WHAT HAS GOT INTO THE CHURCHES?
By Paul Merkley.
The Current Campaign of Vilification of Israel and the Jews.
Giulio Meotti is an Italian journalist who has for several years researched meticulously attitudes of Christians towards Israel and towards the Jews. Among his books are: A New Shoah (Encounter), which details Israel’s experience with terrorism, and The Vatican Against Israel: J’Accuse (Mantua Press), whose content will be evident from the title.
Meotti is convinced that we have already passed the threshold into a period of re-invigorated anti-Semitism, reminiscent of the 1930s. The current BDS campaign is just one front of a war, conducted under the banner of “anti-Zionism,” whose purpose is demonization of the Jews. To Meotti (as to me) the most frightening aspect of this matter is that a leading role in this campaign has been taken up by prominent church denominations affiliated with the World Council of Churches as well as by the Roman Catholic Church. And most inexplicable of all is that this is happening at the very moment when Christianity is the most persecuted of all the world’s major religions. Indeed, throughout the Middle East, Christians are now on the path to total liquidation.
“Why All This Christian Anti-Israel Hatred?”
In a recent article, “Why all this Christian anti-Israel Hatred?” Giulio Meotti asks: “Have the Christians in the West heard Islamists proclaiming daily that they will not stop until Christianity is wiped off the face of the earth?”
We are without excuse if we imagine that this the language of the Muslims follows from grandiosity alone. The project has a precedent: a mere seventy years ago the Jews of the Middle East, roughly four hundred thousand of them, were driven out of the Arab Middle East by the governments and the masses of those countries. These were places in which Jews had lived, for the most part, for many centuries before the Arabs had themselves entered the region and began the work of compelling by the sword conversion to Islam of those of all other religious beliefs. As this de-Judification of the Middle East was carried out during the 1950s, the world looked the other way. Now it is the turn of the Christians.
Rabbi Haïm Korsia, Chief Rabbi of France reminds us all of the historical scale of the expulsion of the Jews from the Middle East in the 1950s: “Where are the Jewish communities which once lived in Aleppo, Beirut, Alexandria, Cairo and Tripoli? Where are the schools of Nehardea and Pumbedita in Iraq? And where is the flourishing Judaism of Esfahan and Tehran?” In the same breath , the Rabbi calls for solidarity of Jews everywhere with Islam’s current victims:
Expelled, killed, decimated, persecuted and exiled … Eastern Christians are now personally experiencing the same experiences of the Jews who once lived in those places. Christianity is dying in Syria and Iraq. Christian churches are demolished, Christian crosses are burned and replaced with flags of the Islamic State, Christian houses are destroyed, entire Christian communities are displaced, Christian children are massacred, and everything is done in plain sight. Islamists proclaim on a daily basis that they will not stop until Christianity is wiped off the face of the earth. (Quoted by Giulio Meotti, “Op-Ed: Why all this Christian anti-Israel Hatred?” Israel National News, July 3, 2015.)
Some Jewish Responses to the Desperation of Middle East Christians.
In recent weeks alone, Israeli and Jewish journals have featured solemn essays on this current campaign of intended liquidation of the Christians people of the Middle East. More encouraging are the several declarations of solidarity that have come from the various Jewish organizations in our part of the world. Exceptionally heart-warming – and exceptionally practical — is the Weidenfeld Safe Havens Fund, an initiative just organized by the U.K. peer Baron Lord Weidenfeld for rescue of up to 2,000 Christians who have already come into the sights of the ISIS gangs in Syria and its neighbourhood. The first fruit of this work is the flight of 150 Syrian Christians to Poland on a privately chartered plane. Wiedenfeld imagines that he has a “debt to repay” to these Christians “in gratitude to the religion whose members saved him from the Nazis.” Here he refers specifically to the Quakers and the Plymouth Brethren who fed and clothed him and helped him to reach Britain –a penniless five-year old – from Austria in 1938. Inevitably, the determination of our opinion elites never to allow a tear to fall for Christians has already kicked in, and Wiedenfeld’s initiative is already being denounced for its neglect of the Muslim victims of ISIS. (Daily Mail, July 16, 2015.)
