In breaking news yesterday, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America approved a resolution calling on the U.S. government to end all aid to Israel if Israel does not stop building settlements and "enable an independent Palestinian state."
Several international Christian policy conferences this summer have produced a mixed bag of both blessings and curses -- all aimed at Israel. The United Methodists, The Southern Baptists, The Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Unitarian Universalists are worth noting here.
From the quadrennial United Methodist General Conference (UMGC), the good news is that the four major divestment and boycott proposals were defeated in committee before ever reaching a floor vote. The primary targets of the defeated boycott campaign were Caterpillar and Motorola, the corporate giants alleged -- in a totally fictitious plot -- to be co-conspirators with Israel supposedly to disable and destroy the Palestinian people.
The General Conference, not surprisingly, also voted to reaffirm (759-24) the United Methodist resolution #60229 -- Guiding Principles for Christian-Jewish Relations. This is a resolution that has been reinforced and amended for many years. It reflects the UMC's interest in establishing and maintaining relationships with the Jewish community.
However, mention of Israel in the UMC resolution is a trailing number nine out of nine points with a hesitant tone that reveals a distinct lack of understanding of the critical role of Israel in worldwide Jewish affairs.
Because of their apparent lack of factual information on the topic of Israel, the resolution appears to have caused some confusion. According to their document, they are "searching, wrestling, and struggling with complexities and painfulness of the controversies surrounding these Middle East issues." (extrapolated from petition #60229)
The UMC story however, does not end there. There are two nagging unresolved elements: first is the United Methodist Kairos Response Committee, which some people say is openly anti-Semitic, and second is the misguided United Methodist membership in the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.
Reinforcing and undergirding the campaign to destroy Israel economically, is the extreme anti-Israel United Methodist Kairos Response (UMKR) committee, currently reorganizing their menu of fraudulent attacks on Israel in the aftermath of their defeat at the General Conference.
The defeat of the UMKR effort at the General Conference a "cautious victory," according to an NGO Monitor article. It cites the UM Global Ministries Committee, which calls on the Church to withdraw its membership from the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation (USCEIO) another anti-Israel group to which the Methodist Church sadly remains a signatory.
While resolution #60229 is one positive step toward reconciliation, it unfortunately omits mention of Israel as the one and only sanctuary state for Jews.
This glaring omission leaves room for extremists, such as the United Methodist Kairos Response (UMKR) group, to advance its aggressive agenda against Israel as so-called "colonialist occupiers". It is exactly this position that reverberates throughout a segment of Christians who are actually trying to delude the world into thinking the absurd: that the ancient Jews of Canaan and Judea are "colonialists" who are "illegally occupying" their own native land.
It is distressing to watch the members of the Methodist Church at their General Conference trying to sidestep the malevolent embrace of anti-Semitism that seems to have overwhelmed so many Christian groups in recent years.
The United Methodist Church (UMC) represents seven million members in the United States. Since 1996, the UMC has adopted one resolution after another providing guiding principles for creating positive relationships with the Jewish people -- yet seems weak and self-defeating in response to toxic anti-Israel attacks from within.
In an even more comprehensive and positive move, the Southern Baptist Convention in its June gathering passed an anti-divestment resolution in support of Israel. The resolution declared "that the BDS movement seeks to isolate only the nation of Israel economically and socially."
The Southern Baptists resolved to "support the right of Israel to exist as a sovereign state and reject any activities that attack that right by promoting economic, cultural, and academic boycotts against Israel." They added that "at this critical time when dangerous forces are mounting up against the nation of Israel, we recommit ourselves to pray for God's peace to rule in Jerusalem and for the salvation of Israel."
According to Baptist News Global, the lone opponent of the resolution was Pastor Jamal Bishara, who is leader of First Arabic Baptist Church in Phoenix, Arizona. He argued unsuccessfully that parts the resolution "on prayer and support for Israel" are both biblically and factually incorrect.
Bishara, who was born and raised in Nazareth, Israel, reflects, according to critics, a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel bias deeply embedded within Israel's Christian communities. He has said that Palestinians have "the right to live peaceably in their land. ... Among the Palestinians you have brothers and sisters who are Christians also." However, no Israeli leader has ever suggested denying the Palestinians the right to live in peace. Bishara's comment appears to attest more to an anti-Israel narrative on the part of many Israeli Christian groups, including: Eastern and Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and evangelical Protestant groups, particularly Bethlehem Bible College, which sponsors the infamous biennial, Christ at the Checkpoint Conferences.
Fortunately, Bishara's opinion represents a fringe minority within the largely pro-Israel Southern Baptist denomination.
