Thursday, July 27, 2006

Israel lobby at work in the Episcopal Church

Fr. Naim Ateek. Photo from the Witness

A few days ago, Fr. John Kirkley lamented on his blog that the recent General Convention of the Episcopal Church was "too busy ensuring that the two or three diocesan elections in which gay or lesbian nominees might stand a chance of being elected bishop were prevented from doing so" to take up several resolutions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

While these proposals were nothing terribly new or earth shattering, they would at least have afforded us an opportunity to speak a word of judgment and hope to the wider world.

Not everyone is as distressed as John is about our failure. In fact, there are those who crow about derailing of any statement from the Episcopal Church on Israeli-Palestinian issues. According to the New York Sun, members of a pro-Israel pressure group named Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East

spent two weeks in June at the Episcopalian convention in Columbus, Ohio. The news out of the convention was all around the debate over gay clerics. What didn't get reported was the work of [Sister Ruth] Lautt's group in helping to shelve, for the time being, at least, contentious resolutions on the Middle East. ...

"They were considering bad resolutions," says Dennis Hale, a Medford, Mass.-based Episcopalian who traveled to Columbus with Sister Lautt's group. ...

"We were at first treated like pariahs," says Hale, who began to reconsider his Episcopalian affiliation given the negative reception he received.... Sister Lautt, [a Roman Catholic Dominican nun,] says her group has plans to attend national gatherings of the U.C.C., Disciples of Christ, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Now truth be told, I suspect these folks are claiming more influence than they had; Episcopalians at the convention were quite busy tying themselves in knots without an assist from a pressure group with outside leadership. I smell a spurious claim of victory offered for funders. Still, it is unpleasant to realize that the usual constellation of right wing outfits is carrying Israel's water to mainline Protestants in an organized way.

The so-called "Fair Witness" is clearly out of the Institute for Religion and Democracy constellation of efforts to derail any movement toward for justice in the mainline churches. Check out the reports by Jim McNaughton at the Episcopal Diocese of Washington here for more on how right wing funders gave impetus to an internal, often disloyal, opposition within Protestant denominations.

The group's own press release makes clear that it aims to be a counterweight to the influence of Sabeel, the Jerusalem-based ecumenical grassroots liberation theology movement among Palestinian Christians. As I see it, that means the so-called "Fair Witness" aims to stifle the voices of the oppressed in order to amplify the voices of their oppressors. Since Constantine made Christianity a pillar of order in his faltering Roman Empire, churches have too often let themselves play that repressive role.

Fr. Naim Ateek of Sabeel replied to the pressure generated by the Israel lobby within the church at an event at the Convention.

Those who demonize us think they are serving the security of Israel when they protect the unjust policies and actions of the government of Israel towards the Palestinians. They cannot serve Israel’s security when they protect lies and hide the truth. ... We must work for the sake of all of our peoples -- Israelis and Palestinians. ...

[He added]...please remember that even peace is not the ultimate goal. We must go beyond the establishment of justice and peace. We must go beyond the establishment of the two states of Israel and Palestine that live side by side. We must go on to work for healing and for reconciliation between our two peoples.

I believe that many Palestinians, though experiencing the oppressive measures of Israeli occupation, want to live in peace and to be reconciled and even offer forgiveness. Obviously, so long as the injustice persists the door to reconciliation and forgiveness is slammed shut. Justice is the key that opens the door.

When the door is opened, we might be surprised to find that people who have suffered torture, humiliation, oppression, and the loss of loved ones on both sides are open to reconciliation. Indeed, many times it is those who have suffered the most who are the first to forgive. They are willing to give and receive forgiveness.

To the oppressor, justice looks like vengeance. But in the presence of justice, the category of oppressor dissolves and peace and reconciliation can grow. The Episcopal Church doesn't need lobbies. It needs zeal for justice, zeal for creating a context in which love can flourish.

UPDATE: On July 26, Bishop Riah of the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem sent out his own appeal for the Palestinian people of the West Bank and Gaza and expressed his intention to travel to Lebanon to be with the victims of the war.


sfmike said...

I quoted rather liberally from this over at "Civic Center" this evening. Good reporting, good quotes, and your last paragraph is a doozy.

Your "cheering" of the white/black baseball lady above was also interesting. It reminded me somehow of a great Canadian novel by Anne-Marie Macdonald called "Fall on Your Knees." If you haven't read it, I can't recommend the book highly enough.

sush said...

God bless you and keep writing. We need more people like you speaking out in the mainline churches.
- a fellow seeker.

Anonymous said...

Gregory Levey exposes...John Hagee and others...The Episcopalians could learn tactics from Hagee...they are letting the Christian Zionists have sway. Hagee and his type play hardball just like AIPAC and AIPAC loves him for it. click on Powerful Israel lobby article and scroll down.

"I don't sit behind my desk and come up with this stuff," Coleman said, stressing that he often consulted AIPAC executive director Howard Kohr for policy advice. Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat from Maryland, said that she, too, often spoke to Kohr and others in the AIPAC leadership. "They're like daily phone calls," she said, as other Democratic and Republican members of Congress onstage nodded in agreement.

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