June 1, 2022
Stories of Church Struggle
On May 5 an article appeared in Sightings, the twice-weekly publication of the University of Chicago Divinity School, a respected mainline seminary. Titled "Is Israel Practicing Apartheid? American Churches Join the Conversation," it likely raised some eyebrows. "The issue is on the table for the church in a way it has not been previously," writes the author, Rev. Jeff Wright. The article, still featured on the homepage, is evidence of another taboo broken -- the "A" word and "Israel" appearing in the same sentence.

In this issue of Celebrating Our Global Community we bring you stories from the UK, Africa and the United States further documenting what we named in the October 2021 issue as a "Tipping Point" in the global church movement for Palestine.

We also cover the story of the church tribunal that has been inflicted on Church of England vicar Stephen Sizer for his opposition to Christian Zionism and his tireless work on behalf of the Palestinian people. That the notorious British Board of Jewish Deputies has the power to drag the Anglican Church into its merciless pursuit of Rev. Sizer is balanced by the good news of prophetic action, reported on here in October 2021, at the grassroots of the Church of England. The church struggle continues!
Is Israel Practicing Apartheid? American Churches Join the Conversation
Published earlier this month by the University of Chicago's Divinity School, this article by Rev Jeff Wright of Global Kairos for Justice reviews recent statements by U.S. church denominations that "mark a significant departure from American churches’ longstanding hesitations about criticizing the State of Israel." Without qualification, they all characterize the Israeli government’s laws, policies, and practices as apartheid.

Rev Wright reviews recent actions by United Church of Christ (Congregational), Disciples of Christ, the Episcopal Church of America, and the Society of Friends (Quakers). Quoting from the Disciples of Christ statement, Rev Wright points out that "the urgent call for change from our Palestinian partners compels us to witness in a way that acknowledges new realities and asserts a vision consistent with our long record of engagement in struggles for justice for all people.”

"[T]he issue is on the table for the church in a way it has not been previously," Rev Wright concludes, and it continues to be the subject of vigorous debate. This is good news for the churches -- as Dietrich Bonhoeffer insisted in the midst of the church crisis of his time, the true church is "the living, confessing and struggling church."

Sabeel-Kairos UK issues call to world churches
The church on a worldwide basis is facing a major crisis -- this is the conclusion of a recent gathering sponsored by the Theology Group of Sabeel-Kairos UK. Facing the reality of the State of Israel as an apartheid regime, acknowledging the complicity of Britain for the historic dispossession of the Palestinian people, and called by the Christians of Palestine to obedience to the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith, the attendees released a statement calling on the church worldwide to commit to action.

The statement from the Theology Group addresses the ecumenical community and is intended for the upcoming Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC). Based on "Cry for Hope, A Call to Decisive Action," released by Kairos Palestine and Global Kairos for Justice in 2000, the statement affirms that Zionism as theology and ideology "is incompatible with the Christian faith and a grave misuse of the Bible." The statement calls on the ecumenical community to acknowledge the ""truth that Israel is an Apartheid regime, to reject Christian Zionism, to collaborate among church bodies in taking economic, cultural, and academic measures and direct political advocacy." The church is in "confessional status," asserts the document, meaning that to fail to act puts the church in spiritual peril.

Watch this space for reports on planning for the WCC Assembly on the part of Global Kairos for Justice and its member organizations throughout the world.

"A Special Responsibility"
Anglican Church in Southern Africa calls on Lambeth Conference to Stand with Palestine
In 2019 the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA) approved a resolution entitled "Israel sanctions, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia." It described the situation in Israel and Palestine as worse than apartheid, expressed support for BDS, and urged church members to include Palestinian Christians in their Holy Land pilgrimage itineraries. "Southern Africans," reads the resolution, "have a special responsibility to stand by the oppressed in the same way that others in the international community stood with us during our own oppression."

The churches of Southern Africa played a pivotal role in the anti-apartheid struggle in the 20th century. They have continued that tradition in their support for the Palestinian liberation struggle. The solidarity of Southern African churches with the people of Palestine was demonstrated in the founding of Kairos Southern Africa in 2011 in response to the 2009 Kairos call of the Palestinian churches. The South Africa Council of Churches as well as its member churches have continued in their active involvement with the Palestinian cause.

Spurred by the 2020 "Cry for Hope" and the worsening situation on the ground in Palestine, ACSA has now prepared a resolution to be presented to the upcoming Lambeth Conference, the worldwide gathering of Anglican bishops meeting approximately every 10 years. Referencing the 2019 resolution, the current document calls on the Anglican Church, in collaboration with international organizations and global faith bodies, to push for “a negotiated settlement that will bring justice and peace in Israel and Palestine within a set timeframe.” The resolution makes specific reference to the powerful report on the Group Pilgrimage of the Leaders of Historical African American Churches and South African Churches,

The resolution also calls to the attention of Anglicans worldwide the Five Studies entitled “Justice for the Palestinian People" developed by ACSA under the guidance of Archbishop Thabo Makgoba. The five studies reflect the commitment of the denomination to the Palestinian call as an urgent issue of faith and church policy. This was not lost on South African Anglican minister John Atkinson, who has opposed Archbishop Makgoba on his position on Palestine. This report in the Jewish press and this exchange between the Archbishop and the chief Rabbi of South Africa illustrates the pushback from the South African Jewish community and from voices within the church. The heated conversation within the Anglican Church is reflected in the numerous comments, for and against, on the 2019 resolution. The church struggle continues!

The tireless efforts of the churches of South Africa on behalf of Palestine, exemplified by the Anglican Church's appeal to its own grassroots, as well as to the denomination on a global level, continues to demonstrate the power of the South African churches as an example for church activism.. The resolutions discussed above and the resources provided for Anglicans in Southern Africa deserve to be distributed widely as models for churches and church organizations on every continent.
Rev. Stephen Sizer Brought Before Tribunal for Alleged Antisemitism
Rev. Stephen Sizer, one of the world's leading experts on Christian Zionism and a tireless worker for human rights, is a vicar in the Church of England. He has been the target of the Board of Deputies, a fiercely pro-Israel organization claiming to represent British Jewry, for his work on behalf of the Palestinian people and his opposition to Christian Zionism.. The Board of Deputies lodged a complaint with the Church of England against Rev. Sizer, asserting a pattern of anti-Semitism in his writing and speaking. This resulted in a Disciplinary Tribunal before the Diocese of Winchester held last week.

The tribunal has concluded but the decision may not be known for another 6 weeks or more. "This is the second time he has been hauled before a religious Tribunal at the instigation of the Board of Deputies," documents an article published by The Israeli Committee against House Demolitions (ICAHD). The article continues with a stirring statement by Jeff Halper, the head of ICAHD: "As an Israeli Jew," writes Halper, "I am appalled by the very thought of bringing anyone, let alone such a principled person as Stephen Sizer, before a religious tribunal" writes Halper. Read the ICAHD article for Halper's statement and background on the campaign against Rev Sizer.
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