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.
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
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.
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.