Presbyterian Church (USA)
The Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) General Conference, after lengthy debate, approved (429-129) a report entitled Israel-Palestine For Human Values in the Absence of a Just Peace. The report, originally issued in February, declared the denomination's intention of reevaluating its support for a two-state solution.
At first glance, the reviews of the report suggested that the PCUSA might be planning to moderate its formerly hate-filled attitudes toward Israel. But a thorough reading of the report reveals that its foundational premise is weighted with incorrect and bogus "facts," typically laying blame for the intractable problems in the region solely at Israel's feet, while invoking the name of God as a guide and inspiration.
According to a report in Religion News Service:
The votes by Presbyterian Church USA delegates angered mainstream Jewish groups, who said the measures unfairly 'demonize' Israel, give a pass to Palestinian violence and question the Jewish state's right to exist. But Some Jewish leaders noted that delegates amended resolutions to temper action and stances against Israel.
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) criticized the General Assembly (GA) for endorsing a report that was 'one-sided;' and 'filled with inaccuracies.'
"For those who seek an enduring Israeli-Palestinian peace it is deeply disappointing that a major Protestant denomination in the U.S. with deep roots in the Middle East, has chosen to be a cheerleader for those whose vision of peace does not include the State of Israel," said Emily Soloff, AJC associate director of interreligious and intergroup relations."
The PCUSA conference also seemed to disassociate itself from any official affiliation with Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which has been running an aggressive but unsuccessful global campaign to try to destroy Israel through economic boycotts of products, businesses and academic institutions.
At the same time, PCUSA proposed to approve a resolution to urge the realty company RE/MAX to stop sales of property within Jewish settlements in the "occupied territories."
"The denomination's irresponsible approach to peace and human rights in the Middle East is reprehensible," declared noted Christian affairs analyst Dexter Van Zile.
"The Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) sunk to a new low last week—the GA's noisy obsession with attacking Israel was only matched by their deafening silence towards the plight of thousands of Christians suffering under Islamic totalitarian regimes. The PCUSA's General Assembly chose to ignore so many human rights abuses happening in the rest of the Middle East and yet claimed to stand as social witness to the world."
PCUSA represents roughly 1.6 million members.
The Unitarian Universalist (UUA) General Assembly, at its June meeting in Ohio, defeated this year's divestment proposals which required a two-thirds majority to pass. The divestment proposals, similar to those proposed by both the Methodists and the Presbyterian USA denominations, target Caterpillar, Motorola and other US companies doing business in Judea and Samaria.
The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) -- considered among the most liberal of the Christian denominations -- stands at the forefront of the "peace and social justice" movement, which is typically used as an excuse to blame Israel for the ills of the Palestinians.
The committee leading the charge against Israel is called Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East (UUJME). On the surface, the UUJME, along with partners in "peace and social justice," proclaim their intentions to offer support and compassion for suffering, poor and oppressed people groups, in this case Palestinians.
The reality, however, reveals a seriously flawed agenda based upon twisted "facts" and innuendo laying all blame for the Middle East conflict at Israel's feet.
While the Unitarian Universalists alone, with only 200,000 members, do not represent a significant influence on public opinion against Israel, their alliances with Israel's other Christian foes of Israel such as Quakers, members of the World Council of Churches and Presbyterian Church (USA), the Kairos Palestine group and the BDS movement, represent an unmistakably loud collective voice against the only pluralistic, tolerant democracy in the Middle East.
Seemingly undeterred by their 2016 defeats, the Christian anti-Israel coalitions are regrouping for their next attacks, while pro-Israel Christian Zionist organizations -- including Christians United for Israel (CUFI), Friends of Israel (FOI), International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem (ICEJ) and Bridges for Peace, among others, continue to speak out and teach the facts and the truth about Israel to Christians throughout the United States and Europe.
Christian actions both for and against Israel during the summer of 2016 are constant reminders that Israel can never stop being alert to seen and unseen enemies. For Israel, hostility from Christians, Muslims and government-funded NGOs unfortunately means complacency is not an option.
The summer of 2016 reminds us that Christian foes of Israel, after 2000 years of persecution, stand ready to strike yet again. Still, the Bible gives us hope and assurance that there is a future day when Israel will be able to bask in the elusive peace it demonstrably continues to offer those who are trying to destroy it.
Susan Warner is a Distinguished Senior Fellow of Gatestone Institute and co-founder of a Christian group, Olive Tree Ministries in Wilmington, DE, USA. She has been writing and teaching about Israel and the Middle East for over 15 years. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.