United Church minister blasts church’s Israel/Palestine report
May 15, 2012 | Joanne Hill - Correspondent
Rev. Andrew Love at the Western Wall during a two-week visit to Israel in 2009. Last week he criticized his church over a recently released Israel/Palestine report. (Photo: Courtesy of Rev. Andrew Love)
TORONTO-ARNPRIOR – A United Church minister has gone public with strong criticism of the national church’s priorities as evidenced in its recently released report on the Israeli-Palestinian issue (see Jewish Tribune, May 10).
“We need to review our priorities,” said Rev. Andrew Love of Grace Saint Andrew’s United Church in Arnprior. “I would much rather see us endorsing some of the more positive joint [Israeli-Palestinian] peace initiatives as our policy and then turn our attention to the horrific evidence – which is all around us – of what is happening to our Christian brothers and sisters in so many parts of the world today.”
Love said he hopes to raise awareness about what he considers troubling aspects of a report by the church’s Working Group on Israel/Palestine Policy, which will be voted on at its General Council meeting in August. If enough people raise their voices, he said, perhaps certain sections of the report will be changed or removed altogether.
Since launching his website, FaithfulWitness.ca, and speaking to a national newspaper recently, Love said he has received an “overwhelmingly positive” response from church members who’ve asked, “Where’s our sense of priority in terms of our justice initiatives and why is the issue of Israel/Palestine occupying so much of our time?”
For too long, he said, he has felt like “a lone voice crying in the wilderness; that’s why I’ve done this. I have had a feeling of isolation insofar as trying to lift up a call to balance, a call to truly hearing both [Israeli and Palestinian] perspectives.”
Love fears “the church is eroding a commitment it made in 2003 to strengthen its ties with the Jewish community.” Although “there are some constructive elements in the report, there are elements that are very troubling.”
The report seems to “equate the difficult reality of Palestinians today with the magnitude of the horror of the Holocaust,” he said. Also, instead of “a direct, clear denunciation...[it] said the language of apartheid shouldn’t be used because it doesn’t necessarily help in the dialogue; this struck me as a political manoeuvre.”
Love said the report lacks “sophistication in terms of our understanding of the settlements” and minimizes the impact of terrorism on Israelis. He said he was baffled by the report’s disputation of Biblical passages concerning Israel and its questioning of the country’s “Jewish character.”
“Frankly, I scratched my head about why that was in there. Why are we getting into that? Why are we making comments about the internal challenge that Israel is wrestling with in terms of the spectrum of Jewish faith that is represented in Israel? They made comments about the growth of the ultra-Orthodox; why is that even in there? How does that lend anything positive to this conversation?”
It’s natural for Christians to be interested in Israel “from a faith perspective,” he said; however, “I’m concerned that there are groups within our church who are coming to it with more of a political motive and that’s troubling.... There are activist groups within the church, spread out across the country, who have a radical agenda, a mission to use the platform of the church to advance their particular political agenda.”
Love said his calling as a Christian minister to build bridges is exemplified by a promise he made while visiting Israel in 2009. A Jewish mother, whose family’s home had been struck by a missile fired from Gaza, asked why the Western church wasn’t doing more to stand with Israel.
“I said I will promise, in my own little way, to do what I can. That’s what I’m doing now: trying to honour that promise.”