October 18, 2021
The Tipping Point

The struggle for the liberation of Palestine has reached a tipping point. A debate is underway In the public square on whether it is accurate to speak of Zionism as settler colonialism. In the U.S. House of Representatives, the words “apartheid” and “State of Israel” were spoken in the same breath in a debate on military funding for Israel.

A parallel tipping point has been reached in the church struggle over Israel and Palestine. Protestant denominations in the U.S. have embraced the call of Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. Churches at denominational levels in Norway, South Africa and the United States have renounced Zionism, declaring, in the words of the 2020 “Cry for Hope” of Global Kairos for Justice that “support for the oppression of the Palestinian people, whether passive or active, through silence, word or deed, is a sin, incompatible with the Christian faith and a grave misuse of the Bible.”

The grassroots of the churches in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany and South Africa are confronting their church leadership over direct and implicit support of Israel and demanding action at the economic and policy levels. Church leaders in India are making common cause with advocates for Muslim and Dalit minorities to stand against Israel’s discrimination against the Palestinians. Once again, the church has been summoned to its mission -- to act in human affairs, providing the moral clarity to bend the arc of history toward justice.

Things are moving -- and it is happening on a global scale. In this issue we bring you a startling and hopeful report from England, information about an exciting new resource from a U.S. denomination, and news of an international conference on Christian Zionism sponsored by Kyoto University.
“Some kind of miracle:”
News from the Church of England
"It is some kind of miracle," said Karen Fairfax-Cholmeley of Sabeel-Kairos UK and Global Kairos for Justice -- “a positive step in breaching the Church of England’s silence and inaction on Palestinian issues." The Carlisle Diocesan Synod overwhelmingly approveda motion challenging Christian Zionism and examining church investment in the occupation. "This is the first time," reports Fairfax-Cholmeley, "that our church activists in the UK have received support from senior members of the church hierarchy. It gives us a model of how we can approach other dioceses."

Fairfax-Chomeley credits the success in part to Palestinian pastor and theologian Rev Munther Isaac's talk with church leadership in advance of the vote. This is part of the much-to-be admired and modeled-after programs conducted by our church activist colleagues in the UK, bringing together church laypersons, clergy and leadership with Palestinian theologians, clergy and activists. We'll report in detail on these programs in our next issue. The motion now goes forward to the Church of England General Synod for debate. This may take up to two years, says Fairfax-Chomeley, "but gives us time to prepare!" Here is the motion:

Resolved, that this Synod:
  • Endorses the “Cry for Hope” expressed by Palestinian Christians and the ‘Global Kairos for Justice’ coalition;

  • Requests that the Faith and Order Commission produce a report which analyses and refutes any theological justifications, for example, those promoted by some Christian Zionists, for the oppression of Palestinians;

  • Instructs the Ethical Investment Advisory Group to provide guidance to the National Investing Bodies (NIBs) and Dioceses that will enable them to screen their investments and thereby make decisions regarding engagement with, and divestment from, companies which profit from the occupation.
Words to Action: the UCC's comprehensive guide to church activism
Earlier this year we reported on the "Declaration for a Just Peace Between Palestine and Israel" adopted by the United Church of Christ in July. The action by the UCC set a new standard for the church movement for Palestinian rights. By speaking the truth of Israel's actions without qualification and declaring without reservation the duty of the church to respond accordingly, the denomination has challenged not only its own members but churches in the United States and the world at large to do the same. In response to this groundbreaking document, defenders of Israel's crimes could only sputter in protest, hauling out tired arguments because they have nothing more to say in the face of the churches inevitable, unstoppable stand for justice. 

The UCC Declaration adopts the premises, theological principles, and action imperatives of the 2020 "Cry for Hope" of Kairos Palestine and Global Kairos for Justice. It removes, once and for all, any distance between the cry of an oppressed, dispossessed people and the commitment of a Christian denomination to respond to that cry. It directs members of the UCC and its congregations and its bodies at all levels to challenge the ways in which the Bible or tenets of the Christian faith are used to promote or justify oppression, dispossession or racial supremacy in study, liturgy or preaching.
The UCC has now translated its words into action, with the publication of a comprehensive set of study guides, toolkits and materials. These materials are available to congregations and organizations from all denominations. Begin your exploration with an animated online presentation. Then ollow with a deep dive using this interactive resource guide:
The UCC declaration and accompanying materials represent the culmination of decades of church activism, clearing the way for the actions that will ultimately change the political wind and bring liberation to both oppressed and oppressor.
Groundbreaking Global Conference
on Christian Zionism
The unprecedented action by the Church of England and UCC Declaration are signs of the tipping point that has been reached in the church movement for Palestine. However, much work remains to be done in the Global South where conservative Christian "free churches" have been gaining ground and where Christian Zionism plays a powerful role. At the same time, forms of Christian Zionism still predominate in mainline churches and influences official government policy. The seminar series, organized by Kyoto University in Japan, examines Christian Zionism from a global perspective. From the conference announcement:

"The Trump administration’s radical pro-Israel policies demonstrated how Christian Zionism still plays pivotal roles in US policies vis-à-vis the Middle East. However, such an overt political utilization of religion is apparently
becoming less ideologically persuasive, even among American evangelicals. Recently, it is reported that young American evangelicals are becoming comparatively less pro-Israel."

"On the contrary, in non-Western countries, where anti-colonial discourses have been predominant after WW2, Christian Zionism seems to be penetrating more and more into Protestant minority communities. Furthermore, sympathy for Israel can be seen not only in Christian communities but also in some non-Christian majority communities where chauvinistic religious nationalism is on the rise. Examples include Hindus in India, Buddhists in Sri Lanka, Shintoists / Buddhists in Japan."

The conference will be held over three consecutive days -- October 23-25. It will feature internationally-known speakers from different countries, religious backgrounds, and academic disciplines. You can attend any or all of the sessions.The conference is free and open to the public. Click here for complete program and conference information.
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