While the United Methodist Church and Presbyterian Church (USA) denominations will ponder anti-Israel divestment at their conventions this year, the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop opposes divestment.
“The Episcopal Church does not endorse divestment or boycott,” Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori recently told a Los Angeles group. “It’s not going to be helpful to endorse divestment or boycotts of Israel. It will only end in punishing Palestinians economically.”
Although often left-wing and politicly correct, the Episcopal Church’s chief prelate and other officials, maybe mindful of interfaith relations with Jewish leaders, have typically steered away from the worst anti-Israel zeal. Unlike the Methodist and Presbyterians, the Episcopalians will not seriously consider divestment at their own convention this year.
Speaking to a Middle East Peacemakers luncheon, Schori was obliged to make the usual calls for “dialogue” and to imply moral equivalence between Israel’s struggle to exist versus Palestinian calls for its eradication. “We can urge Israel to freeze the settlement activity,” she suggested, according to Episcopal News Service. “We can urge the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel’s right to exist. We can condemn violence everywhere.”
But strikingly unlike others on the Religious Left, she did not demonize Israel, or glowingly embrace pro-Palestinian Liberation Theology. “We can urge our legislators and government to encourage dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian leaders,” she opined. “We can urge them to refrain from de-funding hopeful initiatives.” And she urged positive investment in “legitimate development in Palestine’s West Bank and in Gaza.” Schori called for a “two-state solution with a dignified home for Palestinians and for Israelis.” Meanwhile, some on the Religious Left are increasingly inclined towards admitting their support for a “one-state” solution that would demographically eradicate Israel’s Jewish democracy.
As Bishop Schori was urging relative moderation, the harder line Religious Left was backing the March 30 “March on Jerusalem.” It is hoping to mobilize many thousands to denounce Israel’s ostensible “Apartheid, ethnic cleansing and Judaisation policies.” Besides backing from former Obama pastor Jeremiah Wright and Christian Socialist Cornel West of Union Seminary, the march is backed by Friends of Sabeel – North America (FOSNA). Presbyterian minister Don Wagner is the FOSNA national program director and recently denounced Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren’s Wall Street Journal column that noted Christians are increasing inside Israel but declining in Muslim-majority Palestinian territory.
“Palestinian Christians and Muslims have been living together in harmony for centuries in what we call the Holy Land,” the Rev. Wagner boasted, in his own sugar-coated and truncated version of Islamic domination in Middle East history. “They also face the same brutal treatment at the hands of the Israeli occupiers, die from the same bullets, see their homes bulldozed and their lands confiscated and turned into illegal Jewish (only) settlements.” The Sabeel and typical Religious Left narrative is that only Israel can be faulted for any regional upheaval. “They live behind a 24-foot wall that chokes their towns and villages and cuts off farmers from tilling their lands, whether they are Christians or Muslims,” Wagner said of Palestinian Christians. “The Israeli occupation is an equal abuser of Palestinian Christians and Muslims.”
Wagner rehashed the narrative that Palestinian Christians are leaving the region exclusively because of Israel. This narrative almost never explains why the Palestinian Muslim population continues to grow, despite all the Israeli oppression. Wagner recalled that 13 percent of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip population was Christian prior to Israeli occupation in 1967 after its victorious war against attacking Arab armies. He notes today the Palestinian Christian population is perhaps not more than 1 percent. Of course, he omits the exodus of Christians from other Middle East countries, an exodus compounded by low birth rates.
“Some church leaders fear that at this rate there will be no Christians left in these parts of the Holy Land within a generation, unless something dramatic causes Israel to change its intransigence,” Wagner warns. But if Israel completely withdrew behind pre-1967 borders, would Palestinian Christians suddenly begin to thrive under full Palestinian nationalist or Islamist rule? Everywhere throughout the Middle East, Christian populations have been draining for the last century or more. That exodus is accelerating, as secular dictatorships that partly protected Christians are surrendering to Islamist movements.
Wagner excitedly pointed at the upcoming United Methodist and Presbyterian conventions, which he hopes will approve anti-Israel divestment, though both churches have rejected it in the past. He explains: “The churches are applying the same ethical principles for morally responsible investment as they have applied in previous cases such as Apartheid in South Africa, Sudan ethnic cleansing in Darfur, and divesting from corporations producing weapons or instruments that destroy lives or the livelihood of civilians.” How ironic that he morally compares Israel to Sudan’s notorious Islamist regime. “These sisters and brothers [among the Palestinians] are hoping and praying that the global church will not let them down in their hour of need and will begin to embody prophetic consciousness,” Wagner concluded.
Well, perhaps. Or just as likely, the remnant of Palestinian Christians is saying what they have to say in a struggle to survive as a tiny minority among Muslim nationalists and zealots. Compared to Wagner’s FOSNA and the angry March on Jerusalem, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori almost sounds coolly reassuring when she told her Los Angeles audience: “I would urge you to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, to pray and work together for a society of peace with justice for that vision that is shared by all Abrahamic faiths. Salaam, shalom, peace.”