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June 25, 2008
A Tale of Two Churches
There have been over the last few years concerted efforts among pro-Palestinian activists, anti-Israel activists in various denominations to compel their governing bodies to take anti-Israel actions. These have included divestment calls (sell stock in companies doing business with Israel), as well as boycotts and various other steps.
The Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) is currently being rent by these same calls by some members -which include a total suspension of military aid to Israel. However these efforts are being opposed by a group of Presbyterians within the Church's governing body as well as some other opponents who happen to be US Senators.
Last month, six senators who are Presbyterians urged the church not to endorse the proposal to cut off defense help to Israel. "We are adamantly opposed to the call for the U.S. government to temporarily suspend military aid to Israel," senators Kyl of Arizona, Bond of Missouri, DeMint of South Carolina, Carper of Delaware, Shelby of Alabama, and Inhofe of Oklahoma wrote. "We ask that you take no action that would make a case for moral equivalency between the Israeli military, which is fighting to keep Israel safe, and Palestinian terrorists, who seek to destroy it.
There has been another denomination that has engaged in a series of harsh anti-Israel actions over the years-The United Church of Christ. The church has sponsored appearances by leaders of the Sabeel group which promote a view that Jews have been superceded by Arab Christians as the "chosen" people of the Bible. This view is meant to weaken the strong support enjoyed by Jews (both in and outside of Israel) from evangelical Christians who believe there is a Biblical mandate to comfort and support the Jews as God's "chosen people." But the range of actions taken by the governing board extend beyond that and even prompted a rare rebuke from a coalition of Jewish groups that usually try to soft peddle these types of controversies:
Eight Jewish groups rebuked the United Church of Christ for what they said was an imbalanced statement on Israel.
The letter crafted last week by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body for policy groups, targeted a UCC statement marking 40 years of Israel's occupation of disputed lands.
While noting that the UCC statement committed itself to Israel's security, the Jewish letter said the church document failed to mention Israeli peace overtures, Palestinian rejection of the overtures and "brutal Palestinian campaigns of terror aimed at innocent Israeli children and families."
The UCC response to the Jewish letter said it was the church's position that Israel's actions are the "context for and, in many cases, a cause of" violence on both sides.
Joining the JCPA in the letter were the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements; the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and B'nai B'rith International.
There is one very prominent Senator who happens to be a member of this denomination: Barack Obama. Of course, his own Pastor of 20 years, Jeremiah Wright, Jr. (who he has called his "sounding board", "moral compass" and "confidant") has been in the forefront of anti-Israel activism over the years -and to boot, even saw fit to give an award to the most infamous anti-Semite in America (Louis Farrakhan). Barack Obama has been the recipient of an award from the governing body; he has been the keynote speaker over the last few years at various national assemblies. He is clearly the most prominent member of the denomination. Has the Senator ever spoken out to dissuade the governing body of his denomination from its anti-Israel actions? Well..yes... but only after years of silence. Of course, he was on the campaign trail and he needed to quell any political problems. Before there was a political need to do so he was quiescent. From an article last year: A missed opportunity
This past Saturday, Obama spoke to a group of 300 delegates at the United Church of Christ state convention in Iowa.
He delivered his usual bromides, including an attack on the "Christian Right." He did not mention Israel or the controversial anti-Israel positions that the United Church of Christ has taken. Not a word. Here is a man who preaches tolerance and the coming together of people, a man whose voice is a powerful instrument and can be used to heal wounds. He chose to remain silent about the bias within his own church.
Obama again had a chance to try to heal the rupture between the United Church of Christ and supporters of Israel when he addressed the important 26th annual synod of the United Church of Christ in Hartford, Connecticut. This event was attended by thousands of members and will help to set church policy in the years ahead (comparable to "platforms" established by political parties). So enthusiastic was his welcome that one UCC member called it "a Democratic pep rally."
However, it is important to note that Obama never touched upon the issue of the UCC's approach toward Israel, despite having numerous opportunities to do so; he never took the opportunity to address the bias towards Israel either when he spoke before UCC groups or otherwise. Only when the UCC was on the verge of passing a milder version of the resolution regarding Israel did the Obama campaign issue a statement,
"Senator Obama has been a consistent and stalwart supporter of Israel, our strongest ally and only democracy in the Middle East, throughout his career in public service and his entire life," a spokeswoman for the campaign, Jennifer Psaki, said. "While he is a proud member of the UCC church and values its tradition of openness and diversity, he strongly disagrees with the portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict presented by individual members of the church."In the speeches he has given over the last year or so, in the written statements his campaign issued, he voiced no criticism about his church's anti-Israel resolution before. Only after the church was well on its way in passing a milder resolution towards Israel, did Obama see fit to issue a statement about the church's position towards Israel. He also phrased it in an odd way that could be subject to various interpretations. He never specifically stated that he opposed the previous harsh denunciation of Israel embodied in official church resolutions, he merely stated that he "strongly disagrees with the portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by individual members of the church."
Individual members"? That is meaningless. The Church has over a million members. With which individuals' views does Obama have a problem? This is such a wishy-washy statement that it verges on blather. For all anyone knows, he found the prior official UCC resolutions acceptable, since he never specifically denounced them. There are certainly individual members whose view he may disagree with but so what? I imagine if Obama stated that there are those individual members of Hamas whose views he disagrees with? What would that mean? Is that a courageous statement? Of course not.
Contrast this relatively mild statement by Barack Obama regarding his own denomination's actions (after years of silence regarding the anti-israel activities of his Pastor and the governing body of his church) towards the more full-throated rebuke delivered by Senators Kyl, Bond, DeMint, Carper, Shelby and Inhofe.
A profile in courage?