Op-Ed: Mainline American Christians Against Israel
Dr. Manfred GerstenfeldThe writer has been a long-term adviser on strategy issues to the boards...
“The leadership of most American ‘mainline’ Protestant churches is top-heavy with anti-Israel agitation, especially among those on mission committees. By now, a substantial number of their members have been influenced by anti-Israel rhetoric. Furthermore, younger members, due to anti-Israel attitudes on campus, are increasingly hostile to Israel. If the Palestinians make further progress here, it will be a great blow to the self-understanding of America as ‘firmly in Israel’s camp.’
“These very liberal churches include Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and the United Church of Christ. They presently number about 16 million. Their membership and influence in the United States continue to decline. These churches’ rhetoric is usually outdone by an even harsher one of a small group of so-called ‘peace churches,’ including the Mennonites and Quakers.”
Rabbi Yitchok Adlerstein is the Director of Interfaith Affairs at the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He is the Adjunct Chair, Jewish Law and Ethics at Loyola Law School. He is the Founding Editor of the Jewish Orthodox blog Cross-Currents.
“Mainline churches claim many members from Congress. They represent America’s heartland and have adopted a range of resolutions hostile to Israel. They include calls for boycotts plus divestment and sanctions (BDS). Some are aimed at Israel, others focus on the ‘settlements.’ Several churches supported the hateful Kairos Palestine Document published in 2009 by some Palestinian Christians. There is also tourism to Israel under Palestinian auspices.
“BDS started with the passage of a resolution in 2004 at the Presbyterian Church (USA) calling for selective divestment of shares of American companies doing business in Israel. Long before that, the World Council of Churches (WCC) founded in 1948, aligned itself with ‘third world’ countries and thinking. This is an international umbrella group of mainline churches which claims denominational membership of 590 million people. It has frequently condemned Israel, yet never protested attempts by Israel’s neighbors and by terrorists to erase it from the map.
Easter message..: ‘It seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him."
"The churches’ salaried officials often harm Israel, without a specific mandate from a convention floor. For example, in fall 2012 just before the U.S. presidential elections, a consortium of church officials sent a letter to members of Congress questioning how U.S. military aid was being used by Israel, and calling for cutbacks in that aid.
“Several of these churches also publish extremely anti-Israel educational materials. These are often the only ones members will view. The Methodists produced a study guide a few years ago authored by an apostate Jewish pastor. He admitted to hating Judaism. It featured illustrations of Israeli soldiers reminiscent of Nazi guards at a concentration camp.
“The motives of these churches differ. Some aim to delegitimize the State of Israel as ‘a colonialist enterprise conceived in sin.’ Others desire to give Christian witness to the lack of peace in the Holy Land. These churches have discarded much of their grandparents’ beliefs and practices, retaining sympathy only for the powerless. In defending the Palestinians, they claim to support the underdog against ‘powerful and evil Israel.’
“Theology is playing an increasing role in mainline churches’ anti-Israel activity. It began with the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center and its head, Dr. Naim Ateek. Many liberal churches have partnered with Sabeel. Ateek used crucifixion imagery in his Easter message of 2001: ‘It seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him.’
" This reintroduces the ancient murderous Christian charge of deicide against the Jews. Ateek and others deny that the Bible speaks of any covenant of land with the Jews. This is a renewal of the replacement theology and supersessionism, and is extremely dangerous for Jews around the world, especially at a time of rising anti-Semitism.
“Palestinian influences in anti-Israel hate mongering is huge. They have sent teams of Palestinian Christians around the U.S for a decade, tugging at Christian heartstrings with emotional tales of woe. They are more effective than Palestinian Muslims, who don’t come as ‘brothers.’
“Still, there are surprises. In 2012, several denominations substituted positive investment resolutions in place of divestment. In some cases, votes that looked like they were heading in the anti-Israel direction were saved by impassioned speeches by pastors who spoke about the impact such a resolution would have on Jewish-Christian friendships and partnerships in their churches.
“I frequently converse with friends in churches, pondering the sundry causes of anti-Israel sentiment. When I attribute much to the misdirection of Christian love, I am often interrupted by someone saying: ‘Rabbi, I wish it were true. There is far more old-fashioned anti-Semitism in this church than any of us would like to admit.’”
“The actions of these mainline churches have poisoned the well of Christian-Jewish dialogue. Jews entered the dialogue, which has been fruitful at times, on the basis of assurances that Christian partners left contempt for Jews and Judaism behind, and had made serious attempts to understand what was important to Jews. The way in which these churches treat Israel shows that neither is true.”