Radical elements in United Church infected with antisemitism, minister says
August 7, 2012 | Joanne Hill - Correspondent
TORONTO-OTTAWA – Antisemitism and racism are fuelling anti-Israel activism in a number of Christian denominations, says United Church minister Andrew Love.
Love, the spiritual leader of Grace Saint Andrew’s United Church in Arnprior, has been trying to counter the calls for a boycott of ‘settlement’ goods by the United Church of Canada’s (UCC) Working Group on Israel/Palestine Policy and other regional church bodies.
He said he is troubled by the way radical elements within the Christian church focus on demonizing Israel while minimizing the Palestinians’ role in the conflict and ignoring human rights abuses against Christians throughout the world.
“I have wracked my brain trying to understand why Israel gets such a disproportionate measure of our moral criticism,” said Love. “I keep coming back to a very difficult conclusion, and that is that there remains an undercurrent of antisemitism in our church, and that disturbs me.
“Conversations I’ve been a part of and what I’ve observed have led me to the conclusion that, if you scratch the surface of our tolerant, liberal church, you find the reality of racism.”
He clarified, “I’m speaking of the United Church but this same debate has infected the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church and the Anglican communion, where Israel has received a disproportionate amount of attention.”
Love was referring to three American denominations that have recently dealt with anti-Zionist proposals at their national conferences.
The United Methodist Church (US) voted in May against divesting from three companies that do business with Israel. However, according to the JTA, the church passed motions “opposing Jewish settlements in the West Bank” and “recommending the boycott of products manufactured in settlements.”
In July, the Presbyterian Church (USA) also voted against divestment as well as against using the term “apartheid” to describe Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. However, according to the church’s website, it voted in favour of a boycott of “all products made by enterprises in Israeli settlements on [occupied] Palestinian land.”
In a more positive move, the Episcopal Church (US) passed a resolution in July calling for “intense teaching, learning and advocacy around the conflict” and defeated a motion to endorse boycott and divestment, according to a statement by Alexander D. Baumgarten, director of the church’s office of government relations. It also rejected an official study of two documents: A Moment of Truth, by Kairos Palestine and, Steadfast Hope: The Palestinian Quest for Just Peace, by Presbyterians Concerned for Jewish, Christian and Muslim Relations. Both documents, wrote Baumgarten, “have been criticized by some...as theologically problematic in their portrayal of Judaism.”
“There’s no question in my mind that there are churches within our fold that are extremely radical on this question,” said Love. “This gets me in trouble, but I believe it stems from an antisemitic, racist view.... The infection – and I use that word deliberately – the infection of political radicalism in our church is going to take a lot of work to counterbalance.”
Love is doing what he can through his initiative, Faithful Witness (see United Church minister blasts church’s Israel/Palestine report, Jewish Tribune, May 15, 2012).
He will not have voting privileges at the UCC General Council beginning this coming weekend in Ottawa but he has been given permission to set up an information table at the venue. He will be distributing the results of a recently completed national survey co-sponsored by Faithful Witness and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).
“The survey revealed an overwhelming gap between what is recommended and what the ‘view of the pew’ is,” said Love. “The overwhelming majority do not want to see the United Church adopt a boycott of any kind, nor do they want the church to take sides on the issue. They want us to keep that credible voice as peacemakers, as bringing folks together.”
If the UCC ignores the will of the majority of its churchgoers and votes in favour of a boycott, Love said, “I don’t think it’ll have any impact on the ground: we simply don’t have the economic muscle; we’re not buying a lot of wine from the Golan Heights. What it will do is add to the feeling of isolation that many in Israel are feeling and [lead] to further division and resentment. It will do nothing to aid in our understanding and dialogue or our ability to work out solutions.”
An anti-Israel boycott will also ruin the relationship between the UCC and the Jewish community, he warned.
“As a church that shares a common Abrahamic root with Jews and Muslims, the moment we create a policy, it has very real interfaith dimensions and implications. And the interfaith implication today will be the destruction of our relationship with the Jewish community in Canada at the national level.”