Friday, March 12, 2010

The worm that feeds on the soul of the Church: an exchange of letters

Now we know and we know a lot more.

Now we know why two years ago before the 218 General Assembly a paper written and placed on the PCUSA’s web site apologizing for the Church’s anti-Semitism was changed without any announcement and yet with the same title. That paper was titled “Vigilance Against anti-Jewish Bias In the Pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian Peace.”

I wrote about it here: Not just a broken confession of sin but a disappearing one!

This is part of what I wrote: “This newly revised document is changed in many ways. An attitude of humility in the face of past wrongs has turned to arrogance. … this sentence, “However, we are aware and do confess that anti-Jewish attitudes can be found among us,” has been removed. Instead the paper refers to Israel as ‘oppressors.’”

Now after reading some letters of complaint written by both the Secretary of the National Middle Eastern Caucus, Raafat L. Zaki, and the Moderator of the National Middle Eastern Presbyterian Caucus, Fahed Abu-Akel to several leaders of the GAMC of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) I understand a little more about how the anti-Jewish bias worms its way into the soul of the PCUSA. National Middle Eastern Presbyterian Caucus Letter

The letters are complaints about not being consulted before the papers "Christians and Jews: People of God" and “Toward an Understanding of Christian-Muslim Relations" written by Jay Rock and Joseph Small, were approved by the GAMC. (The papers are coming before the 219th General Assembly.)

After going over all the papers recommended by the Presbyterian Middle East Study Committee and noting that they did not consult any members of the main Jewish organizations in the United States I find this newest complaint by the Presbyterian Middle East Caucus amazing.(1) I find some other things amazing. But first I should say that except for a very few ideas I found the paper “Christians and Jews: People of God,” a reasonable paper and finally one that is fair to the Jewish people.

Here are some things I found amazing in the letters of complaint: One writer found that the paper on Christians and Jews was “shabby” and had “questionable content.” And those statements are underlined and in bold!

Also the letter writer, Zaki, felt that the paper on Christians and Jews was like other such documents that “have influenced perspectives in the United States on issues of war and peace in the Middle East, and ultimately resulted in the support of two wars in Iraq, and policies that allowed the subjugation and disposition of the Palestinian people. It is such documents that have had tremendous negative impact on the lives of 18 million Christians in the Middle East and have rendered hundreds of thousands of us [those from the Middle East] refugees and in Diaspora.”

Another complaint was that the writers of the paper did not subscribe to supersessionism,(the replacement of the Jews by the Church), also Zaki complained that the paper did not uphold the doctrine of the Trinity. (I did not find that in the paper and I am fairly clear about the Trinity as most of my readers know.It may be that because Rock refers to the paper on the Trinity that Zaki has this complaint. While I don't care for the Trinity paper either it doesn't inform the paper "Christians and Jews: People of God.") I think perhaps Zaki’s problem may be that Rock writes that God continues to be faithful to the Jews.

Abu-Akel has suggested “that this paper not be sent to the General Assembly until consultation is done and our Christian partners in the Middle East as well as Middle Eastern Presbyterians in the US are invited to participate in the process.”

In these letters of complaint twice the paper I mentioned above, “Vigilance Against anti-Jewish Bias In the Pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian Peace.” is mentioned. Once in the letter by Zaki, but also in Abu-Akel’s letter. The latter writes, “It has not been two years since he [Jay Rock] issued the ‘Vigilance’ statement without proper consultation; and subsequently I and other concerned Presbyterians had to fly to Louisville (at our own expenses) to meet with you and GAMC staff to discuss it.”

Now we know why it was changed.

This is politics trying to over-ride theology and fairness. This is what we have asked for and received-to have all the Middle East issues and their bitterness show up in our own back yard because we have not remembered that “The gifts and callings of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29)And “that God has shut up all in disobedience so that he may show mercy to all.”(32)

(1). I see that one of the members of the Presbyterian Middle East Caucus is Elder Lucy Janjigian one of the members of the Presbyterian Middle East Study Committee and an American Palestinian. One of those who found it troubling for the committees' report to affirm Israel's right of existence.


Anonymous said...

Dearest Viola

You shine light on the painful conclusion that anti-semitsm is not due to a lack of education, but a disease of the heart.

It is the front end of Romans 11:28 that causes me to want to "kiss the feet" of my many Jewish friends, who for my sake, are left unable to see Messiah...for my sake!!

"As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake... "

"...but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable" The Apostle Paul


Anonymous said...

dearest Viola

Who are the worms? National Middle Eastern Presbyterian Caucus?


Viola Larson said...

Velvel I have a policy that people don't call other people names on my blog, so please don't. Good friend that you are I would have to delete you.

The Presbyterian Middle East Caucus you can read about here:

One of the problems is that many of these dear people, and they are, come from the Middle East, from Christian Churches, they have never known anything but seeing the Jewish people as wrong. During the time of Hitler a lot of his propaganda was spread in that area and it is still a kind of underground swamp that no one has totally risen above. There are real problems that the Palestinians are dealing with I just don’t think they can be addressed until they are able to say that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish nation.

Pastor Bob said...

I think some of the problems could be addressed. At the very least Israel could share water rights with Palestinians on the West Bank instead of drilling deeper wells for themselves and refusing Palestinians permission to do so. And the government could really stop these new crazy "settlers" who take over a hilltop, tear up the olive trees of the local Palestinians and take potshots at them. And when the army comes around to kick them off the hilltop the return in less than 2 weeks. Oh and it would have been nice when the security barrier was put up in the barrier did not separate a farmer from his fields and orchards. The Israeli Supreme Court told the government they could not do this but it didn't change much

None of these these would hurt Israel and might gain them some support among some Palestinians.