Here a thought occurs: Why is there not a World Council of Churches Safe Havens Fund for Christian victims of religious persecution in the Middle East?
The Response of the Mainline Churches to the Current Muslim-Arab Assault Upon Christianity: SILENCE.
While these expressions of solidarity with the Christian victims of Islamic contempt continue to come from Jews and Jewish organizations, only a trickle of vague concern is coming from the principal church bodies – and these, typically, are couched in morally-neutralizing expressions of concern for the victims-in-general of murderous behaviour — which cannot, after all, be coming from Islam (a religion of Peace, as Prime Minister Cameron has just reminded us again) but from certain dark corners governed by the spirit of “Islamism.”
The “mainline” denominations, all members of the World Council of Churches, who have been so tirelessly engaged during the last few weeks in vilifying the state of Israel and demonizing Jews around the world have virtually ignored the story of suffering of their brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the Middle East. It is not that they are unaware of this story; even the major newsweeklies which have in the past been notoriously uninterested in reports about the suffering of Christians anywhere in the world have now been awaked from slumber (Inter alia: “The News Exodus: Christians Flees ISIS in the Middle East, Newsweek, Mar 26, 2015; Aryn Baker, “Unholy Choices,” TIME, April 10, 2014; “No Safety for Christians in the Mideast,” News York Times, January 8, 2015. ) But in the very moment that the mainstream news-media are discovering the suffering of Middle Eastern Christians, the mainline Protestant denominations are all looking the other way.
Giulio Meotti asks:
So are the world Christian bodies denouncing the Islamic forces for the ethnic cleansing, genocide and historic demographic-religious revolution their brethren is suffering? No. Christians these days are busy targeting the Israeli Jews. The Pope, who should represent the voice of one billion Catholics around the world, was not busy these days in writing an encyclical against the Islamic persecution of Christians. No, the Catholic Church was very busy in signing a historic agreement with the “State of Palestine”, a non-existent entity which, if it (God forbid) should be created, would be the first state after the Nazi Germany to officially ban the Jews and expel the remnant of its Christians….
(Since Abbas’s public statements to this exact effect have almost entirely been overlooked in our media, I offer here, before moving on, this item from the Jerusalem Post, July 30, 2013.
CAIRO – Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas laid out his vision on Monday for the final status of Israeli-Palestinian relations …. Abbas said that no Israeli settlers or border forces could remain in a future Palestinian state … “In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli – civilian or soldier – on our lands,” Abbas said in a briefing to mostly Egyptian journalists. )
Reviewing recent deliberations and resolutions flowing from several general meetings of several American “mainline” denominations, Meotti discovers:
These Churches are not worried about the Christians beheaded in Libya by the Islamic State. These Christians are not raising the alarm on the last Christians of Aleppo. No. They are all adopting resolutions to divest from the Jewish State…The Mennonites … demonize, target and isolate the Israeli people for defending themselves from barbaric terrorists.
Dexter Van Zile who researches Christian attitudes towards Israel for CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting) has been studying with equal care this same story and is at least as much baffled as is Giulio Meotti by the failure of these bodies to notice the 800-pound gorilla in the room:
Not only did the UCC’s 2015 General Synod fail to speak up about the corruption of the Palestinian Authority and the violence and ideology of groups like Hamas and Hezbollah in its resolutions, it did not offer up any official condemnation of ISIS and Boko Haram …. The General Synod also failed to condemn the Syrian government, which has repeatedly used chemical weapons against its own citizens in that country’s civil war. No organization with a serious commitment to peace and human rights in the Middle East can allow the crimes committed by ISIS, Boko Haram, and the Syrian government to pass without comment, but the UCC’s 2015 General Synod did not offer any official statement about these groups…. Misdeeds perpetrated by Arabs and Muslims simply do not offend the sensibilities of the UCC’s deliberative body with the same force as Israel’s efforts to defend itself from terrorism. This distorted focus immeasurably harms Muslim and Christian victims of Islamist aggression who warrant world attention and rescue. (CAMERA Deplores UCC vote Targetting Israel with Boycott,” www.CAMERA.org, July 7, 2015.)
