons.

Next Installment: Out of the Mouths of Two Witnesses

“For people who bill themselves as committed to non-violence and reconciliation, the so-called peace and justice activists who inhabit the progressive wing of Protestantism in the U.S. (“mainline churches”) sure have targeted Israel with a lot of demonizing rhetoric in the past few years.”

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posted by Dexter Van Zile, Tuesday, September 09, 2008 | link | 0 comments |