CHRISTIAN ANTI-ZIONISM AND CHRISTIAN DECONSTRUCTIONISM
By Paul Merkley.
For several decades now, the World Council of Churches has been in full revolt against the intellectual and moral legacy of the church. The WCC’s promotion of Anti-Zionism and the Palestinian Anti-History that sustains it (See my essay, “The Anti-History That Sustains Anti-Zionism,” www.thebayviewreview, July 29.) has to be understood as a chapter within the broader and longer story of capitulation, over recent decades, by the churches and by Christian intellectuals, to dogmas that dominate the secular world and which can be summed up with the word “deconstructionism.”
Intellectual Progress of the World Council of Churches.
When it made its debut in 1948, the World Council of Churches branded itself as the champion of “Order”. The formal Report from the first WCC Assembly is called “The Church and the Disorder of Society.” Here we read that the world, presently “disordered” in consequence of the unprecedentedly terrible global war just recently concluded, has to be transformed into “the responsible society” by accepting “God’s design”. After a few years had gone by, however, the hearts and minds of Protestant churchmen began to turn more to recognition of the inhibiting effects of “order”: WCC position papers tended henceforth to see order and disorder in creative mix. By 1968, the Theology of Order was out, and the Theology of Liberation was in.
As it happens, the WCC came into the world just a few weeks after Israel did. In 1947-1948, that part of the Church in the West which is today called “Fundamentalist” and/or “Evangelical” – the part which has always stood apart from the WCC precisely because of its accommodation to “the world” – was overwhelmingly supportive of the Zionist solution to the Jewish problem; other branches of the Protestant church (what is generally spoken of today as “the Mainline “) were mostly well-disposed towards the Zionist solution , but with many dissenting.
The Roman Catholic church had powerful objections. These were partly attributable to concern for how the large Roman Catholic congregations in the Holy Land might fare under Jewish regime; but they were also deeply affected by theological arguments of great antiquity — to the effect that there could not be a place in God’s Plan for the continuance of the Jews and their Synagogue in rivalry with God’s Church — the inheritor of all the Old Testament Promises. With the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) the Roman Catholic Church has been making a dedicated effort to improve Jewish –Christian relations, and to that end has issued several statements intended to qualify commitment to the absoluteness of “replacement” theology, but not going so far as to explicitly repudiate its implications. (The major Christian Zionist organizations have explicitly repudiated the doctrine.)
But the deepest reservations against endorsement of a Jewish state derived then as now from a motive that few Christians were or are prepared to admit to – simple old-fashioned contempt for Jews (for which the fancy term, until recently, had been anti-Semitism.)
As it turned out, all such reservations could not outweigh the general humanitarian advantage that the Jewish cause briefly held in the immediate wake of the War and disclosure of the Holocaust. Yet, almost immediately after the decision for Partition of Britain’s Palestine Mandate was taken at the United Nations General Assembly (November 29, 1947), these two constituencies (mainstream Protestantism and Roman Catholicism) shifted into the ranks of those denouncing the new State – and eventually became overwhelmingly hostile, all the while protesting that anti-Semitism had nothing to do with the case.
The WCC Becomes the Conscience of Mankind.
The newly-invented WCC was soon hard at work trying to win a place for itself in United Nations counsels and in the arena of world opinion as a reliable and expert interpreter of the humanitarian dimension to all the great world issues. To maintain its credibility as the Conscience of Mankind, the WCC followed a tactic of minimizing – indeed, generally ignoring – explicit appeal to the Gospel or to matters that figure in any of the creeds, while developing language that created a halo effect around the proudly-secular rhetoric that informs UN Declarations. Simultaneously, leaders of the churches sought out opportunities for achieving solidarity of expression on life’s largest issues with Muslim voices. To assist empathy with Islam, comparative religion largely replaced church dogmatics in the training of clergymen.
We need to reflect on the fact that the moment of Israel’s creation belongs to the hour when Western intellectuals were reviewing the strengths of our Christian civilization in the light of the recent escape from Nazism and the prospect of a long struggle against the Soviet Communist Empire; scholars, public commentators and most politicians were still generally convinced that the choice was one between light and darkness, freedom and slavery. Before another generation had gone by, however, academics and elites of opinion had got themselves persuaded that the first duty of the inquiring mind is to despise what one belongs to; it was becoming impossible in academic circles to say a kind word for “civilization” and downright heresy to say a kind word for the “Christian” or “Judeo-Christian” legacy. At the end of this process, many intellectuals were arguing in the bright light of day that the democratic State of Israel was an engine of imperialism, a racist, apartheid state, the oppressor of Third World peoples, an instrument of proxy for the bloody Crusaders.
By the 1960s, intellectuals everywhere were participating in the heroic work of damming up all the roads that led back to the history and the values of the past and embracing what they imagined was a liberating spirit based upon recognition of the relativity of western values. The Universities of the West were undergoing siege by radical student movements, stemming ostensibly from the anti-Vietnam movement, but ultimately from a crisis of self-esteem which took place in the traditional civilization of the West. Courses in Western Civilization were driven to the periphery of the curriculum. Dominating the curriculum was the story of all those who have been oppressed by European colonialism.