For my present purpose, it should be sufficient to direct the reader to CAMERA’s website for details about the anti-Israeli resolutions emerging from recent meetings of the “mainline” denominations. (“CAMERA Deplores UCC Vote Targeting Israel with Boycott and Divestment,” July 7, 2015, and other recent items.)
Anti-Zionism As a Symptom of the Death Throes of Mainline Protestantism
Until the mid-twentieth century, the United Churches of Christ was among the handful of American Protestant denominations with the largest memberships and it had some corresponding significance in the public life. Today, as Dexter Van Zile puts it, it is “a shrinking, marginal denomination … in a downward spiral.” Membership is down to about 900,000, less than half of what it was in the mid 1960s. It has lost approximately 300,000 members (about 20% of its membership) since 2005, the year when its convention passed its first divestment resolution.
There is a clear pattern here: all of the denominations that have gone into the camp of advocacy for divestment, divestment and sanctions, are losing members at a catastrophic pace. For example: the United Methodist Church, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church, have all lost around 30% of their membership over the last couple of decades. Indeed, it is only the cultural lag, together with the well-know tendency to groupthink that operates in the hearts and minds of our university- educated “journalists, that can account for the persistence of this myth of “Mainline Protestantism.”
These recent assaults upon Israel coming from the national meetings of certain Protestant denominations with long and generally-respectable histories have clearly demoralized many Israelis and Jews in general. We must keep in mind, however, that Jews are, by definition, outsiders to church life and with a very few expert exceptions, depend on generalizations and stereotypes which come to them from academic discussions and journalism. These outsiders are still in the spell of the hoary concept of “mainline” denominations belonging to a Protestant majority.
But the larger truth is that support for Israel among Christians has little to do with any contest among the denominations. The current fixation of Jews upon the decisions of the UCC, the Methodists, the Anglicans, and other major denominations within the World Council of Churches, points to neglect, by most Jews and most Israelis, of a profoundly important fact: that within the whole body of Christian in our part of the world these Liberal-Protestant denominations are losing membership by very large factors, while those denominations that have stood apart from the WCC consortium have been gaining in membership, by approximately the same factors.
Christian pro-Israel advocacy is built almost entirely up very large organizations that have pitched their tents outside the denominational camps. These are the volunteer groups that continue the legacy of Christian Zionism. They have as many leaders among laity as among clergy.
The bottom line is that the ranks of churches not-affiliated with the WCC are growing considerably and consistently. The growth sector is among those best-described as “Bible-believing” – that is, “evangelicals” in the original (but now long-lost) meaning. I shall have more to say about “Evangelicals” and “Evangelicalism” and “Christian Zionism in a subsequent essay.)
“Mainline Protestantism” is now undergoing its death-throes – and it is displaying exactly the symptoms that we would expect: grandiosity and irrationality; increasing zealotry over matters that obsess the secular culture, and willful blindness abut the largest realities; an incapacity to make relative judgments; a disposition to suicidal behaviour.
After each convention (attended almost exclusively by insiders, careerists within the denomination, friends of the leadership, institutional old-timers) the news of decisions gets back to the pews — and there ensues another rush for the exits.
Leaders of these denominations look around in panic and discover that their ranks are thinning – and they blame everyone but themselves. They seem incapable of making the obvious conclusion that it is precisely their efforts to be in tune with the best opinion that is driving people out of the pews. People go to church in the expectation that, surely, a different mentality must operate there than operates in the world in general. Instead they find that the leaders of these so-called Mainline denominations are themselves obsessed with proving themselves worthy of the approval of the world. Such dodges as the campaign to align the church with the best thinking of the United Nations in the matter of Israel are clearly alienating rather than appeasing many more members already in place than they are winning new members.
In short, this campaign follows from a death wish — a dogged determination to persist in policies that have for decades been thinning-out the ranks of members — that is, those who will have to keep the pension funds buoyant on the road ahead as the denomination casts off so many of its very best financial assets out of BDS zealotry.
In an essay to follow I will try to offer some longer historical background to this crisis in the Christian world.