The United Church of Christ (UCC), a liberal Protestant church with roots that go back to the Mayflower, is at it again. During the first few days of July 2017, the denomination's deliberative body, the General Synod, will gather in Baltimore Maryland. The General Synod will approve the denomination's budget and vote on some proposals that determine how the church's national bureaucracy will be reorganized. The synod will also vote on a number of resolutions that call on the denomination's officers and local churches to advocate for particular social causes that the assembly deems important.
There are 17 resolutions on the General Synod's agenda, one of which deals with Israel's treatment of Palestinian children in its detention centers. As of this writing, there are no resolutions on the agenda dealing with the massacre of huge numbers of people in Syria by the regime led by Bashar Al-Assad, who has killed hundreds of thousands of Sunni Muslims, many of them children, since the beginning of his country's civil war in 2011.
There might be some pushback within the denomination against the resolution, which portrays Israel as guilty of crimes against Palestinian children. There should be. The resolution, which was submitted by a number of churches located mostly in coastal "blue states" such as California, Oregon and Connecticut, makes no pretense of holding Palestinian leaders accountable even as it invokes the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the Palestinian Authority signed in 2014, to justify its condemnations of Israel.
In particular, the text makes no mention of the crimes against children perpetrated by Palestinian leaders in both the Gaza Strip and West Bank who teach children to hate, nor is there any reference to Hamas' tendency to put children in harm's way by using schools and hospitals as storage stations and launch pads for rocket attacks against Israel. Nor is there any reference to the use of child labor in smuggling tunnels between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. Every one of these actions is a crime against the welfare of children. Not one of them is mentioned in the resolution on the General Synod's agenda.
The whole point of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child is to protect children from exactly the type of misdeeds that the PA and Hamas have either perpetrated or allowed, but the resolution on the UCC's agenda ignores these issues altogether.
Such behavior is dishonest, but not surprising. Advocating for children really is not the point of the resolution put before the denomination's General Synod. The real point of the resolution is to use a de-contextualized story of Palestinian suffering to focus peoples' attention on Israel while the rest of the region goes to hell.
The authors of the resolution rely on the partisan "Defense of Children International, Palestine", an organization that tells trumped-up stories about Israeli wrongdoing in order to de-legitimize the Jewish state. For example, it 2012, it told a story of Israeli soldiers luring a young boy into a confrontation and then shooting him in cold blood, when media reports at the time indicate quite clearly that there was a violent confrontation between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian teenagers at the time the boy was shot.
The resolution on the UCC's agenda invokes a 2013 UNICEF report to highlight problems in Israeli prisons and then mischaracterizes a 2015 report from UNICEF, declaring that no progress had been made on the issues raised by the organization. This is simply dishonest. In the 2015 report UNICEF praised Israel for its efforts to respond to the problems raised in the 2013 report, but the UCC resolution dishonestly declares that subsequent update reports "have found that the situation has changed little for Palestinian children arrested by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank."
The details tell a different story. In 2013, UNICEF condemned Israel for nighttime arrests of teenagers -- who, by the way, are charged with throwing rocks and firebombs as Israeli civilians and soldiers. UNICEF declared that arrestees are more likely to have their rights violated during night arrests. In an effort to reduce the number of night arrests, Israeli officials established a program by which they could issue summonses to families requiring them to bring the accused to the police station. Not every family responded to the summons and as a result, night arrests are still necessary because daytime arrests lead to more confrontations, and in turn, more injuries and arrests.
But you will not find any mention of this conundrum in the resolution before the UCC's General Synod, which calls for the United States to withhold military assistance from Israel because of its actions. Omitting information like this from a resolution that passes judgment on Israel is, as mentioned, dishonest.
A while back, people horrified by resolutions like this passed by the UCC and other mainline denominations hoped that "the people in the pews" would rise up and revolt in response, and insist that church assemblies tell a more honest story about the Arab-Israeli conflict to their denominations. This turned out to be fantasy. Some church members fought back against resolutions like this, but eventually, the people in the pews who disagreed with the falsehoods their national assemblies said about Israel and other issues of the day simply left their denominations, sometimes bringing their local churches with them.
The results have been devastating for the UCC, especially. In 1960, 12.4 out of every 1,000 Americans were members of the UCC; by 2010, only 3.2 out of 1,000 Americans were members of this denomination. This process of decline has been going on for years. In 1965, the denomination had more than 2 million members; in 2016, it had just over 900,000.
This decline has had a tough impact on the ability of the denomination's local churches to survive. According to the Institute on Religion and Democracy, one quarter of the denomination's churches are without a full-time pastor:
"Many churches, especially in the denomination's New England heartland, are facing a difficult choice between retaining their buildings and employing clergy, with many opting to rely upon retired and non-stipendiary clergy instead of full-time ministers."
Jeffrey K. Hadden, author of The Gathering Storm in the Churches: A Sociologist Looks at the Widening Gap Between Clergy and Laymen, published by Anchor Books in 1969, warned that this would happen. Hadden declared that lay members of Protestant mainline churches were growing increasingly alienated from the clergy who ran the denominations they belonged to. To be sure, the mainline clergy who supported the civil rights movement in the 1960s had good reason to fight for civil rights in the American south, where blacks were being murdered. They had justice on their side and could look the laity square in the eye when they supported the civil rights movement.
But these days, the bureaucrats and activists who set the "peacemaking" agenda for churches such as the UCC have to misinform the people in the pews to justify the passage of anti-Israel resolutions. They have to minimize the dangers faced by Israeli civilians and soldiers. They have to omit Israeli efforts to reduce the harm done to Palestinian teenagers being arrested. And they have to ignore Palestinian violations of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that they use to condemn Israel.
The people left in the pews in the UCC probably have a good idea they are being misinformed, but do not expect them to fight back. They will just continue to leave.
Dexter Van Zile is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.