December 21, 2021
The Things That Make for Peace
"Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!" This startling statement is made by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. In Matthew, he puts it in even stronger terms -- not peace, but a sword! What Jesus was getting at becomes clear when we look at the original Greek word translated as "division." It means to make a clear separation between one thing and another, to make a distinction, to know the difference. It means to take a stand, to choose sides (and, implied, despite the cost -- no mystery here when you consider the whole of Jesus' message). In The Message Eugene Peterson has it as "I’ve come to disrupt and confront!"

This issue of "Celebrating our Global Community" is devoted to news of how two Protestant denominations in the United States have done just that. Also this week we bring you poignant and inspiring news from a group of young Jewish Americans, and an essay by Friends of Sabeel's Jonathan Kuttab on the question of what makes for peace.
Persistence Rewarded:
Episcopal Dioceses Pass Bold Resolutions
"What led to this stunning reversal?” ask the writers of the report “Action at the Diocesan Grassroots for Palestine” about recent actions of the Episcopal Church of America in Vermont, Washington State and Chicago. It’s been a long road for the tireless members of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship Palestine Israel Network, it its work to bring the voice of the Palestinian Christians to the attention of the Episcopal Church. The fruits of their work at the local and diocesan levels are on full display in the report: strong resolutions to be brought to the floor of the upcoming General Assembly in 2022, passed by strong majorities. These successes demonstrate how persistence in the face of cautious and slow-moving church hierarchies pays off, aided by shifts in public opinion and clear stands by the international human rights community.
This is not lost on the writers of the report: “There were likely multiple factors” it reads, “including the early 2021 report by the Israeli human rights watchdog B’Tselem, which became the first organization to publicly name Israel’s system of laws and control over east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza as apartheid. Just a few short months later, Human Rights Watch issued its own report, documenting similar abuses and drawing the same conclusion.” Also, as the report points out, "The recent action taken by delegates to the United Church of Christ General Synod, which named Israeli apartheid as a sin, may have influenced some delegates."

This is what has brought us to the tipping in the church struggle for Palestine -- tireless efforts, originating at the grassroots, to call the church to its mission as, in the words of South African theologian John de Gruchy, "the community in which God manifests in history.” The struggle for justice for Palestine has united the church, as have similar struggles in the past. Public theologian Duncan Forrester cites Desmond Tutu’s view that “apartheid was too strong for divided churches; and in the course of the struggles against it there was often a new experience of unity."

For more detail and analysis, see the Mondoweiss articles by Steve France on the Chicago and Vermont actions.
The Justice in Palestine and Israel Community of the Alliance of Baptists has released a powerful statement on Christian Zionism. Founded in 1987 as "a prophetic voice in Baptist life" and fiercely progressive, the Alliance of Baptists is "formed by a long tradition of dissent and historic Baptist freedoms." In this statement the Alliance provides a succinct overview of Christian Zionism as antithetical to the gospel. It draws clear connection between Christian Zionism in the United States today and the oppression of the Palestinian people: "U.S. Christian Zionists have been the driving force of the increased oppression of the Palestinian people in the past 10 years." The statement continues:

"We denounce Christian Zionism as theologically corrupt and politically abusive. Today, we – the Alliance of Baptists, our congregations and our individual members – commit to education on the dangers of Christian Zionism. We commit to challenge this theology, as a particularly pervasive manifestation of a death-dealing theology and instead we commit anew today to a theology of liberation, love and justice for all people. We commit to challenge U.S. public policy that is grounded in Christian Zionism and instead will promote U.S. public policy grounded in the true gospel of liberation that ends the occupation and builds a just society for both Israelis and Palestinians."
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"We are full of tears:" Rabbinical and Cantorial Students Appeal to the Heart of the Jewish Community
For these things we weep. With these words from the Book of Lamentations, chanted every year by Jews in commemoration of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, a group of 95 rabbinical and cantorial students at Jewish seminaries in the U.S. open this letter addressed to the American Jewish community and its leadership:

"This year, American Jews have been part of a racial reckoning in our community. Our institutions have been reflecting and asking, 'How are we complicit with racial violence?' And yet, so many of those same institutions are silent when abuse of power and racist violence erupts in Israel and Palestine. So many of us ignore the day-to-day indignity that the Israeli military and police forces enact on Palestinians, and sit idly by as Israel upholds two separate legal systems for the same region."

The letter continues: "As American Jews, our institutions tell stories of Israel rooted in hope for what could be, but oblivious to what is. Our money funds a story we wish were true, but perpetuates a reality that is untenable and dangerous. Our political advocacy too often puts forth a narrative of victimization, but supports violent suppression of human rights and enables apartheid in the Palestinian territories, and the threat of annexation...It's far past time that we confront this head on. We can no longer shy away or claim ignorance."

Christians, all-too-familiar with what it means to confront such challenges throughout church history, can resonate with this urgent appeal.

"We are future leaders of the Jewish community. We are training to teach the Torah and lead the rituals that will hold our joy and our sorrow. And we are full of tears."

The cry of these young students represents the best hope for a Jewish community to regain its spiritual and ethical footing in the face of this challenge to its core values as a faith community.

For more information on Jewish voices challenging mainstream Jewish support for Zionism, visit the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council (scroll down the page after loading), or inquire about the Jewish Voice for Peace Havurah Network, an emergent network that gathers, supports and resources anti-zionist and non-zionist Jews and Jewish spiritual communities.
Prophecy in our Time
"There are situations when 'peace' itself becomes the enemy and it becomes the proper position of the church to take a prophetic, albeit unpopular, stance." So writes Jonathan Kuttab, Executive Director of Friends of Sabeel North America. He was referring to opposition recently voiced by twelve bishops from the Church of Sweden to a decision of the church's General Synod to investigate how Israel's actions meets the definition of apartheid. Kuttab writes that the bishops attacked the decision as "not helpful for peace between both Palestinians and Israelis." But this argument, Kuttab continues, ”demonstrates a failure to understand the message of 'peace' of the gospels. The classic 'it is not helpful for peace' line has been used too often by the powerful and those who support them to prevent an honest, if potentially disturbing, discourse regarding the many sins of an oppressive regime...A prophet is rarely concerned with 'peace and quiet,' since it is usually just a formula for the acceptance of an unjust situation."

The Church of Sweden resolution will be covered in depth in our next newsletter.

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