I don't mean to sound like the committee and I support the existence of Israel as a Jewish state but sometimes the Israelis do stupid stuff too.

Viola Larson said...

Pastor Bob,
You are right-but it is our own committees and caucuses siding with those who do not want a Jewish state that is not helping at all. While they give out bad history and awful myths about Israel's beginning they are keeping peace from existing.

Velvel, when I used the word worm in the title I was referring to anti-semitism. And when I used the word worms I was referring to an action. Sorry if I put that badly.

Pastor Bob said...

Interesting that the GA Moderator(s) didn't include Presbyterian Messianic Jews on the committee. There are some here in Philly and I suspect some around the rest the rest of the country too.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Bob - I'm commenting on this very late in the game. Hope you happen to see it.

I believe there are 3 reasons that moderators did not include any messianic Jews on the committee.

1. It is, in their estimation, a diplomatic faux pas. This is a sore spot in Jewish Chrsitian interfaith relations. While most Jewish people with whom we interact will accept that Christians share their faith - and obviously we believe differently - the issue of conversion is difficult. Part of this stems from historic abuses - forced conversions, conversion through deception or pressure or coercion or manipulation. [And on that point I agree 100% with our Jewish conversation partners] But they also tend to regard Messianics as trying to have it both ways - to be both Christian and Jewish. They find this offensive. I can kind of see their point - and I particular resist any deceptive practice in this - but I also very clearly see the point of Jewish converts to Christianity who retain much of their practice. The two are so intimately related that it lends a level of understaning of Christianity that is often lacking otherwise.

2. Often institutional emphasis is not on evangelism in the sense of sharing the Christian faith with a view to persuade, but in the sense of sharing quasi-Christian ethics or personal experience with a view to foster mutual understanding. To those who hold this view, Presbyterian Messianic Jews are an embarassment.

And, of course, 3. Most of the people in that category do not tow the party line about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. In this case the moderators and bureaucrats WANT A PARTICULAR OUTCOME. They wouldn't risk that by including people who are likely to thwart that outcome. They would rather disenfranchise than provide a full picture to Presbyterians or the rest of the world.

Will Spotts

Pastor Bob said...


If I thought that the committee that wrote the report or the Middle East Task Force cared about what Jews think and feel I might not have made the suggestion about Presbyterian Messianic Jews. Looking back it was probably a snide comment. Since Messianic Jews would probably lean toward a more Evangelical theology why would anyone want to put them on a committee? And why put Christians of Jewish descent on a committee that is intended to come up with a report like the one written? They would only write a minority report.

Seriously, I think I understand the reactions of my Jewish friends. One can be a Christian or one can be a Jew but one cannot be both. My wife's mother is Jewish but my wife is a Christian. So those in the Jewish community would say she is no longer a Jew. But ask Nazis if she is a Jew and you will get the answer "Yes and off to the camps with her!"

Anyway for Messianic Jews (that is Christians) to use Jewish liturgy and practice is hateful to them. But if being Jewish is really a racial issue (that is who is your mother) then one can be a Jew and a Christian just as one can be an atheist and a Jew. We Christians borrow from everyone. Some of our liturgy still goes back to early synagogue liturgy. It just isn't recognizable any more

I suppose the real issues go back to two problems: that primitive Judaism and primitive Christianity split towards the end of the 1st Century and the horrible extent of Christian persecution of Jews for 1500 years.

The real question at hand is what liturgy should Jewish Christians use? Unless of course the Messianic Christian group really IS trying to trick Jews into attending their services. Untruth in service to Christ is unacceptable.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Bob,
You're right, of course, that respect for the Jewish community and any concern with their feelings on the matter has not been a priority for this committee or, for that matter, for MUCH of the PC(USA). There are exceptions to this - even within the bureaucratic wing of the denomination. [I say that while gritting my teeth, but I have to give credit there. It is just that the exceptions who are genuinely motivated by sensitivity to Jewish concerns are so completely overwhelmed by the rest.]

Having said that, I think this still was a factor. The reason is this: much of what we do is force of habit. Habitually, the 'powers that be' within the PC(USA) would have shied away from the issue of Messianic Jews (especially within the PC(USA)) because it was awkward. I'm thinking back to a time when the PC(USA) and a variety of Jewish groups cooperated on areas of common concern not related to Israel and the Palestinians. Those days of 'friendly' relationship are gone, but some of the vestiges of that practice remain.

Will Spotts
North East, MD

Anonymous said...

Pastor Bob - on your second point - I think you're absolutely right. The length of time and the history of persecution both foster this difficulty. (As I said, I can easily understand this perspective.) And the situation is made worse by the antisemitism that is emerging in many mainlines in the US today. I say antisemitism, and that is the correct word, but it only describes a minority of the action and advocacy. It is certainly possible (though somewhat difficult) for a person to be pro-Palestinian and not anti-Israel; and it is certainly possible for a person to be highly critical of Israeli policy without being antisemitic. It is even possible (though highly suspicious) for a person to be politically biased against Israel without being antisemitic. But the mainlines have crossed from this, at times, into the overtly anti-Judaic and antisemitic. The original PC(USA) paper on antisemitism from 2008 clearly acknowledged this.

The question you raise is very apt. I don't have a good answer. I am sensitive to the complaints and concerns of non-Messianic Jews. Nonetheless, I understand both the desire and the practice of many who are messianic. The thing is, I think ALL Christians would benefit greatly from a clearer understanding of Judaism (both historic and current). I believe it is necessary on some levels to even rightly understand our own faith. It is very easy for Christians to try to function in a faith divorced from its Jewish origins, but the products of that have usually led to rather bad consequences or misunderstandings.

Will Spotts