Clergy and Christian intellectuals, and in due course entire schools of learning previously considered bastions of Christian learning, now appeared bent on proving “relevant” in academic-intellectual circles, and were soon pushing their way to the front of the deconstructionist pack. As for the mainline Protestant denominations, a defining moment in this story came at the Uppsala Assembly in 1968. Here, the “Program to Combat Racism” was adopted: it called for educational efforts, political and social action, economic sanctions against “racist” regimes, and moral and material support for groups “fighting racism.” A document, “Violence, Non-violence and the Struggle for Justice,” published by WCC Central Committee, Geneva, 1973, provided examples of oppression and violence in South Africa, various Latin American countries, Northern Ireland, among many other countries, but none from any Communist country. It found the U.S.A. to be exercising “massive, obvious violence” throughout the world.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, unhappiness with these policies among the laity got reflected in defections from the WCC of several participating congregations and drastic reductions of financial support, leading to equally drastic budget cuts, including reductions of staff.
Anti-Zionism and Anti-imperialism.
With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Communist Empire a great disorientation overtook progressive souls, who, now bereft of the clarifying template of the Cold War, had to crawl over the wreckage and find direction on their own. Progressives were no longer interested in what Karl Marx has to teach us but were now obsessed with the task of finding reliable guidance to the Will of Mankind.
Obviously, to find expression of the Will of Mankind the place to go must be the Parliament of Mankind.
How Israel Lost its Advantage in the Counsels of the United Nations.
In the first few years following the establishment of the United Nations, Western nations and a cohort of western-oriented former colonies usually commanded secure majorities in support of the positions they favored in the UN General Assembly. But by the 1970s a preponderance of membership had shifted to what were then called “Third World” countries. In these post-colonial ranks, the key to understanding world history was the story of the overcoming of Imperialism.
The WCC recognized that it would not assist their recognition as the Conscience of Mankind to keep alive the rhetoric about Civilization and its accomplishments and values. Instead, fulsome identification with the Struggle Against Imperialism was the key to influence.
Within the non-European majority in the General Assembly and on the Committees and Commissions, there were many divisions, some following from differences of region, culture, and economic interest. But there was one coherent bloc of nations – in fact, the second largest inter-governmental organization after the United Nations itself — the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), with 57 member states spread over four continents. Setting aside differences on all other matters and voting solidly, the OIC bloc can safely command a majority regardless of the issue. Members who do not in fact care deeply about Middle East issues but who know what is good for them, will bank support for an anti-Israel resolutions for credit on issues of closer concern.
Thus, to maintain its credibility as the conscience of Mankind, the World Council of Churches has had to stand alongside this majority o Nations who agree that the most egregious example of the triumph of the western imperial will over the rights of other people was the Creation of the State of Israel. It supports without reservation the whole list of formal denunciations of the Jewish state whose production has been the principal concern of the General Assembly and of is several Commissions.
Though fully aware that their command over the political life of Western democracies has waned steadily over the past four decades, leaders of the so-called mainline churches are determined to gain recognition as the conscience of mankind. For this purpose, there must be both solidarity of ideology with academic elites and cultural leaders in the west and solidarity with the agenda of the majority of nations at the UN. In that, anti-Semitism, disguised as politically-acceptable anti-Zionism, is requirement for membership. Today the WCC is at the forefront of efforts at the United Nations to have Israel condemned for “systematic perpetration of racist crimes including war crimes, acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing.”
The Creation of the State of Israel as told by Zionists.
Thus, by the 1970s, Anti-Zionism had become the common ground common ground for all those elements that regarded “imperialism” as the principle enemy of mankind.
The paradox here is that the Partition of the Palestine Mandate in November, 1947, was the first issue of major significance that was undertaken and solved by the fledgling United Nations General Assembly in November, 1947. In those days, progressive souls had been generally united in regarding the Zionist cause as especially representative of the cause of validation of national ambitions of all kinds in the Middle East. Most recognized that the Arab refusal to accept the Partition was a symptom of its retrograde politics – one that would surely be overcome in good time.
As Zionists tell the story, the creation of the State of Israel was the fruit of a heroic campaign by Christian and Jewish pro-Zionists to build support among British, European and American statesmen for a Homeland for the Jews . Christian Zionists saw the ultimate mandate for this decision in Biblical prophecy about the restoration of the Jews to the Holy Land. But in the circumstances of 1945-1947, all serious Christians felt comfortable with leaving aside this theological matter, as the current desperate situation of European Jews, most of them homeless and facing persecution, was more than enough to convince people of goodwill of the rightness of the decision to create a haven for the Jews in the form of a Jewish State in Palestine.
The literature that the WCC provides for participants in its “Workshops” on Palestine passes over entirely the story of the great campaign by liberal souls to find security for the Jews of Europe, as the long and nasty tradition of “anti-semitism” bourgeoned into the genocidal program of the Nazis, by carving a tiny state dedicated to this purpose in a tiny corner of the Middle East. Today, WCC literature portrays the creation of the Jewish state as the outcome of a sinister plot by European “imperialists” to establish a beachhead for the Western model of life that would steadily undermined the dignity of the Arab and Muslim way of life within the orbit of the Arab world.
Anti-Zionism’s appeal to churchmen is that it simultaneously aligns them with progressive minds in the secular world while just as emphatically distancing them from Christian theology and positively shutting down the authority of biblical prophecy as well as all discussion of the meaning of civilization.